The can-do mayor of Kabul: Some see a model for a modern Afghanistan politician
The former civil engineer turned mayor of Kabul, Afghanistan, is winning praise by using his 17-hour work days to promote road repair and provide homes to the poor or homeless.
Of all the fool's errands in Afghanistan, being mayor of Kabul has to be near the top of most cynics' lists. In the past eight years, the city's population has mushroomed from 1.5 million to nearly 5 million without any formal planning, most of the roads are unpaved, and whatever limited services the city offers often seem to exist more in theory than in practice.Skip to next paragraph
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Even the title "mayor of Kabul" rarely denotes the actual mayor himself. Most often it is used by critics of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to deride him for his perceived inability to control the regions beyond the capital city.
But Kabul does have a real mayor. His name is Muhammad Younus Nawandish, and, despite all the challenges, he's managed to become one of the most respected and arguably one of the most effective politicians in all of Afghanistan.
"We haven't had a mayor like this for at least nine years," says Mohammed Omar Naemyar, a founding member of the Kabul Residents' General Council, an independent citizens' organization. "Since the day when the new mayor was appointed, things have become more lively in Kabul. The municipality is doing some fundamental work that we've been waiting on for too many years."
A new type of politician
After less than a year on the job, it's clear that Mr. Nawandish is a departure from the type of politicians Kabul has known over the past 30 years.
His office boasts, among other achievements, of having repaired more than 1,000 square yards of road, paved tens of miles of new roads that have helped alleviate traffic, planted 15,000 square yards of grass, and provided 15,053 homes to the poor or homeless.
Within the next year, the mayor has pledged to pave all major roads in Kabul. It's an ambitious decree, but one the mayor says he's confident he can fulfill.
Considering Nawandish's lofty mayoral ambitions, it may come as a surprise that this was never a job he wanted. "I had no interest in being the mayor of Kabul, because I knew the situation and the problems in Kabul after living here for more than three decades," says Nawandish. "For the last eight or nine years, Kabul has been ignored. There was no big rebuilding in the city and the citizens were making lots of demands. There was a lot of work and we didn't have enough resources to do this. Also, the municipality was famous for corruption, so I didn't want to join this organization."
He didn't even campaign. While the mayor is supposed to be elected, Kabul doesn't have the resources to hold an election right now. So President Karzai appointed him.