Power struggle in Helmand after governor is sacked

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The governorship of Helmand province, the base for UK operations in Afghan-istan, remains unclear after the sacking of the British protégé Mohammed Daoud.

President Hamid Karzai removed Mr Daoud from the post despite lobbying on his behalf by Tony Blair on a recent visit to Kabul.

The governor's deputy, Amir Muhammad Akhunzada, widely suspected of being involved in the drug trade and other criminal activities, was also supposed to have been sacked. But Mr Daoud and Mr Akhunzada were back at their offices yesterday in the provincial capital Lashkar Gar. While Mr Daoud acknowledged he had lost his job, Mr Akhunzada was adopting the role of acting governor.

British authorities have refused to work with Mr Akhunzada, who was barred from taking part in the recent elections because he refused to disband his private militia. His older brother, Sher Mohammed Akhun- zada, also suspected of being involved in the drugs trade, was replaced by Mr Daoud at the UK's insistence.

Mr Daoud, who has a reputation for honesty, was seen as a key player in British plans to control heroin production in Helmand, and carry out vital reforms. Officials were bewildered by the turn of events. One said: "Nothing is clear-cut right now."

General Nabi Jan Mullahkhail, the provincial police chief, told The Independent: "Governor Daoud should have been given another six months to show how his reforms were working out. But it is the decision of President Karzai and we have to accept it.

"Rather than work for Amir Muhammad Akhunzada, I would quite like to arrest him. All I can say is that he has been responsible for a lot of Helmand's misfortunes."