Afghan governor removed from power

Move apparently made to undercut Karzai rival before Oct. 9 elections


KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan government announced yesterday the removal of the powerful governor of Herat, in western Afghanistan, one of the country's longest-standing warlords. The move appeared to be designed to undercut the governor, one of the major opponents to President Hamid Karzai, before the Oct. 9 presidential elections.

The removal of the governor, Ismail Khan, is momentous for the central government, which has tried without success to reduce his power or remove him for the past two years. After Karzai's removal of the defense minister, Marshall Muhammad Qasim Fahim, from the presidential ticket last month, the action yesterday was one of the boldest moves by Karzai in nearly three years in office to reduce the power of the warlords.

The government announced the removal as a promotion, saying Khan was being appointed the new minister of mines and industries, but the governor was clearly reluctant to leave and told local radio that he would not accept the ministerial post but would remain in Herat as a private citizen.

Khan has dominated western Afghanistan for more than 20 years - as a mujahedeen commander fighting the Soviet army and later the Taliban, and as undisputed ruler of Herat for a period in the 1990s and for nearly three years since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. He has resisted any control by the central government and has kept a tight hold on the local political and economic scene.

Weakened by two military attacks against his soldiers this year and the assassination in March of his son, Mirwais Siddiq, the government's minister of Civil Aviation, he gave in to government pressure last week.

He told a local radio station yesterday that he had accepted the government's decision to replace him but probably would not go to Kabul, because it was not a post for which he was qualified, said Muhammadullah Afzali, chief of the government's foreign department in Herat.

"He has said that he will stay where he is right now, not as a governor but as a private citizen, and that he will work for the security and prosperity of Herat," said a Western diplomat, who was in telephone contact with Khan yesterday. Discussions would continue about a future post, the diplomat said.

The government quickly put in a new appointee, Sayed Muhammad Khairkhwa, who had served as ambassador to Iran and most recently to Ukraine. The new governor would go to Herat today or tomorrow, said a presidential spokesman, Jawed Ludin.

Extra troops were sent in from the Afghan National Army along with members of the National Police and National Security Directorate yesterday afternoon. About 1,000 soldiers were guarding strategic positions in the city of Herat, in case anyone tried to take advantage of the transition of power, said a Defense Ministry spokesman, Gen. Muhammad Zaher Azimi.

Khan's removal is part of larger changes in the region designed to stabilize the area.

The governor of the neighboring province of Ghor, and one of Khan's opponents, also was removed and given an advisory post in the Interior Ministry. Amanullah Khan, who began the recent fighting by attacking the Shindand air base, south of Herat, is under control of the intelligence service, the National Security Directorate in Kabul.

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