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)
Updated 18 December 2017
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Afghanistan’s Balkh governor steps down amid heightened tension

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.


Bomb kills Afghan election candidate, wounds seven: officials

Updated 47 min 32 sec ago
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Bomb kills Afghan election candidate, wounds seven: officials

  • Another seven were wounded in the blast
  • The latest attack takes the number of election candidates killed to at least 10, the majority of them murdered in targeted killings

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: A bomb placed under a sofa killed an Afghan election candidate on Wednesday, officials said, as deadly violence escalates ahead of the October 20 parliamentary ballot.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, which takes the number of candidates killed so far during the campaign season to at least 10.
Jabar Qahraman had been meeting with supporters in his campaign office in the southern province of Helmand -- a Taliban stronghold -- when the attack happened, provincial governor spokesman Omar Zhwak told AFP.
Another seven people were wounded in the blast in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah.
The bomb had been hidden under Qahraman’s sofa, Zhwak said.
“We have arrested several people in connection with the blast,” he added.
Provincial police spokesman Salam Afghan confirmed the explosion had killed one person and wounded at least two.
Most of the 10 candidates who have died in the lead-up to the election were murdered in targeted killings.
Qahraman was the second candidate killed in Lashkar Gah this month, after Saleh Mohammad Asikzai was among eight people killed in a suicide attack last week.
That incident came a day after the Taliban warned candidates to withdraw from the parliamentary election, which the group has vowed to attack.
Poll-related violence has increased ahead of the long-delayed vote, with hundreds of people killed or wounded in attacks across the country.
Qahraman, a former army general under the Communist regime in the 1980s, had long been in the Taliban’s crosshairs.
President Ashraf Ghani sent Qahraman, a sitting MP, to Helmand as his special envoy in 2016 to help defeat the militant group. Qahraman later resigned.
Preparations for the ballot have been a shambles and with days to go, organizers are still struggling to distribute voting materials to more than 5,000 polling centers.
The election for parliament’s lower house is seen as a dry run for the presidential vote scheduled for April and organizers have said it would not be delayed any further.
It also is seen as a key milestone ahead of a UN meeting in Geneva in November, where Afghanistan will be under pressure to show progress on “democratic processes”.
Almost nine million people have registered to vote, but observers expect far fewer to turn out due to the threat of militant attacks and expectations of widespread fraud.
More than 50,000 members of Afghanistan’s already overstretched security forces are being deployed to protect polling centers on election day.