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Afghan Paktia Province Governor Faces Many Challenges - 2002-02-15

Thousands of people turned out in the eastern Afghan town of Gardez Thursday to welcome their newly appointed governor. His appointment comes after a bloody dispute that left more than 50 people dead. The arrival of the new governor has raised hopes that tribal tensions in the area will be calmed.

Kabul's interim administration has appointed an elderly and experienced administrator, Taj Mohammad Wardak as the new governor of Paktia province, of which Gardez is the capital. A senior aide to Afghan leader Hamid Karzai traveled with Mr. Wardak to Gardez and the local town council, including its leader Haji Saifullah, put out the welcome mat.

The Paktia governorship has been a most contentious issue. A few weeks ago, Padcha Khan Zadran, a local warlord from neighboring Khost province, apparently had the Kabul government's blessing to become governor of Paktia province. But he was rejected by the Gardez town council and when he and his militia tried to move into Gardez they were rebuffed by force.

After two days of fighting Padcha Khan's men retreated to the nearby hills and the standoff began. Negotiators were sent in from Kabul but neither side seemed inclined to back down. Mr. Karzai reproached Padcha Khan for trying to establish his authority in Gardez by force. And it seems the Kabul administration has now opted for another, more acceptable candidate for the position.

The dispute in Gardez highlights the tenuous nature of the authority of the Kabul administration vis-a-vis tribal leaders and warlords, who often command thousands of well armed men and do not hesitate to use them when they want to show their power. The Kabul government has no national army or police force at its disposal. Padcha Khan has insisted that the Paktia governorship should be his and it is unclear if he has plans to move against the newly-appointed governor.

In a number of instances local councils have spoken out against appointments by Kabul. The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reports that the tribal council of Khost province is rejecting its newly appointed governor. The Kabul administration selected Mohammed Ibrahim for the position, but the tribal council has described him as an agent of Padcha Khan and council members are asking that a new governor be appointed.