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Gul Agha Sherzai

Gul Agha Sherzai was the Pashtun governor of Kandahar province, Afghanistan from 1992 to 1994 and from from December 2001 to 16 August 2003. Sherzai was later appointed governor of Nangarhar on 26 June 2005.

Sherzai, a blackbearded heavyset man with a commanding presence, is the son of a poor restaurant owner and ethnic Pashtun from the Kandahar Province. He began calling himself Gul Agha as a mujahedin fighting the Soviet military in the 1970s. He later added Sherzai ("son of lion" in the Pashto language). Sherzai helped President Karzai drive the Taliban out of his native province and served as governor of Kandahar from 1992 to 1994.

He ruled Kandahar prior to the Taliban rise, and the corruption and feuding of his regime strengthened his Taliban opposition. Sherzai's officials were notorious for bribery, extortion and widespread theft. He was a governor in name only during the anarchic reign in the mujahideen period. His misrule in Kandahar were among the reasons why the Taliban came up in Kandahar in 1994.

After the Taliban took control in 1994, he was forced into exile in Quetta, Pakistan until the end of 2001, when he aligned himself with US forces after September 11 and the subsequent ouster of the Taliban government. Sherzai, who had enjoyed a close relationship with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency since the time of the Soviet occupation according to Newsline magazine , had been contacted by the Americans and asked to raise his forces for the defeat of the Taliban. Within hours of the Northern Alliance's seizure of Kabul, Gul Agha led a force numbering between 200 and 1,000 men across the Pakistani border from Quetta towards Kandahar. Accompanied by his tribesmen and hundreds of Afghan refugees recruited from camps driving trucks stocked with weapons, Sherzai left Quetta for the Chaman border and entered Afghanistan through Shin Narai, following Hamid Karzai's lead. Capturing Takht-e-Pul in the wake of an air bombardment, Sherzai's forces managed to cut off the road between Kandahar and Spin Boldak.

He reclaimed his position as Governor of Kandahar when he surged into the area with his private army and took control of government offices. Taliban leaders agreed to vacate the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar following negotiations with Hamid Karzai. Under the deal, Gul Agha Sherzai was reappointed governor. He was to be assisted by Mullah Naqibullah, the man to whom the Taliban formally surrendered, who would now oversee the province's administrative affairs. But tensions between the different groups, particularly between Gul Agha's men and Naqibullah's supporters, threatened prospects for peace and security after the departure of the Taliban.

Mullah Naquibullah, who was in his late sixties, eventually declined to accept the post, ostensibly on the grounds of advanced age. It was believed that he was disinclined to work under Sherzai. He declared that he would nevertheless nominate someone else from within his tribe for the slot. Differences between the two remain and behind-the-scenes maneuverings are in full swing with Engineer Yousaf Pashtun and Khalid Pashtun, Sherzai's cousins, taking advantage of their tribe's cosy relationship with the Americans at present, attempting to oust Mullah Naquib from the power game altogether by labelling him Mullah Omar's close associate.

Sherzai consistently supported the interim administration of Hamid Karzai. Like Rashid Dostum in the north, Ismail Khan in the west and Haji Qadir in the east, Sherzai re-emerged as one of the most prominent political and military figures in the country.

He was crucial to ongoing poppy eradication efforts in Kandahar, a region that once produced more than 50 percent of the country's opium under the Taliban. While the Karzai regime introduced a token ban on production in January 2002, it lacks the effective means of enforcing its decrees, thereby enforcing the ban only selectively and relying on the influence of a formerly drug-tainted warlord like Sherzai.

Karzai appointed Sherzai Governor of Kandahar, but he was later moved to Nangarhar after complaints about Sherzai's corruption grew too loud for Karzai to ignore. President Hamid Karzai's younger half brother and Popalzai chieftain, Ahmad Wali Karzai, outmaneuvered his local political rivals from the families of Governor Gul Agha Sherzai and the late mujahedin commander Mullah Naqib. Through extensive alliances and deals he established himself as the undisputed leader of the region.

After becoming governor of Nangarhar in 2004, Sherzai became known as "The Bulldozer," after he completed in record time daunting projects, including a network of roads, solar-powered street lights in the cities, and a historically accurate reconstruction of the presidential palace in Jalalabad. In a 2007 interview to "The Sunday Times," Sherzai spoke about a project to turn the Tora Bora caves in Nangarhar, once Osama bin Laden's hideout, into a holiday resort. "Tora Bora is already a world-famous name but we want it to be known for tourism, not terrorism," Sherzai said.

In March 2008 Listeners of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan (RFA) voted for Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of the eastern Nangarhar Province, in the first-ever nationwide "Person Of The Year" contest. The award is given for advancing the cause of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and reconstruction. Sherzai, a former governor of the Kandahar Province and former adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was credited with establishing the rule of law in the province, keeping the peace, eradicating poppy fields, and building an important highway between the capital Jalalabad and Torkham, on the border with Pakistan.

A commission for negotiations with the Taliban was established in early 2009 by Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai. The commission consisted of tribal elders and popular figures from the Nangarhar and Paktiya provinces. The goal was to hold gathering inside Afghanistan to discuss ways to secure peace. "We have no other option but to bring peace, so that we stop the killing of brothers by the hands of brothers. In particular, we want to put an end to the bloodshed of the Pashtuns," Sherzai said.

By 2010 Nangarhar was the leading province in the East in terms of providing security and government accounting services for the greater region. For example, Nangarhar's Afghan Border Police (ABP) Brigade also covers Kunar and Laghman provinces and the Nangarhar Financial Ministry provides accounting for these provinces, according Nangarhar greater responsibility.

A two-day provincial justice conference in Nangarhar 1-2 February 2010 brought national justice representatives together with their Nangarhari counterparts to discuss systemic justice challenges in the province. More than 200 provincial justice officials gathered at Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai's conference hall. Nangarhar,s Chief Prosecutor inadvertently highlighted the impotence of the provincial justice system by admitting that he had personally paid off squatters to leave his property, rather than deal with the laborious process of a lawsuit. The conference ended with a fiery speech from Governor Sherzai condemning the inability of provincial prosecutors and judges to convict criminals.

In October 2011 heavily armed young fighters vacated their respective trenches in eastern Afghanistan, honoring a truce demanded by the local government and halting a tribal land dispute that had claimed more than 100 lives over the last two years. The two sides, from the Alisher Khel and Sepah branches of the Pashtun Shinwari tribe, agreed to the three-year truce only after Nangarhar Province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai threatened military action to put an end to their fighting. The truce lasted just one day.

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Page last modified: 21-08-2012 12:37:45 ZULU