Afghanistan: new hardline gov for war-torn Helmand

Assadullah Wafa, the new governor of Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province, vowed upon taking office Dec. 19 not to allow further peace deals like the one struck earlier this year between British NATO forces and tribal elders in Musa Qala district. “I am not pro-agreements such as in Musa Qala where there is no government control,” Wafa said. The previous governor, Mohammad Daud, brokered the deal under which British forces and Taliban militants pulled out of the desert district following a request from war-weary residents. Daud, facing charges of tolerating Helmand’s booming opium trade, was just pressured into resiging.

Wafa said that the peace talks left the tribal council in control of the district with no strong government presense in the area. “We are pro-negotiations with locals, tribal elders, influentials who can make commitments that TalIban are not using their district as bases, that schools and clinics operate and are not burnt and destroyed,” he said. “Then we can consider their nominees as district governor or police chief who are honest, talented and respected figures. But it is bound to be with strong government presence and control in the area.”

NATO had called the deal a possible model for other conflicted districts. It had been welcomed by residents and by British troops who had virtually been under siege by Taliban guerillas for three months. However, US Ambassador to Kabul Ronald Neumann was quoted saying there was a “lot of nervousness” about the deal.

Taliban-related violence has claimed more than 4,000 lives this year—around 1,000 of them civilians—making it the deadliest year in Afghanistan since US invasion in 2001.

Wafa, who has previously governed the eastern provinces of Kunar and Paktia, also pledged a new crackdown on opium. “We will ask the international community to control drugs markets out of Afghanistan as part of the global war against drugs and we will also boost our endeavours to stop poppy cultivation and trade in the province,” he said. Afghanistan this year produced 6,100 tons of opium—enough for more than 90% of the world’s heroin demand. (The Peninsula, Qatar, Dec. 20)

On Dec. 12, Daud narrowly escaped death when a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing eight people and injuring seven others after infiltrating into the governor’s headquarters.

Daud told reporters he was targeted for assassination as he was preparing to meet Hamid Karzai to press the Afghan president to allow him to remain in his post. He portrayed his removal as a successful coup by an influential cabal of warlords and drug traffickers.

British officials, on whose request Daud was appointed, were said to be unhappy about his removal—which took place despite lobbying on the governor’s behalf by Tony Blair during a recent trip to Kabul.

More than a dozen people were killed in a previous suicide attack on Daud’s headquarters, which the Taliban claimed responsibility for. Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi also said the new attack was the work of Taliban militants.

Meanwhile in Khost province, four alleged guerillas and a teenage girl were killed, and another girl, aged eight, was wounded in a raid by US and Afghan government forces. (The Independent, Dec. 13)

See our last posts on Afghanistan and the new opium war.