Stand-Off Over Powerful Afghan Governor Foreshadows Bitter Election Fight

Atta Mohammad NoorAtta Mohammad Noor

A stand-off between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful provincial governor he is trying to remove from his northern stronghold, is increasingly turning into a battle over next year’s presidential election.

Noor, a leader in the Jamiat-i Islami party and governor of the strategic province of Balkh, is defying Ghani, denouncing the “weak, lazy and corrupt” Kabul government in daily rallies with thousands of supporters and warning the government against trying to remove him by force, Reuters reported.

Noor accuses Ghani of trying to remove a potential rival and divide Jamiat ahead of a presidential election. “This is about the 2019 presidential election,” he told Reuters in an interview at his office in the provincial capital Mazar-i Sharif. “They have no grassroots support among the people and they are afraid of public figures who do.”

Ghani has not explained an announcement last month that he had accepted a letter of resignation from Noor, signed earlier last year during negotiations over a possible national role for the governor who has ruled Balkh for more than a decade.

But Noor says the letter, which has not been made public, was conditional on steps that Ghani has not taken and has refused to go.

  Disputed Election

As the stand-off in Balkh has continued, it has become a national issue, with Noor now demanding wider concessions, including what Jamiat sees as proper implementation of the accord underpinning Ghani’s national unity government.

Like many of the political problems of the past three years, the crisis stems from the fraud-marred presidential election in 2014 that left no agreed winner.

Under a US-brokered deal, Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, was appointed president while his rival Abdullah Abdullah, from Jamiat, was given the specially created post of chief executive.

Ever since, Jamiat supporters have bitterly resented what they see as Ghani’s betrayal of the deal and favoritism toward Pashtuns, traditionally the strongest group in Afghan politics.

While Noor has been angry with Ghani, he has also been incensed by Abdullah, his long-time party rival, whom he describes as a “snake”.

“Jamiat will never trust Dr Abdullah,” he said. “He has shown he is weak and a partner in the incompetence and crimes of the government.”

Abdullah has confirmed he had approved the decision to oust the governor, but has had little to say about Noor’s reaction.


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