Afghanistan political turmoil deepens as regional leader ousted

Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of the Balkh province, speaks during an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan January 25, 2017. (Reuters)
Updated 20 December 2017
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Afghanistan political turmoil deepens as regional leader ousted

KABUL: One of the main parties behind Afghanistan’s Western-backed government warned President Ashraf Ghani that it could withdraw its support unless he reversed the dismissal of one of its most powerful regional governors this week.
The warning from the Jamiat-e Islami party came after Ghani removed Atta Mohammad Noor as governor of Balkh, a strategic northern province bordering Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Describing the dismissal as a “unilateral decision” by Ghani, Jamiat’s leadership called into question the legitimacy of the unity government formed after a disputed presidential election of 2014.
“If the presidential palace does not reconsider its one-sided action which is misusing the presence of the international community, Jamiat-e Islami will nullify the national unity government agreement and will employ all options to defend the legitimate rights of the people,” the party leadership said in a statement.
The man named as Atta Noor’s replacement, Mohammad Daoud, also from Jamiat, said he would not take up the position until the situation had been resolved. “I want to stay out of it for now,” he told Reuters.
The standoff adds to an already clouded political climate in Afghanistan, where the United States has announced a stepped-up military effort to break a stalemate with the Taliban and force a settlement to 16 years of conflict.
Long-delayed parliamentary elections, officially scheduled for next year, are now in doubt and an array of political leaders both inside and outside the government are positioning themselves ahead of a presidential election in 2019.
Ghani’s government retains strong international backing but has faced increasing pressure from opposition groups and debilitating tension within its ranks between allies of Ghani and government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Jamiat leader.
However, Jamiat is itself divided and it remains unclear what approach will be taken by Abdullah, who was Ghani’s rival in 2014 before taking the specially created post of chief executive in a US-brokered power-sharing deal.
Abdullah, who has regularly clashed with Atta Noor, has made no public comment on his dismissal.
The move to oust Atta Noor, one of a group of powerful regional strongmen, followed calls from politicians including former President Hamid Karzai for a loya jirga, or grand assembly of elders and political leaders to discuss the future of the government.
This month, Atta Noor was prevented from attending a meeting in the southern city of Khandahar to discuss the loya jirga proposal.
As the political uncertainty has deepened, tension between Pashtuns and ethnic Tajiks, Afghanistan’s two largest ethnic groups, as well as others including ethnic Uzbeks and the mainly Shiite Hazara minority, have worsened.
Many in Jamiat, a mainly northern, ethnic Tajik party, see Ghani as a Pashtun nationalist bent on concentrating power in his own office while Jamiat’s own opponents see the party as a base for old-style warlords who undermine national unity.


Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

Updated 23 May 2019
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Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

  • The vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month
  • Sultan Mosque was designated a national monument in 1975

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore’s Sultan Mosque is a focal point for Muslims in the cosmopolitan city-state and the vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month of Ramadan when people from all walks of life flock to its bustling bazaars.

Kampong Glam is Singapore’s “Muslim Quarter” with a mix of Malay, South Asian and Middle Eastern elements. Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim, according to the latest official data.

Arab Street — an area that includes Bussorah Street, Haji and Bali Lanes and Muscat Street — is a hub for hipsters, vivid murals, Persian rug stores, shisha bars, perfumeries and textile shops, as well as being home to the distinctive golden domes of the Sultan Mosque. There is even an ornate archway welcoming people to explore the neighborhood and its distinctive shophouses, buildings that were used for working and living in. 

“We are more like brothers and sisters, rather than businesses. I know most of the customers and they know me too,” a 36-year-old biryani hawker who gave his name as Nareza told Arab News as he served a line of hungry clients.

Nareza said his stall’s signature dish was mutton biryani, made from a family recipe handed down through generations from his late grandmother. 

FASTFACT

Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim

“Dum biryani is a process of mixing meat and rice together in one pot, so the rice has a bit of the masala taste while the meat has a bit of the basmati rice fragrance,” he said, adding that he sold more than 300 portions of biryani a day. “I learned to make biryani from my father, who used to do charity work in the mosque. We make our own spices, we do not buy them from outside vendors. That is why the taste is different.”

The bazaar is packed with places selling food, drinks, decorations and homeware. The fare reflects Singapore’s international status, with eateries and stores selling kebabs, sushi and local Malay goodies.

But Singapore has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world and having a fast-paced lifestyle, leading some to focus on preserving culture and heritage for future generations.

“We want to create awareness about the significance of Sultan Mosque to the Muslim community,” juice stall owner Riduan told Arab News, saying all sale proceeds were donated to the Sultan Mosque. “Arab Street is unique because you see a lot of different races coming here and it is also a tourist attraction. This is where we demonstrate we are Singapore society. Singapore is not just limited to skyscrapers such as Marina Bay Sands.”