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.


Pelosi scrapped Afghan trip after Trump ‘leaked’ details

Updated 30 min 22 sec ago
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Pelosi scrapped Afghan trip after Trump ‘leaked’ details

WASHINGTON: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday excoriated her political nemesis, President Donald Trump, for “outing” her commercial trip to Afghanistan after barring her from using a military aircraft, forcing her to scrap it entirely over security concerns.
The brawl between the no-nonsense Republican leader and the take-no-prisoners Democrat — who is now just two heartbeats away from the presidency — is the latest round in their shutdown showdown.
The federal government has been shuttered for four weeks over Trump’s insistence that a wider budget measure include billions of dollars for a wall on the border with Mexico — and Pelosi’s refusal to do so.
Their spat spilled into the diplomatic arena on Thursday when, after Pelosi suggested that Trump postpone his State of the Union address until the government reopens, the president grounded her military flight.
Pelosi accused Trump of being “very irresponsible” in breaching security protocol.
“We had a report from Afghanistan that the president outing our trip had made the scene on the ground much more dangerous because it’s just a signal to the bad actors that we’re coming,” she told reporters.
The administration strongly denies that it “leaked” any plans about the trip to a war zone.
“The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat-out lie,” a senior White House official said.
The US government shutdown, which has left about 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck, is now the longest in the country’s history — and there is no sign of a compromise.
The Office of Management and Budget reportedly issued a memorandum saying that “under no circumstance during a government shutdown” can a congressional delegation use government aircraft for travel.
However, Republican Representative Lee Zeldin led a delegation to Iraq and other countries since the shutdown began.
Pelosi’s office sounded off on the administration’s handling of her trip, which had not been announced for security reasons.
The State Department released an updated assessment stressing that Trump’s announcement of the Pelosi travel “had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops,” her spokesman Drew Hammill said.
“This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”
Democratic lawmakers have expressed outrage.
“As a former member of the Intelligence Committee who has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan, disclosing ANY Members’ travel into a war zone is disgraceful and dangerous,” tweeted House Democrat Jan Schakowsky.
“This is unprecedented.”
Trump lashed out at Pelosi once again on Twitter, asking why she and other Democrats would leave the country “on a seven day excursion when 800,000 great people are not getting paid.”
And then his re-election campaign team released a tongue-in-cheek shutdown-related campaign fundraising request.
For a contribution of $20.20, a reference to the next election year, the campaign told supporters it would send a fake red brick to Pelosi and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — to build a wall.