KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sacked five provincial governors, including a key Western ally in one of the most turbulent battlegrounds of the south, officials said Thursday.
Government insiders said the move was part of efforts to reform and fight corruption, but the dismissal of Mohammad Gulab Mangal in Helmand province could ruffle British and US allies who considered him an important ally against the Taliban.
Mangal was sacked for "political reasons," according to a senior official in Karzai's office.
"He had lots of unnecessary relations, close relations with the foreigners which the president didn't like. He was suspected to be involved in corruption," the official said, on condition of anonymity.
The four other sacked governors -- for the provinces of Kabul, Badghis in the west, Nimroz in the south and Wardak, south of Kabul, were dismissed for being "incompetent," the official said.
Mangal, a Pashtun from eastern Paktia province, served as a colonel in the Afghan army and worked in the interior and defence ministries in the late 1970s when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
He served three times as a governor -- of Paktia from 2004-2006, Laghman from 2006-2008, and Helmand from 2008-2012.
His replacement in Helmand is General Mohammad Naeem Baloch, an army general who was a Jihadi commander during the 1980s, who has previously served as the province's intelligence chief.
He is currently working in the intelligence agency.
Waheed Mujda, an author and political analyst, told AFP: "The areas where new governors were appointed by President Karzai are areas the president controls and he has an influence in those areas.
"I don't accept that Mangal was fired because he had good relations with the West, usually most of the governors had good relations with the West.
"And we have seen in the past, Karzai has always appointed former governors in new posts and he has always brought old faces into his cabinet."
Another four governors were reshuffled between the provinces of Faryab and Takhar in the north, and Laghman and Logar, adjacent to Kabul.
Munshi Abdul Majeed, the governor of Baghlan, also in the north, was made an advisor to Karzai.
The government official said he had been moved because he is old. Taliban insurgents have increased their activities in Baghlan in recent years.
In July, Karzai admitted that his government was corrupt and issued a sweeping directive for reform ahead of the withdrawal of international troops in 2014.
The president -- who has faced accusations he is part of the problem rather than its solution -- called on the Supreme Court to "work on and finalise all the cases regarding administrative corruption, land-grabbing... within six months".
The government official, speaking to AFP, said that further reforms would be made.
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