KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — An Afghan-Canadian academic who fled his birthplace in 1991 before settling with his family in Coquitlam, B.C., will be sworn in this weekend as the newest governor of battle-racked Kandahar province, officials confirmed Thursday.
Tooryalai Wesa, 58, accepted Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s offer for the top political posting in Kandahar during a lunchtime meeting on Thursday, the president’s half-brother told The Canadian Press.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, chair of Kandahar’s provincial council, said Wesa is scheduled to arrive at the governor’s palace on Friday, the day before he’s sworn in as governor.
“I always wanted to be the bridge between two of my home countries, Afghanistan and Canada,” Wesa said Thursday in an interview with CBC.
“My priority will be to direct the interest of the fellow Canadians here in Kandahar to the right direction to help those who are eligible to be helped.”
Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Ron Hoffman, said a process began in Kabul more than two weeks ago to review candidates to replace Wesa’s predecessor, former army general Rahmatullah Raufi.
Hoffman, who is in London, said another gubernatorial contender — whom he did not name — had previously been picked for the post.
“There was a different candidate two weeks ago that I was told had the job,” he said.
Canada’s top civilian official in Kandahar, Elissa Golberg, welcomed Wesa’s appointment.
“We look forward to working with him to strengthen the bonds between Kandaharis and their government, including by helping the government to deliver essential services and maintain law and order,” Golberg said in a statement.
The governor of Kandahar is generally considered Canada’s biggest ally in the volatile southern province where the bulk of Canada’s troops, which currently number about 2,750, have been stationed for nearly three years.
Canadian soldiers are working alongside NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces in an effort to restore security in the region that is a hotbed for Taliban activity.
Wesa’s extensive background in education, development and aid work, coupled with his dual Canadian-Afghan citizenship, help explain why he was chosen for the post.
Wesa has also worked with Canadian soldiers by helping train officers from Canada’s provincial reconstruction team who are deploying to Afghanistan.
He has extensive experience working on rural development projects in Afghanistan, most recently as the south region director with Development Alternatives International.
Wesa is also the founder and first chancellor of Kandahar University. He is fluent in Pashto, Dari, Farsi, and English, and also speaks German and Arabic.
A 2004 interview with the University of British Columbia gives more details about the man who will be Kandahar’s next governor.
He was born in Kandahar in 1950 and received a bachelor of science degree from Kabul University in the early 1970s, followed by a master of science degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1977.
Wesa taught at Kabul University and advised Afghanistan’s government, the United Nations and aid groups.
He left Afghanistan with his wife and three young daughters in 1991 in the dying days of the Soviet occupation. Wesa’s family lived in Hungary and Switzerland before coming to Canada.
Wesa’s doctoral thesis at UBC focused on the impact of the Soviets on Afghanistan’s agricultural infrastructure.
“The main problem is the lack of professional people,” the UBC profile quotes him as saying.
“We lost three or four generations. Any child born since the first day of the Soviet-backed government has had almost no formal education. There is no infrastructure now.”
Appointing Wesa marks a shift in the governor’s palace from Raufi, who has said he was fired in early December after only three months on the job for running afoul of regional power brokers.
Raufi replaced governor Asadullah Khalid, whose tenure was marred by allegations of corruption, including the charge that he was personally involved in the torture of at least one prisoner in Kandahar. Khalid vehemently denied the reports.
Eight months ago, then-foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier committed a diplomatic faux pas by publicly calling for Khalid’s ouster.
Local Afghan politicians said the poorly timed gaffe forced Karzai to delay Khalid’s firing for fear of being seen as the puppet of a foreign power.
Canadian military and foreign affairs officials at Kandahar Airfield declined to comment Thursday on Wesa’s apparent appointment.