Focus on security in Lowgar province

Lowgar, in central Afghanistan, is one of the calmer provinces in the region. Although there is security and stability, according to local officials there is always the threat destabilisation due to its close proximity to the capital, Kabul, and neighbouring Pakistan.

"From a political point of view, the province is calm. After the Taliban left, mujahidin forces moved in and wanted peace in Lowgar," the new governor of Lowgar province, Abdul Malik Hamwar, told IRIN in Pol-e Alam, the provincial capital.

Originally from the central province of Kapisa, he admitted that he had a huge task ahead of him. His predecessor was raised to the position of governor by the people themselves, after political rallying between various parties. However, he was recently replaced by Hamwar, who was appointed by the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai.

"The mujahidin have established law and order," he maintained, stressing that he had made sure there were no armed men on the streets. Security is maintained in Lowgar by some 2,000 former mujahidin who form the backbone of a provincial army.

The governor admitted that there were some Taliban members left in one district, but said they had been disarmed to prevent them from disrupting daily life in the province.

"Lowgar is the gateway to Kabul and to the border with Pakistan, and we know that security must remain calm in order to keep unwanted elements out," he said, noting that there could still be members of Al-Qaeda on the border with Pakistan.

Lowgar is a multiethnic province, where Pashtuns, Hazaras and Tajiks live together relatively peacefully devoid of inter-tribal rivalry - unlike other central provinces such as Khowst, Paktia and Gardez, which remain unstable.

Commenting on the reconstruction of the province, Hamwar said there were many problems arising from the devastating drought which killed off thousands of hectares of agricultural land and orchards for which Lowgar is famous. Water is also urgently needed as some villagers are forced to walk up to five hours a day in search of it. As in all other Afghan provinces, the health-care system in Lowgar is virtually non-existent and facilities are extremely poor.

"We have informed aid agencies of our needs and priorities, but have not seen any results yet," Hamwar complained. The government buildings being used by the local authority are in a decrepit state. "It is impossible to work without infrastructure, and the reconstruction of Afghanistan is impossible under the present conditions," he observed.

The former governor and now head of the armed forces in Lowgar, Dr Fazlullah Mujaddedi, told IRIN he was working very closely with Hamwar. "After the collapse of the Taliban, there were armed people who wanted to start fighting. After many negotiations with various parties, we brought the situation under control," he said.

When the Taliban left the province late last year, it took some time for the political parties to establish offices so they could operate. "The offices we have established are staffed with representatives from all of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan, and we are proud of this," Mujaddedi added.

Speaking about the possibility of insecurity in the province, Mujaddedi said: "Traditionally in our culture it is the people themselves who ensure security. We are aware that insecurity can spread like an infectious disease, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure this doesn't happen."

Asked if he would like assistance from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), he replied: "We would only ask for their help if something major happened". He added that coalition forces were patrolling the area, as it was an important and strategic place. He echoed concerns that remnants from the Al-Qaeda network might be operating on the border with Pakistan. "According to news reports, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar [prime minister at the time of the Taliban's capture if Kabul in 1996] is operational in this area, but we have not seen any evidence of this," he said.

On the streets of Pol-e Alam, local people were pleased with the appointment of the new governor, and the political situation. "The governor is from Kapisa and we think this is an advantage as he won't have any close connections with people here who will want favours from him," a shopkeeper, Attique, told IRIN.

"The governor is treating us as equals and we are happy with the security here," Mohammad Reza, told IRIN. "We are lucky that we have peace here now," he added.