Afghanistan’s Karzai Dismisses Helmand Governor

Gulab Mangal is popular with Western forces but not an asset for Karzai post 2014.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai, in a declared attempt to fight corruption, has dismissed five provincial governors from their posts. Among those dismissed is Gulab Mangal of Helmand Province, a particular favorite of international forces. Mangal’s dismissal does not come as a surprise and makes a certain degree of sense in domestic political terms.

Karzai has tried numerous times to push Mangal out of office but always pulled back at the objections of the American and British forces stationed in Helmand, the largest of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. That he has finally ousted Mangal indicates that Karzai is looking beyond the opinions of Western allies and 2014, when NATO is set to withdraw, with an eye for his own job security.

In place of Mangal, under whose watch Helmand became the deadliest posting for NATO forces, Karzai is installing General Naeem Baloch, a little known member of the Afghan intelligence service and a man more closely allied with Karzai’s inner circle.

While viewed favorably by international forces, Mangal’s term as governor was controversial due to the rising tide of violence in Helmand. One of his predecessors, Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, was removed from office in 2005 amid solid rumors of links to drug trafficking and under international pressure.

In 2009, Akhundzada virtually admitted that he had been engaged in smuggling activities but told The New York Times, “at least I spent the money on government and soldiers! Now the money goes to the Taliban and kills British and Americans and Afghan soldiers.”

Violence in the south markedly rose after Akhundzada left the governorship, from one coalition death in 2005 to 62 in 2007, rising to a peak of 290 in 2010. Observers placed a degree of blame on Akhundzada, saying that he encouraged the province’s destabilization in an attempt to sabotage his successor.

Mangal, for his part, could do little to stymie the rising violence. His courting of international forces did not win him many friends and met with little concrete security success. Karzai’s dismissal of Mangal would appear to make sense. He is too close to the international forces busy planning their exit from Afghanistan while Karzai is contemplating Afghanistan’s future post 2014.

The president’s domestic political calculations put him at odds with Western objectives in the country. In an idyllic Afghanistan, poppies would not be the main cash crop and elections would decide authority. But the reality of governance in Afghanistan differs significantly from this vision. Which is not to say that the ideal is wrong but that demanding perfection is naive.

In his book, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012), Rajiv Chandrasekaran quotes Karzai as asking, in reference to Akhundzada, “Do you want a bad guy on your side or working for the Taliban?”

It seems Karzai has answered the question. His recent shuffling of governors is an attempt to gain greater control. If Afghan history is any lesson, this reflects Karzai’s own naive hopes of maintaining power.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Sher Mohammad Akhundzada had been removed from the Helmand governorship in 2008 when, in fact, he left office in 2005.


  1. President Karzai and the Afghans need to be focusing on strengthening the government by themselves as the internationals have not resulting to achieve much after 12 years now. Taking into consideration the removal of Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, due to huge pressure by the British, caused insecurity in the whole region and hundreds of civilians and troops being died every month on both sides. Helmand governor, Gulab Mangal was sacked as he was possibly instrumentalised by foreigners, in particular, the UK in Helmand. The Westerns have done so many faults here as they have created parallel structures with the government through establishing security companies for their transportation, hiring unregistered Afghans to guard their bases and they have done business with drug-traders and held high level meetings with the warlords. Keeping Gulab Mangal may also become a fault once the internationals leave the country and the established local militia takes the power which may cripple the central government. Winning a war is one thing but winning hearts and minds and maintaining an enduring peace is other. Policy makers should focus on the second aspect which is possible only by locals.

  2. Please note that Akhundzada was sacked in 2006 after him Eng. Daud was governor and then Assadullah Wafa was governor and Mangal came in 2008. Governor Mangal does not deserve any post in Afghanistan. He should be mayor of London, not in Helmand, as he is more loyal to UK, not to Afghanistan.

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