As the lumbering Osprey helicopter roared overhead, blasting its audience with a searing cloud of dust, so ended the era of Mullah Salaam.
With the fall of Musa Qal’eh to the British in late 2007, Mullah Salaam became the highest profile Taliban commander to turn over his arms and renounce his position. In return he was granted protection and the Governorship – in the hope that others would follow suit.
His subsequent reign – maintained through an iron fist, political ties and a notorious private bodyguard – made a complex situation only more frought.
Yesterday that all changed.
An unassuming man by the name of Neimatullah arrived as Musa Qal’eh’s newest Governor. Serving as Deputy Governor for Marjeh, Neimatullah earned a reputation for getting things done – high praise for someone overseeing a district suffering the heaviest fighting of 2010.
I was curious to learn more as we shook hands. He smiled through his cropped white beard, crinkling his eyes and nodded. ‘These people have lived in darkness for so long’ he said as we talked of his plans for the coming days. ‘We cannot simply sit and talk and promise. We must listen and act to demonstrate our commitment to them. We must not rest in the days ahead’
‘Step by step we will bring back the government to the people. And if we fail, we will fail together’ he said – looking at Angus, myself and Col Manning as he spoke. ‘But if we succeed, we will succeed together.’
I began to see how he had earned his reputation. Humble and thoughtful, sharing a wry smile yet offering a glimpse into the ambition behind his words. I sense a dim ray of hope beginning to emerge for this war-torn district’s future.