The mayor of Kandahar

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The man who's running one of Afghanistan's most dangerous cities had an unlikely start. He was an accountant in a Washington, D.C. suburb for 20 years. Correspondent James Murry profiles Kandahar's mayor Ghulam Hayder Hamidi.

KATY CLARK: Afghanistan's second largest city, Kandahar, was the birthplace of the Taliban. The Taliban is still strong there, and NATO troops are always in action in the surrounding countryside. The city itself still suffers from the effects of wars that began 30 years ago when the Soviet Union invaded. One man is trying to bring some order back. James Murray reports.

JAMES MURRAY: If being mayor of one of the most dangerous cities on the planet is draining you wouldn't know it by following Ghulam Hayder Hamidi around for a day.


JAMES MURRAY: He spends much of his time hopping around his shattered city and strangely stopping almost as much re-construction work as he gets going.


JAMES MURRAY: While giving us a tour of his town, Hamidi hops out of his van to confront a shop-owner who insists he's allowed to pour concrete right out to the road without leaving room for a sidewalk.


JAMES MURRAY: Waving his arms, Hamidi lectures the businessman about the importance of public space then bends over and begins tearing up the concrete with his bare hands. This is civics afghan style.

GHULAM HAYDER HAMIDI: I saw big problems here.

JAMES MURRAY: Which is why he came back after 20-years as a bookkeeper in a Washington DC suburb. Hamidi says years of war have left most Kandaharis knowing only how to live as refugees

GHULAM HAYDER HAMIDI: They are not paying attention anything to the city, the rules, those things.

JAMES MURRAY: They don't know how to live in a city.

GHULAM HAYDER HAMIDI: Yeah, yeah, that's the biggest problem.

JAMES MURRAY: Appointed by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whom he describes as an old family friend, Hamidi's fighting corruption too. Canceling shady deals that saw contractors and politicians keep much of the aid money themselves. Hamidi's also irritated Kandahar's drug lords, the city's dotted with big fancy houses paid for by opium smuggling. For his trouble, he's been targeted by assassins. That too is civics Afghan style. Some of his children have begged him to go back to America but Hamidi says he's staying.

GHULAM HAYDER HAMIDI: One day you have to die, you will die in the US by cancer, by car accident, by some other reason. And you will die in Kandahar by bullet or by bomb. What's the difference?


JAMES MURRAY: Right now, Hamidi is on a roll. He's started a new program to collect garbage and tax people for the services. Roads are being paved for the first time in years. And here, in a clogged irrigation canal, barefoot boys and men sink up to their shins in oily black sludge, shoveling away debris and muck. The work is paid for by about 50-thousand dollars in international aid. Hamidi's grateful for the money and NATO troops.

GHULAM HAYDER HAMIDI: All the world that they are helping Afghanistan. Those brother or sister are giving their life, their blood here, and their tax money here. We will not forget, Afghan people are good people. They are not forgetting this help.


JAMES MURRAY: And then Hamidi is back in his van again, thumbing at his well-worn cell phone ordering a city engineer to come check on this work. The mayor wants the job done right. For the World, I'm James Murray in Kandahar.

KATY CLARK: As we heard in that report, Kandahar is a dangerous place. No one knew that more than local legislator Sitara Achekzai. Achekzai was born and raised in Kandahar. In April of this year, she was shot and killed outside her home. The government blamed enemies of Afghanistan, which is code for the Taliban. Photographer Paula Lerner interviewed Achekzai just a few weeks before her murder. You can see a slideshow featuring Lerner's pictures and the interview with Sitara Achekzai on our website. Come to the-world-dot-O-R-G.