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Ex-Taliban sniper becomes mayor in Afghanistan

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Smiling and relaxed, Damullah Mohibullah Mowaffaq chats with municipal workers cleaning sewers in Maimana, a city in northern Afghanistan. Months before, the young mayor was a sniper in the Taliban ranks.

Without the slightest hesitation, a merchant approaches him. 

“For four years the sewer in front of my house is too deep and full of waste, it smells terrible. Please help me fix it!” He pleads.

Mowaffaq, 25, was appointed mayor of Maimana in November, by order of Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund, instead of a Taliban mullah.

Between the Islamists’ seizure of power in mid-August and his appointment, he was in charge of security for the city of about 100,000 people.

Although he wears a bushy beard and the black turban of the Taliban, he stands apart from the ultra-conservative clerics placed in key positions in the new administration.

“The new mayor is young, well-educated and, very importantly, from the city (…) He knows how to deal with people,” says Sayed Ahmad Shah Gheyasi, his deputy, who like almost all municipal employees, was already in office at the time of the previous government backed by western countries.

The fact that Mowaffaq belongs to the Uzbek minority, like the majority of the inhabitants of the province of Faryab, of which Maimana is the capital, makes the tasks easier.

The Taliban are predominantly from the Pashtun people.

To manage his city, he spares no effort. Whenever he can, he goes out on the ground to supervise the projects in progress, reassure the population and prevent corruption, endemic with the previous city council, from flourishing.

– Elite marksman –

“When I was fighting my objectives were very specific: to end the foreign occupation, discrimination and injustice. Now my goals are also clear: to fight corruption and make the country prosper,” he told AFP.

Mowaffaq was first a simple soldier, later becoming the commander of a small Taliban unit. Those who know him describe him as one of the most talented in the movement.

He instead remains discreet about his past on the front lines and his shooting skills. But in the village of Doraye Khoija Qoshre, near Maimana, which he was in charge of for the last three years, he is well remembered. Both because of his skill with weapons and because of his humanity.

The mayor stops in front of a house with bullet-riddled walls where he used to hide to attack government forces that came to the area.

The surrounding inhabitants greet him like an old friend. And several confess that he had a “good attitude” with civilians, who began to trust him.

– ‘Wracked by corruption’ –

Born into a wealthy family of businessmen, he grew up in Maimana itself, where he excelled at school and in sports. He dreamed of being a doctor “to serve (his) people for him,” he says.

Some memories of the past still adorn his office: the first prize of a mixed martial arts competition and a high school diploma with a photo in which, clean-shaven, he is unrecognizable.

After living through 15 years of conflict, he decided to join the Taliban ranks when he turned 19. “The country was occupied and ravaged by corruption,” he justifies.

In Maimana, plans have already been reactivated to build a cultural space in the main park and a garden reserved for women is also being rehabilitated.

Because while the Taliban arouse outrage around the world for their treatment of women, municipal employees enjoy a rare freedom here. All have returned to work, an exception in the country.

Qahera, a 26-year-old human resources director, comes in to have a document signed. “No one told us how to dress, how to wear the hijab, we have no problems,” she says, her face uncovered.

The new mayor’s priorities include repairing roads, improving development plans, and finishing his predecessor’s projects.

In his office, visitors come and go. Sometimes it’s a man who needs gravel for his street, an employee who needs his car repaired, or a woman in a burqa who needs proof of residency signed. And sometimes he is asked to help resolve a neighborhood fight.

Image Credit: AFP

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