Ex-Taliban sniper becomes mayor of Afghan town

This photo taken on January 17, 2022 shows a woman in a burqa waiting to receive a signature on her proof of address at the office of Maymana Mayor Damullah Mohibullah Mowaffaq (left) in Maymana, capital of Faryab province, in northwestern Afghanistan. Photo: AFP


This photo taken on January 17, 2022 shows a woman in a burqa waiting to receive a signature on her proof of address at the office of Maymana Mayor Damullah Mohibullah Mowaffaq (left) in Maymana, capital of Faryab province, in northwestern Afghanistan. Photo: AFP

Strolling through the town of Maymana, the new mayor appears to inspire goodwill among war-weary voters in the Afghan provincial capital.

But Damullah Mohibullah Mowaffaq has a reputation as one of the best marksmen in the ranks of the Taliban, until last summer, waging war for control of the country.

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Mowaffaq was named mayor of Maymana, capital of Faryab province in the far northwestern reaches of Afghanistan, in November, three months after the Taliban overthrew the Western-backed government and seized power.

He rose to prominence as a fighter, but his schedule is now filled with the day-to-day tasks of local government – unblocking sewers, planning roads, and settling neighborhood feuds.

His change reflects the broader transformation the Taliban is undergoing as the insurgents grapple with the administration of the territory.

“When I was fighting, my goals were very specific: to end foreign occupation, discrimination and injustice,” the 25-year-old told AFP.

“Now my goals are also clear: to fight corruption and make the country prosper.”


During a walk through the streets of Maymana, the new mayor talks to municipal employees who clean the roadside gutters.

Residents of the City of 100,000 approach with complaints and suggestions, which are dutifully added to an ever-growing to-do list.

“The new mayor is young, well-educated and, above all, from the city,” said his non-Taliban deputy, Sayed Ahmad Shah Gheyasi.

“He knows how to deal with people.”

Unlike the poor, educated rural men in the madrasas that make up the Taliban base, Mowaffaq came from a family of wealthy traders and grew up in Maymana, where he excelled in school and sports.

Memories of his youth adorn his office including a certificate from a martial arts competition as well as his high school diploma.

After joining the insurgency at 19, he was promoted to command a small unit deployed in Faryab province.

Others describe him as one of the Taliban’s most talented snipers, although he seems reluctant to get sucked into telling war stories.

But during a walkabout with AFP, he stopped in front of a house stained with ammunition marks near the village of Doraye Khoija Qoshre, where his unit once dominated.

Here he used to hide, target American troops with his rifle and build a reputation as a sniper.

“He killed an American with his rifle from that house, then a plane came and bombed him,” said Saifaddin, a local farmer, who like many in Afghanistan goes by only one name.

Although it could not be confirmed that Mowaffaq was responsible, in mid-2019 the United States announced that a member of its special forces had been killed in fighting in Faryab.

A year earlier, the Afghan Analysts Network said Maymana was “virtually besieged” due to a “surprisingly widespread Taliban presence”.

Mowaffaq has seen several comrades killed in action but remains evasive about the horrors he both inflicted and suffered.

“I had a lot of ups and downs,” he says.


The United Nations and rights groups have accused the Taliban of gross human rights abuses since they took power in August.

The deaths of more than 100 members of the former government or security forces have been blamed on the country’s new leaders, while women activists have been arrested and journalists beaten for covering their protests.

The Taliban ideal of a thick beard and black turban may frame Mowaffaq’s face, but in many ways he is an unconventional totem of their austere ideology.

Across the country, Islamists have effectively expelled women from the public sphere, excluding older girls from education and largely excluding the opposite sex from the workplace.

But in Mowaffaq’s office, female employees have been allowed to continue working and a public garden in the city is reserved for them.

Under the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, the full burqa was compulsory for women.

This time, the religious police did not issue the same diktat, although they ordered women in the capital to cover their faces.

In Maymana’s mayor’s office, “nobody tells us how to dress,” said Qahera, his 26-year-old human resources director, who wears a hijab that conforms to current dress requirements.

The meteoric takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban took even members of the movement by surprise.

Their efforts to lead the country are crippled by sheer inexperience, brain drain, a humanitarian crisis and pressure from Western powers that have frozen their assets.

About Walter J. Leslie

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