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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Local Governor Assassinated In Afghanistan

Arsala Jamal in a ribbon cutting ceremony in 2007. He was killed in a mosque bomb on Oct. 15, 2013. (U.S. Navy via Wikimedia)

Arsala Jamal (center) in a ribbon cutting ceremony in 2007. He was killed in a mosque bomb on Oct. 15, 2013. (U.S. Navy via Wikimedia)

A bomb planted inside a mosque microphone killed the governor of Afghanistan’s eastern Logar province Tuesday.

Arsala Jamal was delivering a speech to worshipers to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Jamal, 47, was a close confidant of President Hamid Karzai and served as his campaign manager during the 2009 presidential elections.

No one claimed responsibility, but the Taliban have been increasingly targeting Afghan officials and soldiers, and U.S. and NATO forces.





In Afghanistan this week, a provincial governor was killed as he delivered a speech to worshipers at a local mosque. The bomb that assassinated him was apparently planted in his microphone. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the killing of Governor Arsala Jamal, but the Taliban have been recently targeting Afghan officials and soldiers.

Dawood Azami is the former BBC bureau chief in Kabul. He's now with the BBC's Pashto Service, and he joins us from London. Dawood, I wonder if you might begin by describing to us who Arsala Jamal was.

DAWOOD AZAMI: Well, Arsala Jamal was the governor of Afghanistan's Logar Province, and before that, he served as the governor of another province, which is called Khost Province. And Khost Province shares a border with Pakistan's tribal region of Waziristan where the Pakistani Taliban, the TTP, the Haqqani network and some al-Qaida operatives are based.

So when he was governor of Khost Province, he made some contacts with the Taliban across the border. And when he was made governor of this province in April this year, he was using those old contacts to convince some of the Taliban to stop fighting and join the peace process.

So he was close to Karzai, President Karzai of Afghanistan. And he was an educated man. He could speak English, Pashto, Dari and Urdu. And he was a Canadian citizen because during the war years, he migrated to Canada with his family. So he came back to Afghanistan after the fall of Taliban to help in reconstruction of the country.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Dawood, he had also been the target of several previous assassination attempts. Given all that you just told us about Jamal's background, do we know who might have wanted him dead and why?

AZAMI: Well, it's very strange that nobody has accepted responsibility for the attack that killed him. But previously, around 1,000 mid-level leaders in Afghanistan have been killed over the past 10 or 12 years. So he was also one of those people who wanted to help rebuild the Afghan institutions, and I guess the aim is to prevent the process of institution-building in Afghanistan and disrupt that process and not allow Afghanistan to have strong institutions.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, 1,000 mid-level leaders, as you've said, in the past several - many years in Afghanistan, I mean, the destabilizing effect of that has to be fairly profound. So is the goal of the groups that have done these targeted assassinations, is it - are they meeting their goal? Is - have they destabilized the civic infrastructure of the country?

AZAMI: I think they have destabilized the civic infrastructure of the country up to some extent because such targeted assassinations have demoralized some people in the country who are already working with the government. And it has also discouraged a lot of people who want to join the government because they fear an assassination. That's why they don't want to take a risk and work for the government.

And thirdly, this has resulted in the weakening of institutions in Afghanistan in general because people like Arsala Jamal, who had the experience of running an institution or building an institution, when they are eliminated. So it takes a lot of time for a newcomer to get that level of experience and expertise. So in a way, the goal has been achieved.

But in the meantime, such attacks have strengthened the resolve of a lot of other Afghans who want Afghanistan to emerge stronger after this crisis. That's why we see that people are still applying for jobs in the government. So it doesn't mean that the institution-building process has stopped. It still continues. But such disruptions have a very negative impact on the institution-building process in general.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Dawood, finally, if I may ask, you've got such a long history covering Afghanistan as a former Kabul chief for the BBC. I'm wondering what you make of all this and what kind of confidence you have about the country's future.

AZAMI: There are many positive stories in Afghanistan. So much has happened over the past 10 years. If you see the media, 10 years ago, there was only one TV station, and now there are more than 70 in Kabul and in other provinces. This is a big achievement. Democracy - there are institutions, there are functioning ministries, functioning institutions in the provinces.

So there is a lot of reconstruction. Roads have been built. Schools have been built. Clinics have been built. Millions of children, both boys and girls, go to schools. And there are more than 20 universities now. Ten years ago, there was only one university. Now there are more than 20 universities. But insecurity is the main problem, and I think it will remain one of the biggest challenges in the years ahead.

CHAKRABARTI: Dawood Azami is with the BBC's Pashto Service. Dawood, many thanks for speaking with us.

AZAMI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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