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Afghanistan’s Balkh governor steps down amid heightened tension

In this file photo, governor of the Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor, speaks during an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan.25, 2017. (REUTERS)
KABUL: The powerful governor of Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province, Atta Mohammed Noor, has stepped down following months of tension with President Ashraf Ghani — and days after being warned by his party supporters of his dismissal.
The presidential palace stated on Monday that Ghani had accepted “Atta’s resignation, which he had offered some time back.”
Noor, an ethnic Tajik and a leader of Jamiat-e-Islami (JI), was appointed in office by former President Hamid Karzai in 2004, but he has reportedly been under pressure for some time to resign.
A source close to Noor told Arab News that the long-serving governor of Balkh had agreed early this year to step down if Ghani accepted some of his conditions, including an increased role for his party in key national and international issues, which also involved appointments and dismissal of ministers.
He said Ghani did not accept Noor’s conditions and made a “hasty” move that could likely compel the JI to call for a boycott of Ghani’s government, as the JI leaders vowed days back during a meeting with Noor.
Salahuddin Rabbani, the country’s foreign minister, who is also a JI leader, will also step down along with other members of the party who serve in various government capacities, “putting legitimacy of the government in question,” the source said.
The fate of JI’s senior leader, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who serves as the chief executive in Ghani’s administration, is also in limbo, he added.
Noor managed to generate revenues for his province by building relations with Uzbekistan, which gave him a good reputation among the population of Balkh and turned his constituency into a model city in Afghanistan, both in terms of reconstruction and security, while much of the rest of the country suffers from violence and crime.
The JI has for long held clout in Afghanistan’s economy and politics. Former President Hamid Karzai also tried to replace Noor once but failed because of the party’s stature. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah was the JI’s presidential candidate during the 2014 elections and became the chief executive under a US-brokered deal with Ghani.
Many in Afghanistan’s political circles allege that Ghani tried to reduce the JI’s influence in recent months, mostly by replacing its prominent figures.
Earlier in summer this year, Ghani stopped First Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum from returning to Afghanistan. Dostum is another factional leader from Balkh to announce the formation of an opposition alliance with Noor and another senior member of Ghani’s government.
Weeks ago, Noor accused Ghani’s government of barring his plane from traveling to Kandahar, where a group of opposition parties and parliamentarians had gathered to discuss the shortcomings in Ghani's administration and express concern over alleged government meddling in the 2018 parliamentary elections and the 2019 presidential polls, in which Ghani is highly expected to run for the office again.
Dostum, Noor and many of those who had gathered in Kandahar accuse Ghani of monopolizing power and nepotism — an allegation denied by Ghani, who seems to be under pressure from the US and Western donors to bring reforms in his government.
Ghani chose to replace Noor with Mohammed Dawood, who has served as commander of the JI in the past.
Noor’s departure adds further to the already deepening political tension in the government over Taliban insurgents and Daesh affiliates making headway in the battle arena and with the growing calls for convocation of a grand traditional assembly “Loya Jirga,” which may decide on the formation of an interim government and the fate of the US forces in Afghanistan.