Haji Zahir Is Out

by Joshua Foust on 7/15/2010 · 2 comments

NPR opens the spin gates pretty widely:

Skeptics might look at the departure of the governor of Afghanistan’s Marjah District after only months in office as just another sign that NATO’s efforts to use that area as a model for progress in the rest of that country aren’t going well.

But there’s another way to view it and that’s how NATO commander for Afghanistan’s southwest region, Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills says he sees it.

It’s a shift, Mills says, from an official with not much executive experience to one with more, a good thing if you’re trying to gain the upper hand on the Taliban by establishing a functioning government in Marjah.

Dumb-ass skeptics, interpreting being fired after six months as a sign of incompetence. Then again, MG Mills said much the same thing. Complaining he doesn’t have any executive experience is a bit odd, if nothing else than because we already knew he didn’t when the Washington Post reported on his years-long tenure in a German prison. At the time, anonymous U.S. officials said:

“We want to ensure that Haji Zahir’s face is on everything we do,” said one official who works with him in Marja.

Alyssa Rubin reported in March that the U.S. had lifted up Haji Zahir as an example of the very “good governance” Afghanistan needs to emerge from the war. So what gives?

Zahir was picked by Governor Mangal, who’s run Helmand province ever since Sher Muhammad Akhundzada was forced out for possessing several metric tons of opium paste in his housing compound in 2005. Mangal wanted Zahir installed as the governor of Marjah over the objections of Hamid Karzai. Mangal himself hasn’t exactly been the most stable or reliable of leaders lately, like when he arrested several Italian hospital workers in Lashkar Gah and accused them of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in an elaborate assassination plot against him (the workers were later freed when no one could produce evidence of the charges). And Helmand itself has teetered, with bad local officials and corrupt policemen and soldiers.

Haji Zahir’s firing is just a symptom of deeper problems.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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RScott July 15, 2010 at 11:38 am

Apparently Zahir was hired because he was someones friend and was willing to take the job not because of his credentials. And as far as I can remember, Karzai had no major objections(?). And why would the US agree to having a very questionable person to be placed as Wolis Wol (District Officer) in such a critical District as Marja which was to be an experiment of the “new strategy”? You would think that we would have wanted a highly qualified person that would have been acceptable to the people…by tribal affiliation, kinship, local contacts, or even experience (?) etc. all the things that make things work in Afghanistan.

The big question is, who is the new man?

As a side note, there have been 4-5 governors between Sher Mohammad and Mangal.

Another major question, all the foreign groups (including military) continue to praise Mangal for his work as governor in the media. But when it comes to the critical points of corruption in local government and police nothing really has changed. The people still do not see government as legitimate or honest. So why the praise for a governor that has done little to change things? Agreed, in media quotes, he continually says the right things for the foreign ears. But what else? Do we understand what we are not doing?

Joshua Foust July 15, 2010 at 11:42 am

I did indeed get the governors wrong, but there weren’t 4 or 5 of them (that’s my bad!). Mohammad Daoud was a governor from 12/05 to 12/06, and Assadullah Wafa was governor from 06-08. That’s a huge error on my part, and I apologize.

As for Karzai, at least according to the Washington Post, he objected not strongly, but mostly because he was cut out of the vetting process. Like everything else, once he has his say, he kind of accedes to it and things proceed.

The new man is a bit of a mystery, some Kabuli insider. I’m still trying to research him.

Lastly, I share your confusion about Mangal’s effusive praise. I don’t see where or how it’s warranted.

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