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IRIN Asia | Asia | AFGHANISTAN | AFGHANISTAN: Interview with governor of isolated Nuristan province | Democracy, Economy, Food Security, Health, Human Rights, Peace Security, Refugees IDPs | Interview
Sunday 25 December 2005
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AFGHANISTAN: Interview with governor of isolated Nuristan province

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Mohammad Tamim Nuristani, the newly appointed governor of Nuristan, is crying out for international support for his isolated province

KABUL, 28 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Development work and aid has all but dried up in the eastern Afghan province of Nuristan because of the lack of security and only a minimal government presence. Like many other eastern and southern provinces of the country, it is still reeling from the consequences of more than two decades of conflict.

Mohammad Tamim Nuristani, the newly-appointed governor of Nuristan, said in an exclusive interview with IRIN, that Nuristanis were faced with an extremely poor humanitarian situation and called on aid agencies and central government to revise their activities in the remote province.

Many national and international NGOs have scaled back activities in Nuristan because of insecurity on the ground. The last operational NGO in the troubled valley, Afghan Aid, ceased operations after an armed attack on its sub-office there. But the newly assigned governor - an Afghan technocrat who has returned from the west - claims the situation has changed and the way is now open for the re-establishment of aid delivery to the destitute province.

Nurestan, meaning ‘land of light’, lies on the southern slopes of the Hindu Kush. The inhospitable region used to be known as Kafiristan, or ‘land of the infidels’ because it was inhabited by an ethnically distinctive people, who practised animism until their forcible conversion to Islam at the end of the nineteenth century. Nurestanis live in isolated villages in deep, narrow mountain valleys, surviving on subsistence agriculture, growing wheat, fruit and raising livestock, mainly goats.

QUESTION: What is the general situation in Nuristan now?

ANSWER: The humanitarian side, we have a lot of problems. In fact over the past hundred years no development has taken place in Nuristan. In the last three years a lot of money came to Afghanistan but even a drop of it was not spent on Nuristan.

We do not have good roads. The local government is not strong enough in the province because nobody has helped us. We have problems with insufficient numbers [in the] of police force. We do not have any professional Nuristanis in the local government institutions and Afghans from other parts of the country are not willing to go to Nuristan to work due to remoteness and a lack of facilities on the ground.

We have to start from zero. I started two and half months ago, my priority is to build the roads between the villages and [to the] capitals of other provinces.

Q: The aid community has marked Nuristan as a ‘no go area' due to insecurity, how would you tackle this problem?

A: There is a perception that Nuristan is an insecure province but I don’t see any problems. In the last three years we had only three major incidents involving aid workers. Security inside Nuristan is not a major issue but how to get to Nuristan is a matter of concern.

We do not have a lot of local extremists in all parts of Nuristan, only in Kamdish - eastern Nuristan - and that is due to a lack of police and stronger government presence and that the district is bordering Pakistan.

There are no border police and everything can happen in this situation. Comparing the security of other provinces where there are more Afghan National Army and national police forces, our problem is very small.

If we talk about soft targets, we are now soft targets. We do not have enough guns to protect ourselves and still we feel secure enough. But you see, in the southern provinces of Zabul, Kandahar and Helmand, they are killing police officers every day. They’re killing district administrators. A lot of bomb attacks are there.

While, in the whole of Nuristan, we had only one incident in Kamdish when the office of the Afghan Aid [an International aid agency] was set on fire and even in that case they did not kill any staff members of the NGO. Kamdish is exceptional because it is a border district with no border police and infiltration is easy.

We have a problem of local disputes over land and water but not the insurgents. The local disputes do not affect NGO activities.

The problem is how to get to Nuristan and the only way to come here is through the troubled eastern province of Kunar.

And once you enter Nuristan you will see there are no people with guns, we don’t have any major warlords, while in Kunar we see bombs, rocket attacks and other insurgent activities. That is why a lot of national and international NGOs do not want to pass through that province.

In the past most of the local administration staff were not capable of running the affairs. I am now implementing an overall reform on the district level, which would also help with [improving] security.

Q: What are the major humanitarian problems you are faced with?

A: They are health, poverty, unemployment and a lack of roads. From 1 January we have lost the whole health coverage of the entire province when the remaining aid agencies scaled back. In the last six months we have had no active clinic or hospital across Nuristan. We are very dissatisfied with the work of the ministry of health in the province.

Prevalence of tuberculosis, whooping cough, diarrhoea and other preventable diseases are very high in the area, as well as the rate of maternal and child mortality. Unemployment and poverty are at their peak and if we don’t tackle these problems it will create a huge problem for us here.

If we don’t solve these problems the enemies will misuse this opportunity and use the unemployed against us. While there is no NGO activity and no government short-term or long-term projects, the unemployment is rising more and more.

And due to lack of roads, people have to walk long hours and even days to reach the nearest public facility such as a school, hospital or clinic.

Q: How serious is the issue of local disputes and will it come to an end?

A: We have three major (local tribal) disputes in Nuristan. One is between the Kushtuz and Kamdish people from 12 years now. Another is (between the) Arans and Wigal and again it is land and water dispute. And in western Nuristan we have the Zunya and Peyar dispute.

I have started working on reconciliation of the tribes involved in the disputes. With the issue of Kamdish and Kushtuz, with the help of UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] we are very close to solving the dispute there. The resolution of disputes takes a bit of time as it has been there for very long and a lot of people have been killed or disabled and even the entire Kushtuz village had been burnt.

Q: What are the means of security in the province?

A: Nuristan is more managed by community councils than police and army. Traditionally the Shuras [councils] are the decision-makers and always consult with people. People also listen and obey what Shuras decide. In fact a community support is more sustainable than support of thousands of troops.

But still we need police and army for the security of borders and districts. We don’t have enough police and security resources. We need the Afghan National Army and much more police to fill the gap mainly in the districts.

In the entire province we have 560 police officers and in the huge area of Nuristan, which has a 250 kilometre long border with Pakistan, it is impossible to maintain security without a proper and well-trained border police force. We rely on people and that is why, even without police, the situation is under control.

Q: What is your message to NGOs, central government and the donor community?

A: In the last two and a half months I have been knocking every door including the United Nations. I call on the donors and NGOs to come to Nuristan and see if there is any major security problem now.

We did not have any Al-Qaida [militants] before and Nuristanis were not with Taliban either. The province was a base for anti-Taliban groups. All you see is in the computers and emails of NGOs and donors that ‘Nuristan is a no go area’. The UN says they cannot work there because it is insecure but I hope everybody come and see what is going on here.

Even the US-led provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), which are stationed in neighbouring Kunar, are not doing any major assistance in terms of security or reconstruction in Nuristan.

Meanwhile we have been neglected by the central government because Nuristan has been rather a calm province and never a centre of attention for Kabul. We did not have warlords, no major attacks and maybe therefore there is no national police or national army deployed. Often, in some ministries, they do not even know if there is a Nuristan, as we never come under debate.

Q: What are your top priorities of short and long-term projects?

A: I am appealing to everybody to help us, especially on the road construction. I am working on a plan to extend 37 km road from the central valley to Laghman, which will then be a shortcut to Nuristan and you will not have to pass through Kunar.

Meanwhile, I think reviving tourism in Nuristan will be a key issue in boosting the economy and infrastructure in this historical and spectacular province.

We have had some discussion with the ministry of information, culture and tourism to start some tourist helicopter flights from Kabul to Nuristan, like the Kabul-Bamyan tourist flights they have already started.

We can arrange hiking, trailing, rafting, fishing, birdwatching and many other things, as Nuristan is a paradise of nature. In winter we can provide skiing. We don’t have any development funds but we have talked with some private sector enterprises to establish hotels and other facilities for visitors.


 Theme(s) Democracy
Other recent AFGHANISTAN reports:

ADB approves US $55 million for post-conflict country,  23/Dec/05

Journalist jailed for blasphemy, freed,  22/Dec/05

MPs elect president for the lower house,  21/Dec/05

Parliament convenes after three decades,  20/Dec/05

Government approves new counter-narcotics law,  20/Dec/05

Other recent Democracy & Governance reports:

AFGHANISTAN: ADB approves US $55 million for post-conflict country, 23/Dec/05

NEPAL: UN welcomes Maoist statement on aid and development, 23/Dec/05

WEST AFRICA: IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 309 covering 17 - 23 December 2005, 23/Dec/05

ZAMBIA: Govt extends maize importation, 22/Dec/05

BENIN: Pressure mounting but elections still in doubt, 22/Dec/05

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