Ann Marlowe writes for The New Republic:
“The Taliban have already taken over in Kandahar! Come out onto the streets and see. There is no government there!” Or so Rangina Hamidi, the American-educated daughter of Kandahar’s mayor, Ghulum Hamidi, warned me in Kabul last month. Her remarks echoed a recent survey of 1,000 men in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. It found that 51 percent would prefer justice to be administered by the Taliban and 59 percent think the Taliban would do a better job of running the economy than the current Afghan government.
Rangina gave me her father’s phone number, adding that he answers his own phone. “They killed the last two guys who did that and he can’t find another one to work for him.”
When I arrived at Kandahar Air Base on the way back from a U.S. Army embed, I suggested to the mayor that he send a car to take me to his office. “Why don’t you stay on the base?” he replied. “I will come to meet you at the civilian side of the airport.”
Two white SUVs pulled up, the first filled with bodyguards. Hamidi got out of the second. White-haired and bespectacled, he looked like the American accountant he happened to be. He even wore brown Calvin Klein loafers. But his traditional grey Afghan baggy trousers struck a different note.
“Until a half year ago I did not use bodyguards, he explained. “Everyone was telling me to take some. When they blew up my car killing two people, the Canadian Ambassador replaced it with the white one and I took some bodyguards.”
We walked to a small park in a traffic-free traffic circle. Hamidi spoke English fluently but too eagerly, convolution often being the result. He worked for 13 years in the Afghan Ministry of Finance before fleeing the country. He and his wife raised five daughters and two sons in Virginia; his daughter Rangina graduated from the University of Virginia.
Mr. Hamidi’s job now is not only dangerous, but also filled with mundane headaches. Afghan mayors handle the most thankless aspects of municipal administration—trash pickup, street cleaning, road maintenance, and parks. They have no jurisdiction over the police, or the supplies of power and water, or schools, all of which are controlled from Kabul by local line ministries, and all of which are failing in Kandahar.
Mr. Hamidi begins by telling me that his first priority is simply to keep the city clean. There’s no sewage system, so this amounts to a Sisyphean task. There’s power only every other day, and without it, households have no running water, either. Schools in the suburban districts have been taken over either by the Taliban or foreign forces as command posts.
“My daughter Rangina says the Karzais are using me,” Mr. Hamidi volunteers. “But I am here for Kandahar’s 800,000 citizens and not for [President Karzai’s Kandahar-based brothers] Ahmad Wali Karzai or Qayoum. I tell the truth to Mr. Karzai.”
Mr. Hamidi seems justifiably proud of his success in collecting unpaid taxes and making businesses register with the municipality. This has enabled him to boost the city’s funds significantly.
“When I came there was 3 million afghanis ($66,666) in the municipality bank account, now there is 270 million ($4.9 million). This is from tax and rents. It was hard to get people to pay their taxes but I was an employee of the Ministry of Finance and I know how to collect taxes.”