Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Young Technocrats Taking Over: Who are the new Afghan governors and what can they achieve?

Christine Roehrs Qayoom Suroush 31 min

Nearly one year into Ashraf Ghani’s presidency, about a quarter of the state’s highest representatives in the provinces are still missing – nine of 34 governors. So why the hold-up? AAN’s Christine Roehrs and Qayoom Suroush have been looking into the mechanisms of the process and found that the government seems to be able to tackle only one ‘appointment project’ at a time instead of solving them simultaneously – with an odd tendency to prioritise other appointments over governors. They have also been looking into who the new governors are (see their biographies in the annex) and found that the unity government, particularly the president’s side, seems to be trying to ‘juvenate’ sub-national governance. Many governors have ‘modern’ skill-sets and assets, they are younger, and also lacking in one of the main credentials of the past: fighting experience. The latter, however, may not play out in their favour. 

We will add to the bios and the analysis as more information becomes available, particularly on the lesser-known appointees.

The twenty-ninth of September 2015 will mark Ashraf Ghani’s first year in power as Afghanistan’s president. However, he and his unity government have still not managed to appoint about a quarter of the state’s highest provincial representatives. On 3 September, Amanullah Hamimi for Ghazni and Jamaluddin Eshaq for Badghis became the latest additions to the painfully slowly, growing list of governors.

So far, 25 of 34 Afghan provinces have new governors. Still missing are the ones for the provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan, Balkh, Takhar, Sar-e Pul, Faryab, Kabul, Nuristan and Uruzgan. It is conspicuous that most of these are to be appointed by CEO Abdullah’s camp (or, being his immediate spheres of influence, would need his blessing), according to an internal agreement between President and CEO; more on this later. It remains blurry, though as to where the process is stuck. AAN has heard it both ways: that the CEO’s side is not coming up with “good enough” candidates fast enough (as claimed by the president’s side) or that the president’s side keeps rejecting candidates as not eligible (as claimed by the CEO’s side).

At any rate, for different reasons these are also difficult positions to fill. Badakhshan, Nuristan, Uruzgan and Faryab are currently particularly hotly contested between insurgents and national security forces. Balkh remains politically sensitive. CEO Abdullah insists on keeping the current governor, his powerful if not most important ally Muhammad Atta Nur, who is also a contender to lead the political party Abdullah is also member of, Jamiat-e Islami. President Ghani on the other hand used to be keen on getting rid of this influential power broker and political enemy. However, with other provinces of the north mired increasingly in conflict, he now may feel forced to keep Nur on as someone capable of keeping the insurgency in Balkh at bay. (He may even be thinking of utilising Nur’s forces in the wider area; Nur, who is currently also the head of Jamiat-e Islami north section, has certainly offered – or threatened? – to do so.)

Similar tussles have meant most of the new governors (21 of 25) have only been appointed over the past five months, leaving the majority of provinces with ‘lame duck’ governors – demoted to caretakers – for many long months. Having governors who are not allowed to hire or fire or sign contracts (and are possibly feeling humiliated and listless) has not helped the government to deal with the steep decrease in security since the end of the presidential election. Making many appointments in the hottest phase of the fighting season also meant that new governors had to take a running start, trying to find their – vaguely described – roles, in between locals demanding they lobby on their behalf in Kabul and national security forces who do not answer to governors. 

What is the hold up?

So, what are the reasons for the sluggishness of the process? For one, as AAN was told by someone involved in the negotiations, it was only in the first week of May 2015 that the unity government finally agreed about which camp would appoint governors for which province. Until then, the two sides of the government had only managed to appoint four governors, struggling over appointments endlessly – and then putting them aside as the parliament kept shooting down minister candidates and more rounds of finding acceptable cabinet nominees were needed first. Obviously, the unity government has been able to tackle only one ‘appointment project’ at a time instead of solving them simultaneously.

And most other appointments seem to have been prioritised over the governors. After the cabinet issue was solved (except the still-pending defence minister nomination), “other issues got in the way,” as one staffer from the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), the state body most involved in the appointment process, told this author. “Peace talks, the fighting in the north, the president’s leg injury . . .” Particularly time consuming was the never-ending story of setting up an electoral reform commission (see AAN analysis here The first commission, appointed in March 2015, never started working, as the Abdullah camp objected to the appointment of Ghani ally Shukria Barakzai as head of the commission. The second commission came into existence only in July.

Currently, AAN was told, the struggle over who shall be attorney general seems to be taking precedence.

This ‘morsel by morsel’ approach to ruling shows the heaviness of an administration that basically needs to go through all decision-making processes not only twice – once on each side of the unity government in the heterogeneous camps around the president and CEO – but then a third time: with each other. At the same time, there has been little international urging to get on with it. The attention of donor governments seems to have shifted away from sub-national governance issues. “The pressure is off,” an international expert told AAN. “Local governance has become somewhat of a special interest topic. I remember when we used to have weekly coordination meetings among the donors and with the Afghan government – but now, with fewer staff in country and a faster rotation of staff, there is little knowledge left, and colleagues tend to view subnational governance as an unimportant side of things – the odds and ends of governing Afghanistan.”

“Everyone wants a say in everything, and no one wants to agree on anything”

In addition, new routines for making appointments had to be developed to satisfy a new double structure of top government. Governors are political appointees. In the past, it was the president who usually chose them (consulting, though, with allies, sometimes also opponents, and trying to create an unofficial power balance by affording them positions). There were few criteria to follow or institutions to involve, except for the occasional vetting commission nominated by the president himself. The lack of independent oversight was – and still is today – helped by the fact that official regulations on how state officials, particularly provincial and district governors, are to be appointed are blurry, if not contradictory. (1) For the 2015 governor appointments, there is still no independent panel. The IDLG, headless for long months and more or less powerless until Jailani Popal (the IDLG’s first director general from 2007 to 2010) was re-appointed in April, has been “giving suggestions and help with the background checks. But it is still the president who decides,” as one IDLG member told AAN.

With the position of CEO added into the picture and the need to share appointments, President Ghani set up a few more ground rules, saying that appointees should be at least 35 years old, have a bachelor’s degree and should not hail from the province they are supposed to govern. These new rules have never been made official, though. The May agreement, then, according to observers close to the camps, gave Ghani and his camp the right to appoint 18 governors and the Abdullah camp the right to choose 16 governors. How exactly the provinces have been divided is unclear. This is also because for provinces where capitals are also ‘regional centres’ (such as Kandahar, Herat, Balkh, Nangarhar, Khost, Bamyan and Kabul), both camps have to agree. This, apparently, included not only the two leaders but their wider political groups as well, that is, key allies like power brokers Abdul Rabb Rassul Sayyaf, Haji Din Muhammad and Yunus Qanuni who already had an unofficial say on provincial governors under Karzai. Karzai himself would also have been consulted.

Of course, this procedure rendered the decision-making process even more complex and time-consuming – along the way also watering down the concept of choosing candidates based on merit (as Ghani had promised during his campaign) and not because of their political relations.

Despite the agreement, some decisions still caused trouble, such as when CEO Abdullah, on 20 May, complained that President Ghani had appointed the governors for Helmand, Bamyan, Paktika and Nimruz without the consent of his side. “Everyone wants a say in everything, and no one wants to agree on anything,” someone involved in the process said. “I cannot count how many emergency meetings we have had over governors.”

Who are the new governors?

As with the recently appointed ministers (see AAN bios here), the list is again dominated by surprisingly young appointees. Many – so far, 14 of 25 – are only in their thirties or forties. The youngest, Nasratullah Arsala for Paktia (hailing from Nangrahar’s powerful Arsala clan), is only 33 years old (breaking the criteria the president himself had set for suitable candidates). With all this, the government has indeed initiated a generational change. This is particularly visible in President Ghani’s candidates, many of whom are not only younger than previous governors but also lack one of the main credentials of the past: fighting experience. The CEO’s candidates, on the other side, are often older, among them many staunch mujahedin such as Engineer Aref Sarwari (Panjshir), Hashem Zareh (Samanagan), Muhammed Asem (Parwan) and Amanullah Hamimi (Ghazni); for details see their bios.

The relatively young age of many appointees also explains why they are rather unknown to the political public. On some, AAN could find only the most basic information or had to rely solely on their own CVs (indicated in the bios below). Very few appear incapable, though. Most have some sort of academic education and conspicuously many seem to have experience in working with international donor organisations, NGOs or civil society bodies.

Experience in working with the government is rare, though. There are a number of former ministers – mostly acting or deputy – such as Hukum Khan Habibi for Khost, Muhammad Asem for Parwan, Asef Rahimi for Herat, Salim Khan Kunduzi for Nangrahar, Asef Nang for Farah, Muhammad Samiullah for Nimruz and Humayun Azizi for Kandahar. Even fewer have experience with sub-national governance. Here, among former one or half-term governors and provincial council members, only Abdul Jabbar Naimi for Laghman really stands out. As former governor of Wardak and Khost – both times over the full term – he is one of the few appointees from the (Ghani-supporting) camp around the Gailani family. Interestingly, after having governed two high-profile, so-called Grade One provinces (2) and with what seems to be a scandal-free track record, he is now in charge of one of the (what are considered to be) less important provinces.

Powerless governors?

The attempt to ‘rejuvenate’ provincial governance is promising and worrisome at the same time. It is promising as individual governors may not yet – or are less likely to – be entangled in existing networks and alliances, and thus bound by obligations to third parties. It is worrisome because the existing local governance system does not really favour candidates without such ‘assets’.

Afghan governors’ authorities are clearly limited – at least on paper. The most important document defining their role, the Subnational Governance Policy from 2010, keeps it vague where rights and responsibilities are concerned. It often uses rather spongy verbs such as “communicate,” “facilitate,” “coordinate,” “influence” or “ensure.” However, governors’ unofficial powers can exceed their official powers significantly – depending on personal skill sets and assets. With ill-defined authority and minimal financial resources provided by the IDLG, past governors often depended on ruling by seniority, charisma, wealth, relations or simply the standing they acquired fighting the Soviets or Taleban (Ismail Khan in Herat or the late Muhammad Daud in Kunduz were examples of heavy-weight governors who relied on their ‘war merits’; Atta Nur in Balkh still is). These features may still trump whatever technical or professional abilities the new governors bring. It will be interesting to see how well the young among them are equipped with these features and if/how they will manage to utilise them – or if their technical skills can make up for the lack of more ‘traditional’ assets.

Some observers suspect Ghani has purposefully pushed (on his and the Abdullah side) for this type of candidate – interestingly often perceived as ‘weaker’ – in order to secure his own influence. Some first observations seem to confirm that – whether intentional or not – choosing this type of appointees may have consequences. Kunduz’ new governor Safi, for example (not even among the youngest, at 42 years old), during a recent Tolo TV debate, was repeatedly attacked as a “boy” and as not experienced enough to tackle the province’s dire security situation.

Rumours already are that he may be replaced soon. The name of Gul Agha Sherzai (former Kandahar and Nangarhar governor who chose the nickname ‘bulldozer’ for himself) surfaced a few times during research and while his appointment to Kunduz is unlikely, the rumour illustrates the general longing for more ‘decisive’ leadership (a longing, too, that ignores numerous accounts of crimes committed). A high-ranking ANA official dealing with the security situation in Kunduz said upon hearing the rumour: “See, this would be a good decision. Sherzai has his problems and you may not want him around in more peaceful times, but this is the sort of man who can connect with elders, power brokers, militias. And there would be no doubt who is the boss.”

Another obstacle for new governors seeking to access their full potential is that, to ‘balance’ appointments between the two camps, deputies often hail from the ‘other’ camp – leading to a potential paralysation of subnational decision-making. Again, Kunduz governor Safi illustrates this, as the longest-serving among the new governors. He is indeed helpless vis-à-vis his own deputy who is close to Abdullah and a mujahed with excellent connections to local warlords and militias. He, together with the recently exchanged police chief, had ‘out-networked’ – some might say sabotaged – Safi on different fronts (read a previous AAN analysis here).

All of these issues raise the question of how effective the young technocrats can be. One international observer offered the thought that “provincial councils, too, have gone through a rejuvenation process and younger governors might work well with younger council members. We may have to give the new governors another few months to see how this political experiment pans out.”

The legal gap regarding governors’ powers

Apart from the apparent change in the character and skill sets of some new governors, a looming law review may change the way provinces are governed in the future – at least on paper. That changes are necessary is undisputed. Unnoticed by many, the Subnational Governance Policy, the document that currently ‘defines’ governors’ duties and responsibilities in most detail, has never made it into law. The so-called Local Administration Law has been stuck in the various steps of parliamentary discussion and approval for more than two years now. This has weakened governors further. A law “would legalise or rather finally formalise the power of governors in the state,” one national expert on the matter told AAN – but how exactly these powers will appear is far from clear. As AAN was told, the draft law is about to be withdrawn from parliament for more “changes,” after the Subnational Governance Policy is reviewed – something IDLG and presidential advisors are currently working on. A new draft has been promised for mid-September or later.

Some indications are that the changes may play out in favour of governors. While de-centralisation is traditionally a very sensitive topic, the new IDLG leadership seems to be trying another push for more provincial freedom of decision-making (details of which so far remain blurry), with one staffer saying “centralisation has been excessive over the past years.”

The president, however, is sending mixed messages in this regard. During his election campaign, he promised to “allocate 40 per cent of the central government budget to provinces” – something that would need to be reflected in a widened scope of gubernatorial responsibilities. This may at the time have simply been an attempt to woo provincial votes (also satisfying international onlookers who, in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, had put down improved subnational financing and planning mechanisms as one benchmark). But Ghani went beyond that by appointing his friend and ally Jailani Popal as new head of the IDLG – a man known for demanding more authorities for provincial and district governors.

On the other hand, the hesitant manner in which governors are being appointed does not particularly show any urgency to empower the provinces.

Governors and the security situation

When revising the Sub-National Governance Policy and the Local Administration Law, one of the most pressing issues that needs addressing is how governors can be better involved in managing the security situation in Afghan provinces. This has become even more urgent as in 2015 insurgents have attacked more district centres than ever before (see this recent AAN analysis on districts falling to the Taleban).

A discussion paper from June 2014, drafted by subnational governance experts from Adam Smith International together with the IDLG, on “Clarifying the Relationship between Governors and Security Sector Agencies,” stated that 

. . . the law is silent or unclear about the precise levels and types of authority that governors have or do not have in relation to security and other matters, just as it is unclear about the ways in which his general responsibilities should be carried out. This makes it difficult for the law to be applied consistently. The ambiguity is made worse by the absence of secondary legislation. That is, regulations setting out guidelines and procedures that attempt to spell out what actions governors should take, how they should interact with security and other government agencies, and what they might expect of one another.

As a result, there is confusion in nearly all provinces on what governors are supposed or allowed to do – and a significant amount of disappointment: on the side of the local communities who expect the governor to protect those suffering from conflict, to uphold basic service delivery such as health care and direct aid and relief towards them; on the side of the security forces who keep asking provincial governments to urge the central government to send reinforcements; and finally, on the side of the governors themselves who feel ignored by the central government when requesting forces (see for example these previous AAN provincial security analyses: Kunduz, Badakhshan, or Helmand).

Reducing the ambiguity here may help the new governors find their footing in provinces that have been rapidly changing over the past year or two – particularly the younger ones with no fighting experience (and thus even lower standing with the security forces they are supposed to cooperate with).

However, tackling the governors’ spheres of influence alone will not be enough to make a difference on the local level. Reforming sub-national governance is known to be an intricate thing. As one international expert described it: “The existing legislation is creaking everywhere – and half of what’s needed is missing anyway.” Revising this – and then trying to implement what has been put down on paper – may take long months if not years: this means more time ‘in limbo’ that will put the new governors at a disadvantage if they have no strong support from the central government. Central support – so far ambivalent, looking at governors’ complaints and the slow pace of appointments – must come first.



Governors’ Biographies (in reverse order of appointment)

Not yet appointed are the governors for: 1) Badakhshan, 2) Baghlan, 3) Balkh, 4) Takhar, 5) Sar-e Pul, 6) Faryab, 7) Kabul, 8) Nuristan, and 9) Uruzgan. One of these provinces should see the third female appointee, if the unity government goes ahead as planned.

10. Ghazni: Amanullah Hamimi (3 September 2015 – Abdullah appointee)

Amanullah Hamimi, a Tajik, was born in the Salang district of Parwan province in 1957 and went to Ibn Sina High school in Kabul. He is one of the less-known appointees. For further information, AAN had to rely solely on Hamimi’s own account of his life and career.

According to the CV that Hamimi sent to AAN, he had, in 1980, just started to study political science at Kabul University when the war broke out and he joined the resistance against the communist regime in Kabul (unspecified, but presumably Jamiat). He obtained his BA 15 years later from the Police Academy of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, in 1995. During the civil war, Hamimi rose fast through the ranks of the Northern Alliance. He claims he was General Commander for the Salang from 1986 to 1987, commander for Police District 4 of Kabul city from 1992 to 1994, and head of the Maintenance Directorate at the Interior Ministry from 1994 to 1997. In the post-Taleban era, he was the governor of Parwan from 1999 to 2003, governor of Badakhshan from 2003 to 2004 and governor of Logar from 2004 to 2005. Then, for almost a decade, he did not hold any official position. He is known to be an influential elder in Parwan province. 

11. Badghis: Jamaluddin Eshaq (3 September 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Jamaluddin Eshaq, a Pashtun, is one of the less-known appointees. AAN will add to this bio as soon as more information surfaces. What we know so far is that, according to a former member of parliament from Badghis, he may be a member of the Afghan Millat political party (some background in this previous AAN analysis), a Pashtun nationalist party that has been led for a long time by Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, one of President Ghani’s advisors and campaign supporters.

12. Jawzjan: Mawlawi Lotfullah Azizi (1 July 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Lotfullah Azizi, an ethnic Uzbek, was born in 1972 in Taloqan, Takhar province. He is one of the less-known appointees. He apparently has a BA degree in Islamic Studies and previously worked as the head of Takhar’s provincial council. He is a member of Jombesh-e Melli Islami, the political party/military faction headed by First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum and is therefore an appointee from the Ghani-Dostum camp.

13. Ghor: Sima Joyenda (28 June 2015 – not clear who appointed her)

Sima Joyenda, from the Aimaq ethnic group (forming the majority in Ghor province), was born in 1972 in Ghor province and attended high school there. That she hails from the province she is supposed to govern is a break from the criteria President Ghani set for governor appointments. The appointment is also a surprise as Ghor, a rural, very poor, very contested and particularly conservative province (see AAN analyses here and here), may not have been an obvious choice for one of the few female governors appointed. Indeed, within a week of her appointment, religious leaders had requested her removal.

Sima Joyenda started her career as a teacher at the Dar-e Timur High School in Ghor’s provincial capital, Chaghcheran, and later worked in the governor’s office in the ‘documents and communications’ department (asnad wa ertebat), which registers incoming and outgoing communications, such as letters. In an interview, her secretary told AAN that she had also worked with different organisations, among them UNAMA (apparently during some elections) and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as a number of NGOs (no dates or job descriptions given; Afghan Bios, though, mentions her work in ‘capacity building’ for women). In 2010, Joyenda was elected member of parliament for Ghor (running in 2005, she failed to get in). During this time, she studied law and political science at Kateb Private University. She also participated in the Emergency Loya Jirga in 2002 and the Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003.

14. Khost: Hukum Khan Habibi (9 June 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Hukum Khan Habibi, a Pashtun, is one of the less-known appointees, of the type ‘talented ministry official’. He was born in the Akbarkhel village of Azra district in Logar province (no date available at this time; he seems to be in his late thirties or early forties). He is said to have obtained a master’s degree from India, likely in the field of agriculture, and to have worked as a lecturer at Nangrahar University. He seemed to have served as director general in the Ministry of Agriculture, research department (no dates available; AAN is seeking confirmation). From some point in 2013 onwards, he worked as deputy minister of economy (technical affairs) and kept the position until he became governor on 9 June.

15. Wardak: Hayatullah Hayat (9 June 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Hayatullah Hayat, a Pashtun, was born in 1974 in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province. He obtained a degree in English literature in 2002 from Kabul University. His biography on the BAAG webpage (British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group), posted after he attended a conference it organised, reports he holds an “MBA in General Management from Preston University Islamabad, a BA in English from Peshawar University, and a BA in Political Science in Progress from Ariana University, Nangrahar.” This information may have been taken from his own LinkedIn profile.

Hayat has had a career working for NGOs and the UN, then with civil society, starting with the Mine Detection Centre (MDC) in Pakistan in the 1990s. As he told AAN in a phone interview, he went on working as a demining officer for Herat province for the United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) where he stayed on until 2000. In that year, he was appointed Country Director of the Danish Demining Group where he worked until 2006. For seven months in 2007, Hayat seems to have been a ‘mine action advisor’ for the UNHCR in Uganda, contributing to a project looking at refugee repatriation. From 2008 onwards, he focused on civil society activities as Executive Director of the non-governmental Organization for Social Development and Legal Rights (OSDLR) and speaker (then apparently head) of the Civil Society Coordination Center (CSCC). In 2013, he became the secretary for the civil society’s Joint Elected Working Group. Hayat also told AAN that he participated in the London Conference on Afghanistan in 2006, in the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in 2012 and the London Conference on Afghanistan in 2014 as one of the representatives of the Afghan civil society.

16. Parwan: Muhammad Asem (8 June 2015 – Abdullah appointee)

Muhammad Asem, a Tajik and Jamiat-e Islami member, was born in Khenjan district of Baghlan province in 1958. According to the website of the lower house of the Afghan parliament, he has a BA degree in political science from Tehran University, Iran. There may be another degree, as he is often quoted as Engineer Asem (although not everyone called ‘engineer’ in Afghanistan has the qualification). He has worked as acting minister and deputy minister for the Ministry of Telecommunication during the mujahedin time and after the collapse of the Taleban regime. He participated in the Emergency Loya Jirga in 2002 and was a member of parliament from 2005 to 2010. During the 2014 presidential campaign, he worked with Dr Abdullah and is described as a close aid . He was a key member of his unity government negotiations team. 

17. Laghman: Abdul Jabbar Naimi (7 June 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Abdul Jabbar Naimi, a Pashtun, was born in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar in 1967. After his primary education in Kandahar, he moved to Pakistan. Later, he worked as secretary for President Rabbani and served as a diplomat. In 2004, he became a campaign agent for President Karzai in Pakistan. Naimi is the appointee with the most experience in governing Afghan provinces, and he seems to have maintained a reputation as a ‘clean,’ effective governor. In 2005, he was appointed governor for Wardak, staying on until 2008 when today’s new governor for Logar, Muhammad Halim Fedai, took over. In 2010, he became governor in Khost province and stayed on until very recently. Naimi is a member of the Mahaz-e Melli Islami (National Islamic Front of Afghanistan) political party, one of the seven Sunni mujahedin factions (in general regarded to be a more liberal one) led by Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani.

18. Kapisa: Sayyed Muhammad Khaled Hashemi (6 June 2015 – Abdullah appointee)

Sayyed Muhammad Khaled Hashemi, a Sadat (Arab roots, claiming descent from the family of the Prophet), is, according to his office, 49 years old. He was born in 1966 in Maimana city of Faryab province. Also according to his office, he has a BA degree in political science from the private Dawat University in Kabul. Not much is known about his professional life until 2009 when he became a member of the Faryab provincial council. Afghan Bios calls him a “business man.” In 2010, he was elected as a member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament, the Meshrano Jirga. Here, as deputy head, he served on the committees dealing with senatorial privileges and provincial and district council affairs.

19. Samangan: Hashem Zareh (6 June 2015 – Abdullah appointee)

According to the official website of Samangan province, Mohammad Hashem Zareh, an Uzbek, was born in 1953 in Maimana city of Faryab province. He got his BA in literature from Kabul University in 1976 and has worked, according to BBC Persian, with the Ministry of Trade from 1977 until 1981 in different positions, including as ‘price manager’ (mudir-e qemat-ha) regulating prices, for example, for oil or gas on the local bazaars. From 1978 onwards, he has been a member of Jabha-ye Melli-ye Nejat-e Afghanistan, a mujahedin faction and political party set up by Professor Sebghatullah Mojaddedi (there are no further details about what Zareh actually did for the faction). In 1981, Zareh left for Pakistan to return when the mujahedin took Kabul in 1992. Then, according to the official biography on the Samangan website, he worked as head of an institution or company called Afghan Card (about which no further information can be found) until 1993 and then, from 1993 to 1994 as representative of the United Front (aka the Northern Alliance) in Turkey. After the collapse of the Taleban, Zareh was appointed presidential advisor on ethnic affairs from 2004 until 2007. From 2007 to 2010, he was governor in Jawzjan province. When this term ended, he continued as minister-advisor (wazir mushawer) to President Karzai until 2014. In the 2014 presidential elections, he ran as Gul Agha Sherzai’s second deputy.

20. Panjshir: Aref Sarwari (6 June 2015 – Abdullah appointee)

Mohammad Aref Sarwari, a Tajik and prominent member of the military and political mujahedin faction Jamiat-e Islami, was born in Kabul province in 1961; his family originally hails from Panjshir. He did his high school in Kabul city. In 1982, he started his studies at Kabul Polytechnic (no information is available about his field), but did not graduate. Instead, he joined the resistance against the Soviets. In 1988, when Ahmad Shah Massud created Shura-ye Nezar, the council of northern commanders within Jamiat, Engineer Aref (as he is known) was one of his key lieutenants and was appointed head of its intelligence committee. In 1992, when the mujahedin captured Kabul, Aref was appointed first deputy of Afghan intelligence; Qasim Fahim (later Marshal) was the head. In 1996, after the mujahedin lost Kabul to the Taleban, Aref became an advisor for security and politics and secretary for Massud.

After the September 11 attacks and the US decision to topple the Taleban, Aref was among the Jamiat commanders to capture Kabul. His old boss, Fahim was appointed to the defence ministry while he became head of the NDS and worked there until 2004 when he was replaced by his party comrade Amrullah Saleh. In 2005, Aref ran for the provincial council in Panjshir and was then elected as senator into the upper house of parliament (see here for his official biography on the upper house website). He is a staunch Abdullah ally and was close to the late Marshall Fahim.

21. Daikundi: Masuma Muradi (6 June 2015 – Abdullah appointee)

Masuma Muradi is a Hazara whose family hails from Samangan (this source says she was born in Kandahar). She seems to be in her forties. Currently, she is studying for her PhD in management at the Azad University in Kabul (branch of a well-known Iranian, Islamic university) and obtained her MA in the field of management from Payam-e Nur University in 2014. She also has a BA (seemingly obtained in 2008) in management and educational planning from the Ferdawsi University of Mashhad, Iran. With no dates given, she seems to have worked as general manager for the schools of Ibrahim Qasemi (an ex-MP and the current deputy of the National Security Council). In 2013, she was one of the 27 candidates presented to President Karzai as IEC commissioners. In the end, she was appointed deputy to the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Masuma Muradi also worked as a gender advisor to the Ministry of Women Affairs and as an advisor for the World Bank in good governance. She is the head of Women’s Green Society of Afghanistan and head of an institution called the Fukur Academic and Studies Centre. Since Daikundi, a Hazara dominated province, is in the sphere of power of CEO Abdullah’s deputy, Muhammad Mohaqqeq, Muradi would have been chosen upon his suggestion or with his blessing. However, she is not publicly known for close ties to him.

22. Nimruz: Muhammad Samiullah (19 May 2015 – Abdullah appointee)

Muhammad Samiullah, a Pashtun, was born in 1958 in the Chahar Asyab district of Kabul province. For this bio, AAN had to rely mostly on the appointee’s own account of his life and career, with some career information corroborated by the IDLG.

According to the resumé Samiullah sent to AAN, he went to Habibia High School in Kabul city in the 1970s and later on studied electronic engineering at Kabul University. He started his career in 1982, working as what he calls a ’workshop officer’ in the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, then became head of the Bagrami Brick Factory (1983–84). He joined the Ministry of Public Works (some directorate in charge of construction materials, 1984–87) and then was promoted to deputy for the same directorate (1987–90). During the 1990s (1993–96), he was with the private Banayi Construction Company. According to Samiullah himself, he has no political affiliations; however, it seems extraordinary that a young man could have escaped conscription into state forces in the 1980s while, at the same time, achieving rapid promotion if he did not have political connections.

From 2001 to 2003 he says he worked as “deputy manager for program and technical advisory” with the UNHCR in Peshawar, Pakistan. In a phone interview, he told AAN that he also worked as senior advisor for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation from 2003 to 2006. He then joined the Ministry of Counter Narcotics as deputy minister in charge of planning and finances (2006 to 2008) and afterwards, in 2008, was appointed a deputy minister for the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation where he stayed until 2010. Joining yet another ministry, Samiullah then became deputy minister for administration and finances at the Ministry of Energy and Water where, he claims, he worked from 2010 until he was appointed governor for Nimruz on 19 May. 

23. Zabul: Haji Anwar Khan Eshaqzai (19 May 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Anwar Khan Eshaqzai, a Pashtun of the eponymous tribe, was born in Nawzad district of Helmand province in 1954. He told AAN that he went to Assad Suri High School in Nawzad, followed by the Teacher Training College in Helmand in 1980. He said in 2015 (aged 59) he obtained a BA in political science at the private Tolo-ye Aftab University in Kabul, before leaving for Helmand as governor. Eshaqzai started working as a teacher in Helmand, at the high school where he graduated in 1977 and other schools until 1992. In 2002, he was appointed head of the provincial department of the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry in Helmand. He also claims to have been a delegate to the large jirgas in Kabul, among them Emergency Loya Jirga, Constitutional Loya Jirga, Traditional Loya Jirga and Peace Loya Jirga. He was elected as a member of parliament for Helmand for the period 2005–10. Then he joined the High Peace Council (HPC) to head the Political Prisoners Department.

24. Logar: Mohammad Halim Fedai (19 May 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Mohammad Halim Fedai, a Pashtun, was born in December 1970, in the Sharana district of Paktika province. He was five years old when his family moved to Pakistan. Here, he later started a career as a journalist, working in Peshawar, confirmedly for the American NGO CARE. At least by the later 1990s, he was managing programmes in Afghanistan. Fedai co-founded (in 2007) the Afghanistan branch of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA). He was also elected its first president. In 2008, Fedai was appointed governor of Wardak – at the time the youngest of all 34 governors. According to a report by the Killid Group, he is a member of Hezb-e Islami and close to Faruq Wardak, the ex-education minister. He himself denies the membership. Information about his education is patchy and contradictory. Afghan Bios reports he has a master’s degree in public relations, media and communication, a “three year diploma in English language” and a “degree in educational science” (the website does not mention from which universities). Pajhwok reported that he has two master’s degrees, one of which is in “crisis management” (no further details) from the International School of Business and Media in India. He was let go by President Karzai in September 2012, along with ten other governors, all of them accused of “corruption and lack of management.” In 2013 or 2014, Fedai founded a political pressure group – the Fekr wa Amal (Thought and Action) Jirga – that initially pushed for a joint Pashtun presidential candidate and later morphed into a campaigning platform for the Ghani team before the presidential election of 2014. Fedai officially joined the Ghani campaign team to become one of the supervisors monitoring the audit.

25. Bamyan: Mohammad Taher Zuhair (19 May 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Muhammad Taher Zuhair, an ethnic Hazara, was born in 1974 in Samangan province. He obtained a master’s degree in sociology from the private Kateb University and is a member of Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan, the split of the Hazara mujahedin faction, which is now headed by the ex-second deputy to the president, Muhammad Karim Khalili. Although he was still very young at the time, Zuhair is said to have been a senior commander during the civil war. In the 2010 parliamentary election, he was elected as a member of parliament (MP) representing Samangan province, but after months of dispute over fraud, Zuhair’s results, along with the results of nine other MPs, were annulled. A special court introduced replacements. From 2011 to 2014, Zuhair worked as ‘advisor’ for Second Vice President Khalili. During the 2014 presidential elections, he was one of the main spokesmen for Ashraf Ghani. He represented Hezb-e Wahdat in many meetings and is in general viewed as one of the up and coming forces within his party.

26. Paktia: Nasratullah Arsala (19 May 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Arsala, a Pashtun from the Jabarkhel tribe (which is part of the Ahmadzai, the president’s tribe), was born in 1982 in Hesarak district of Nangarhar province. Only 33 years of age, he is the youngest of all the appointed governors and seems to be breaking the criteria the president has set for governor appointments, that governors must be at least 35 years old. Arsala is a politically ‘attractive’ choice for Ghani, though, albeit still rather inexperienced (he was chairman of the provincial council and deputy head of the provincial High Peace Council). Being a soft-spoken ‘reformist’, his appointment can be viewed as a counter-balance against (or possibly appeasement of?) his politically aggressive clan that remains very powerful in the east and does not shy away from cementing its power base with armed men and money from shady businesses (see this 2014 AREU paper here and this AAN analysis).

Nasratullah Arsala is the youngest son of Haji Din Mohammad, a prominent figure of the mujahedin faction Hezb-e-Islami Khales. The father has had a number of high government positions including Nangarhar and Kabul provincial governor and member of the High Peace Council; he also headed President Karzai’s campaign in 2009 (after Karzai pardoned a nephew, Bilal, who had been caught smuggling drugs while head of the Border Guards in Takhar). Nasratullah seems at times to clash with his family, “but he is always able to mediate,” AAN was told. According to a Pajhwok report, he obtained his BA in economics from the private Eqara University.

27. Paktika: Aminullah Shariq (19 May 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Information about Paktika’s new governor remains vague in many points. What we know so far is that Aminullah Shariq, a Pashtun, was born in 1962 in Chaparhar district of Nangarhar province and got his BA in political science from Kabul University in 1984. He has worked as legal advisor on Kuchi and refugee issues for the parliament from 2011 onwards. He was also an advisor to the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) and the Industrial Development Bank of Afghanistan (no dates or job descriptions given). In 2010, he served as provincial commissioner of the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission in Logar (IECC). The Afghan news agency Pajhwok, without dates or job descriptions, also lists stints with a USAID project (the Afghanistan Municipal Strengthening Program), the Organization of Human Resource Development (OHRD), the United Nation Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA), the Monitoring, Evaluation and Training Agency (META), and the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR). During the 2014 presidential elections, he worked with the Ghani campaign.

(Paktika had another governor in the past months: Abdul Karim Matin, who was announced governor on 22 December and fired on 9 May.

AAN is nevertheless providing some biographic data as it might shed light on patterns of appointment. Abdul Karim Matin, a Pashtun born in 1979 (location unknown) was the youngest of the appointed governors until Nasratullah Arsala, born 1982, was appointed for Paktia. He, too, falls into the category of ‘young technocrat’, with stints in different government bodies and no fighting past. He went to Ghazi High School in Kabul’s neighbourhood of Karte-ye Chahr and studied at Kabul University (field unknown, but he is often addressed with the title ‘Engineer’). According to the IDLG that announced his appointment on 22 December, he worked for the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation Development (MRRD) (Afghan Bios says he was an officer working on “urban rainwater harvesting and regional coordinator” for the south. He also seems to have worked for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG); the magazine Afghan Zariza specifies it was the Independent Directorate of Border and Tribal Affairs. Afghan Zariza also called Matin a “close aid” to Ghani and reported that, during Ashraf Ghani’s presidential campaign, Matin served as “administrator” in his team.

The governor fell out of grace after alleging that the National Security Council (NSC) had handed out cash grants meant for Pakistani refugees in Paktika and Khost to families of fighters aligned with Daesh. The NSC formed a committee to investigate the matter and concluded that the allegations were baseless. On 23 April, Matin gave a press conference saying he had been “misinterpreted.” On 9 May, President Ghani sacked him.

28. Kunar: Wahidullah Kalimzai (19 May 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Wahidullah Kalimzai, a Pashtun, was born in 1968 in Sayedabad district of Wardak province. He comes from a politically active and wealthy family; his brother Obaidullah Kalimzai is a member of parliament for Kabul (his brother Hassibullah was accused of fraud during the 2014 presidential elections, allegedly having printed additional voting cards). The family, according to locals, seems to co-own Afghan Jet, Afghanistan’s newest airline with headquarters in the Kalimzai Plaza Tower in Kabul (see also here). A construction company run by family members works or worked in Nangarhar, Helmand, Kabul and Kunar. Wahidullah Kalimzai allegedly has a BA in political science and “a two years training in military” (no further details given on the kind of training or rank). According to Pajhwok, he also worked as a police officer in Police District 9 of Kabul city and later was appointed commander of a training squad (10 to 15 men) at the Ministry of the Interior. He is a key figure of the Mahaz-e Melli party, one of the seven Sunni mujahedin factions of Afghanistan led by Pir Gailani. In the past two years, Kalimzai has been the head of Shura-ye Qawm-e Wardak (the Wardak Tribal Council) as well as head of the provincial Mahaz office in Wardak.

29. Nangarhar: Salim Khan Kunduzi (19 May 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Information about the new governor of Nangarhar – one of the key governorships – remains scarce. According to the IDLG Facebook page, Kunduzi, a Pashtun, was born in 1973 in Aliabad district of Kunduz province and got his BA and MA (no fields given) from Faisalabad University of Islamabad, Pakistan. He has been working with the Afghan government for the past 14 years. Before being appointed governor, he was deputy and then acting minister at the Ministry of Agriculture.

30. Helmand: Mirza Khan Rahimi (19 May 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Information about Mirza Khan Rahimi is scarce. According to the IDLG Facebook page, Rahimi, a Pashtun, was born in 1956 in Ghazni province and has a master’s degree (the field is not mentioned). He has allegedly been working with “different security institutions” and has often been quoted as the head of the NDS in Kabul province (whereas colleagues of his told AAN he was actually head of the administration for Kabul NDS) before being appointed governor for Helmand. His appointment caused trouble in the unity government, with CEO Abdullah saying, on 20 May, that President Ghani had appointed Rahimi and three other governors (for Bamyan, Paktika and Nimruz) without the consent of the CEO.

31. Herat: Asef Rahimi (27 April 2015 – Abdullah appointee)

Muhammad Asef Rahimi is a Tajik born in Paghman, Kabul province, in 1959. In 1981, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Kabul University. After he became minister of agriculture in President Karzai’s cabinet in October 2008, AAN reported that he had studied public management in Nebraska, the United States (Rahimi’s CV, obtained by AAN, includes a certificate for a one-year programme in public administration and reconstruction development dated February 1989.) Starting in 1988, according to his own CV, Rahimi worked as a survey officer with a USAID project in Kandahar, but only briefly as in the same year, he started as officer with the NGO CARE in Kunar. He stayed on with CARE Afghanistan until 2000, being regularly promoted until he became what he called regional director. In 2001, he moved to Canada and joined CARE Canada where he worked as officer on programmes in South-Asia until February 2005. Upon his return to Afghanistan in either 2004 (AAN information) or 2005 (his Wikipedia page), he worked as director or senior manager of the National Solidarity Program (NSP) until 2006. He was deputy minister of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development from 2006 to 2008 and worked as Minister of Agriculture from 2008 to 2014.

32. Kandahar: Humayun Azizi (Dr) (27 April 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Humayun Azizi, a Pashtun from Herat province, was born in 1974. He went to Amani High School in Kabul and is a medical doctor with a degree from Kabul Medical University and some training in plastic surgery in France. (His biography on the Facebook page of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, where he later served, does not seem to confirm the much-repeated information that he obtained a master’s degree in France; it speaks of a “certificate in plastic surgery and hospital management” and “expertise” [takhasus], obtained in 2009). He worked as a doctor in a Herati hospital from 2000 to 2003, afterwards becoming the head of the burns ward (or of a hospital specialised on burns, not clear), at least until 2005. Then, he was appointed head of the Herat provincial council (until 2009). In 2010, he was appointed minister for parliamentary affairs. In 2011, Azizi was a member of the commission to prepare the Traditional Loya Jirga that discussed the US-Afghan security agreement (BSA) and the future approach to reconciliation with the Taleban (see AAN reporting here). He is said to have been the choice of former President Karzai, but is close to Ismail Khan who would have preferred to have this candidate be governor of Herat, not Kandahar.

33. Farah: Asef Nang (22 January 2015 – Ghani appointee)

Asef Nang, a Pashtun of the Suleimankhel tribe in Paktia province, was born in 1971 or 1972 and is, too, one of the younger appointees of the National Unity Government. He went to Habibia High School in Kabul and allegedly obtained a bachelor’s degree in economics in Um al-Qura, Saudi Arabia. He has worked with some Afghan media and magazines, among them as editor for the government magazine Peace Jirga. In this capacity, he was arrested in July 2007 and held for about two weeks, according to Reporters Without Borders for having published an essay critical of President Karzai. He also worked as spokesman for the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and the Ministry of Education (around the same time, under Faruq Wardak, around 2007). With no dates given, his biography on the Ministry of Education webpage also mentions a stint as public relations and information officer (title not really clear) with USAID. Later, he was appointed deputy minister of education for technical and professional education. In December 2014, President Ghani made Nang acting minster of education. He is said to be affiliated with Hezb-e Islami. 

34. Kunduz: Mohammad Omar Safi (2 December 2014 – Ghani appointee)

Kunduz’ new governor, Mohammad Omar Safi, at 42 years old (born in March 1973), is also rather young for a governor position. He hails from the ethnically mixed province of Balkh and is a (Safi) Pashtun. He is said to have been handpicked by President Ghani – whom Safi supported during the campaign – and in early December 2014, was the first new governor to be appointed. This was also due to the quickly deteriorating security situation in this key province in the north. Safi has experience in the security field – albeit not the police or army.

According to this article, Safi studied security management; AAN believes it was the Security and Risk Management course at the University of Leicester in the UK. AAN learned that he might now have or previously had his own security company in Kabul; employees confirmed that he worked as its CEO until appointed governor in December 2014; they did not want to comment on whether he was owner or shareholder. The website of this security company (that reports it had or has contracts with, among others, the UN and the US Department of Defence) says that Safi worked for 12 years for the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) as security officer; other sources speak of him being a “UN regional security coordinator in the north” for several years leading up to 2008 (when he, as AAN was told, resigned to run for the parliamentary elections in 2010, to no avail). He later allegedly joined the Etisalat telecommunication company as country security director and allegedly also worked as chief operations officer of Kabul Balkh Safety and Security, another private firm. Given that he obtained his degree from Leicester five years ago, while work assignments seemed to have been going on, he may have been attending the university’s distance learning courses. Safi was also a delegate for Balkh province at the Peace Jirga in June 2010.


(1) A September 2014 IDLG Policy Brief on “The Procedures for the Recruitment, Selection, Appointment and Removal of Provincial Governors” (not online) states:

The current Local Administration Law does not contain a detailed recruitment or selection procedure for provincial or district governors. Article 4 simply states that they are to be ‘appointed in accordance with the provisions of the law,’ and Article 6 says that the Council of Ministers is to approve the administrative organisation of subnational governance structures consisting of anybody that is included in the Ministry of Interior’s budget at the local level.

The responsibility for recruiting district and provincial governors was given to the IDLG upon its creation by presidential decree in 2007. However, this position has been clouded somewhat by the ambiguities inherent in civil service legislation and the creation of the Senior Appointments Board to advise the president on senior appointments. The Civil Service Law of 2007 claims jurisdiction over the recruitment and appointment of civil servants, which it defines in Article 4 (1). A presidential decree of October 2007, however, could be regarded as having superceded this as it indicates that IDLG rather than IARCSC would work with the president to appoint deputy governors and district administrators.

The office of the Special Advisory Board for Senior Appointments was created a year earlier by presidential decree on September 17, 2006 as part of a commitment made under the 2005 Afghanistan Compact. Although the decree declared that the Board was responsible for provincial governor appointments (but not district governors), it did not finalize a set of internal procedures until 2008, when it declared that both provincial governors and district administrators were within the panel’s mandate. This, however, was contradicted somewhat by the IDLG’s publication of its Subnational Governance Policy in 2010, which said that governors were excluded from the mandate of the Special Advisory Board. Theoretically, as a policy, this carries less legal weight than a formalised internal procedure, although this is not entirely certain. Neither, however, is particularly strong as pieces of quasi-legislation and the area therefore remains legally ambiguous. As a result, authority and responsibility in relation to governor appointments are contested by different agencies.

(2) The grades of provinces are largely determined by population, but additional political factors play into the assignment, informs a 2007 paper on “Service Delivery and Governance at the Sub-National Level.” “Grade 1 is the largest, grade 3 is the smallest. The grade of a province or district will affect the size of governor’s office and district office, as well as the position grades of the staff.” See here for a 2004 list, featuring at the time 32, not 34 provinces. Nuristan and Panjshir were created later. Dr Ghani told AAN during the election campaign in 2014, “I don’t see any Afghan province as superior or inferior to another Afghan province” – implying he would do away with ‘graded’ provinces.


ANSF governors IDLG provinces Security subnational governance


Christine Roehrs

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