The job hazards of an Afghan district governor | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 27.04.2018
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The job hazards of an Afghan district governor

District governors and officials in Afghanistan are increasingly falling victim to insurgent attacks in the war-ravaged nation, highlighting the challenges they face as they strive to represent Kabul in contested areas.

A Taliban raid on the Khawaja Omari district headquarters' compound in central Ghazni province earlier this month killed at least seven people, including Ali Shams Dost — the district governor.   

The incident underscored the threats local government representatives face in Afghanistan's contested districts which, according to recent US government data, account for 30 percent of all of the conflict-stricken nation's 407 districts. Insurgent outfits like the Taliban are said to exercise full control over 57 districts, some 14 percent of the total, and the government in Kabul controls just 56 percent of them.

The threat level has increased against local government officials in these districts, since the Taliban have boosted their attacks in a bid to expand their clout in Afghanistan. "The Taliban carry out attacks almost every day to take control of my district but they have failed so far," Nasruddin Saadi, district governor of Dasht-e Archi in northern Kunduz, told DW, stating that he had to move the district headquarters to Kunduz city as the situation has deteriorated in recent months.

"The Taliban are not more than one kilometer away from the city. We are still within the range of the enemy's AK47 rifles," he added.

A dangerous job

Saadi, like many other Afghan local officials, is aware of the risks that come with his job. The young local resident of Kunduz was only appointed as Kabul's top representative for Dasht-e Archi after the former district governor — Saadi's own father — was killed in an explosion. "I have decided not to just be a district governor but also a soldier of my country since my father's killing," he said.

A district governor is a civil servant of the Afghan government who is typically supposed to deal with civilian matters. For Saadi and many other Afghan district governors, this position comes with a completely different job description. "I normally get three to four hours of sleep at night. I spend the rest of the time joining patrols, checking on security forces and trying to keep militants out of the district's central area," Saadi explained.

"Everyday, there is a chance that I might get killed, but the love for my country keeps me going," he said.

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Given the grave hazards of this job, the Afghan government has not been able to find representatives for 40 districts. One reason for the dearth of applicants is the limited support Afghan district governors get from Kabul.

"Since it is a civilian post, the district governors do not need military training. Instead, we give them short one to three-day courses,  informing them about the situation of the district, laws and policies," Munira Yousufzada, the head of public relations at the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, told DW.

No takers for the job

Such training, Saadi said, does not prepare district governors for the danger they face on the ground. Therefore, many candidates, who are hoping to get a job with the Afghan government, avoid districts that face attacks from the Taliban and other insurgent groups. "Sometimes we repeatedly announce district governor posts in Helmand, Kandahar or Zabul but we do not get any applications," Yousufzada said.

Kabul has been finding it difficult to fill district governor posts in the Jorm district in northern Badakhshan as well as in Abkamari in western Badghis, among other areas. However, an increasing number of applicants are pursuing appointments in relatively safe provinces or in areas where they could receive strong local support against the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

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"District governors who are not from the area will not be able to work due to insecurity," said Ibn Yamin, who is hoping to get a job in the relatively safe Panjshir province.

The Afghan government will continue to find it difficult to fill vacant government posts in Afghan districts as the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive on April 25. Insurgent groups typically increase attacks on Afghan districts during the warmer months of the year, which could in turn mean more challenges for district governors.

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