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Afghanistan: Radio Free Afghanistan Names 'Person Of The Year'

Gul Agha Sherzai, Governor of Ningarhar province speaks with journalists about the explosives seized by Afghan police, in Jalalabad, 8 May 2006

An Afghan governor has been named Radio Free Afghanistan's "Person Of The Year" for his role in keeping the peace and reconstructing his war-torn province.

Listeners of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan (RFA) voted for Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of the eastern Nangarhar Province, in the first-ever nationwide "Person Of The Year" contest.

The award is given for advancing the cause of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and reconstruction.

Sherzai, a former governor of the Kandahar Province and former adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was credited with establishing the rule of law in the province, keeping the peace, eradicating poppy fields, and building an important highway between the capital Jalalabad and Torkham, on the border with Pakistan.

The announcement was made on air by RFA Director Akbar Ayazi to mark the beginning of the Afghan new year.

Sherzai, a blackbearded heavyset man with a commanding presence, is the son of a poor restaurant owner and ethnic Pashtun from the Kandahar Province.

He began calling himself Gul Agha as a mujahedin fighting the Soviet military in the 1970s. He later added Sherzai ("son of lion" in the Pashto language). Sherzai helped President Karzai drive the Taliban out of his native province and served as governor of Kandahar from 1992 to 1994.

After becoming governor of Nangarhar in 2004, Sherzai became known as "The Bulldozer," after he completed in record time daunting projects, including a network of roads, solar-powered street lights in the cities, and a historically accurate reconstruction of the presidential palace in Jalalabad.

In a 2007 interview to "The Sunday Times," Sherzai spoke about a project to turn the Tora Bora caves in Nangarhar, once Osama bin Laden's hideout, into a holiday resort. "Tora Bora is already a world-famous name but we want it to be known for tourism, not terrorism," Sherzai said.

Listener Votes

RFA Director Ayazi said that the 10 finalists were announced at the beginning of March and, in a two-week voting period, RFA received more than 400 calls a day from listeners.

"There was tremendous excitement about this among our listeners," Ayazi said, adding: "We were amazed by the response to our contest, our listeners participated in huge numbers. This is the first time Afghans could choose their own person of the year. Governor Sherzai was the clear choice of the people."

Ramazan Bashardost, an independent parliamentary deputy praised for his uncompromising stance against corruption, was awarded second place in the contest. A well-known women's rights activist and deputy Shokria Barikzai was also in the final running.

Told by RFE/RL that he was in line for the award, Sherzai said: "No matter what, I will continue to serve my people and help make Afghanistan a lawful and law-abiding country."

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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