|History and Biodata
The man with the most sway in Marja (Helmand Province) is Abdul Rahman Jan, the former police chief in Helmand. His officers in Marja were so corrupt and ruthless -- their trademark was summary executions -- that many residents welcomed the Taliban as a more humane alternative. Once an anti-Soviet mujahedin commander, his rise to power in the 1990s and again after the ouster of the Taliban eight years ago led to local suffering. Members of his militia pillaged, raped, and engaged in the drug trade, according to locals.
Formerly allied with Helmand strongman and former Governor Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, Jan was appointed as the provincial police chief after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Although Jan, who has extensive ties to narcotics traffickers, was removed from his post in 2005 after pressure from the British government, which was then about to send forces to Helmand, he remains close to Karzai. Jan injected himself into discussions with tribal leaders in the run-up to the current operation. U.S. and British diplomats say they think he will seek to influence the shape of the future Marja government and police force, in an effort to protect his interests in the area. "Karzai wants A.R.J. to be the guy calling the shots in Marja, not Haji Zahir," said a Western diplomat familiar the issue. "That makes building an effective, stable government there a very challenging proposition." U.S. officials have made it clear in private meetings with Afghan officials that Jan will not be allowed to reconstitute his police militia.
The Marines intend to set up a new police department, drawn in part from men selected by tribal leaders. Recruits will be screened for past violations and will undergo weeks of training at the main Marine base in Helmand. Since 2007, when the Taliban overran his Marjah stronghold, Jan has lived in Helmand's provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, with his extended family of 12 children and grandchildren. Marjah residents want it to stay that way, but Jan is already hinting that he might soon return to his sprawling home and farmland in Marjah. Jan has formed a 35-member Marjah Shura, or tribal council, in anticipation of renewed control of Marjah. While his return was made possible by the recent offensive, which cleared the agricultural town of insurgents, Jan has been openly critical of the effort's results.
Many suspect him of using his influence within his Noorzai tribe against the Ishaqzai, who over the years have provided manpower to Taliban ranks to counter his influence. (Both Pashtun clans are part of the larger Durrani Pashtun tribal grouping, which populates much of southern Afghanistan and has played a central role in the country's politics.)