Afghanistan through the eyes of a governor

Posted in Broader Middle East | 01-Sep-04 | Author: Tanya Goudsouzian| Source: Asia Times

Afghan Gul Mohammad shows his identity card at a voter registration center in the southern city of Kandahar, August 10, 2004.
Haji Din Mohammad, a former mujahideen fighter from the Khales faction of the Hezb-i-Islami, became governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar after the assassination of his brother, Haji Abdul Qadir, in July 2002. He is also the brother of slain commander Abdul Haq. In an exclusive interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Kabul on August 27, he talked about "Afghan-style" democracy and the need to start rehabilitating opium farmers before they sow seeds for the next season. Afghanistan is due to hold presidential elections on October 9 and parliamentary elections next April.

RFE/RL: Do you believe democracy will work in Afghanistan?

Mohammad: It will be democracy "Afghan style". The shape that it takes will depend on Afghan culture, the prevailing circumstances, and the mentality of the people. The process will be slow, and it may not take hold 100%.

RFE/RL: How do you gauge the voter-registration process so far? Has the turnout in the south been satisfactory?

Mohammad: In Nangarhar, more than 41% of women and 45% of men have registered. If these numbers are low, then it is the fault of UNAMA [the United National Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] because they have been slow in our area. [The UN said at the weekend that over 9.9 million Afghans had registered to vote in the upcoming elections.]

RFE/RL: Are people enthusiastic about the elections?

Mohammad: Yes, it seems the people are keen to participate. For the presidential elections, it's simple enough, because there are only 18 candidates. It's not so bad. But it's going to be very difficult during the parliamentary elections with more people running and more people trying to show their importance. I expect there will be pandemonium.

RFE/RL: Are warlords impeding the electoral process?

Mohammad: I think it is inevitable. There will be some interference from their side, but the majority of average Afghans want to see peace in Afghanistan. They want to live without fighting, and they want to vote. There will be some interference, they will try to impede the process, especially in certain provinces, but they will not be 100% successful.

RFE/RL: Is Afghan transitional administration chairman Hamid Karzai the right man for the job?

Mohammad: He has support everywhere. For the prevailing situation, he is best suited.

RFE/RL: What is the situation with the neo-Taliban?

Mohammad: There is a problem in the [southeast and] south, mostly in Paktia, Paktika, and Kandahar [provinces]. They are trying to disrupt the peace and to make difficulties during the elections. They have tried to impede the voter-registration process.

RFE/RL: Do these neo-Taliban elements have a presence in Nangarhar?

Mohammad: No, they have no presence in Nangarhar. Yes, there have been efforts to sabotage the peace, and the electoral work, but they are no longer an organized group. They don't have the capacity to take over a district or even a village. They are not in such a position.

RFE/RL: But they were responsible for the assassination of Ajab Khan, military commander of Jalalabad, on June 1.

Mohammad: No, from the investigations, it was not clear who was responsible. All that can be said is that the perpetrators were enemies of peace.

RFE/RL: The cultivation of opium poppy has hit record highs since the current administration took office, and Nangarhar is one of the top producers. Why is nothing being done to curb the trade?

Mohammad: The problem is endemic in the country - not just in Nangarhar. We are trying to solve this problem, and we are in contact with specialized international agencies. We are pushing them to come in and to make a rehabilitation program for us, but until now, we have seen nothing concrete. We ask that they devise viable policies to rehabilitate the farmers; to find alternative crops for them to cultivate. We hope that this year something will be done before the cultivation begins. October is when they start sowing the seeds, and April is when they start to reap. The program must start before October. Now is the time to start.

RFE/RL: So you think the international agencies are not doing enough?

Mohammad: Some groups have come to Jalalabad to talk to me about the problem. I tell them, it's not enough to talk to me; they must talk to the farmers and see what they have to say. They need to find a way to solve the problems of the farmers. The farmers have a lot of difficulties. They have a shortage of water. There can find no alternative employment. We need to solve these problems for them first. We have to find replacement crops, give them the seeds, fertilizer, and enough water. If these problems are solved and they still do not stop farming the poppy, only then do we have the moral right to enforce the law - to use the police to stop them.

RFE/RL: But how did the Taliban manage to significantly reduce the cultivation of opium poppy?

Mohammad: The Taliban managed to do so only for a year [2001]. The cultivation of opium poppy has been going on for decades in this country, mostly in three provinces: Helmand [in the south], Nangarhar [in the east], and Badakhshan [in the northwest]. But in Badakhshan and Nimroz, the problem is compounded by the fact that they also consume the poppies, by smoking or eating. In Nangarhar, no one consumes the poppies; they are just for export. Except maybe a few individuals who come from Peshawar [Pakistan], they may smoke it.

RFE/RL: What is the state of security in Nangarhar?

Mohammad: Well, at one point, the kidnapping of young children was a problem. They would abduct the children for their kidneys or eyes, for the black-market trade of human organs. But in recent months we have worked hard to raise awareness across the province so that now people here are very vigilant. If they see someone talking to a child in a suspicious manner, they would act. Of course, this has resulted in some rather comical incidents ... Someone may want to affectionately tease a child on the street and bystanders have misinterpreted it as an attempt to abduct the child. But all in all the campaign has been successful and such kidnappings have been reduced.

RFE/RL: Do you plan to run for the parliamentary elections?

Mohammad: There's some time to go for that. Let's now prepare for the presidential elections.

Copyright (c) 2004, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036