Afghan president faces backlash for ousting Balkh governor

In this June 6 file photo Afghan President Ashraf Ghani prays during a peace and security cooperation conference in Kabul. (File/Reuters)
Updated 20 December 2017
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Afghan president faces backlash for ousting Balkh governor

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Jamiat-e-Islami (JI) party has accused President Ashraf Ghani of pursuing a “hostile” course by replacing its prominent member, Atta Mohammad Noor, as governor of northern Balkh province.
The party urged Ghani to reverse his decision.
JI’s challenge came after the Presidential Palace said on Monday that Noor’s resignation had been offered some time ago and was now accepted. But Noor disputed the account and the validity of Ghani’s decision, setting off a wave of concern among Afghans fearing ethnic divide and increased terror attacks under a fragile government.
Owing to the gravity of the situation, Salahuddin Rabbani, a JI leader who serves as foreign minister, cut short his official trip to Europe and met the party leadership late Tuesday night.
In a statement issued in the small hours of Wednesday morning, the JI accused Ghani of pursuing a “hostile” course by removing Noor. It urged Ghani to reverse the decision and not to misuse the presence of the international community, apparently hinting at the presence of US-led troops in Afghanistan.
The statement said JI considered itself and its allies the winners of the 2014 elections but agreed to share power with Ghani in a US-brokered National Unity Government (NUG) owing to the sensitivity of the situation at that time, mainly caused by rigged polls, and to prevent the country from further crises.
The JI accused Ghani of not complying with the controversial deal and said he cannot sack Noor without accepting the party’s conditions, which include its involvement in domestic and international issues and inclusion in the composition of the Cabinet.
The party said it wants stability in Afghanistan but it would keep all its options open in case Ghani did not retract his decision.
“If the palace, through its monopoliztic measure, by misusing the presence of the international community (US troops), does not review its decision which is in contradiction of the NUG agreement … the JI is bound to exercise any option for defending the set and legitimate right of the Afghan people,” the statement said.
It gave no further details, but said the palace will be responsible for any “unpleasant outcome.”
Palace officials said Mohammed Dawood is now the government’s appointed governor of Balkh, where Noor ruled for almost the entire period since US-led troops overthrew the Taliban from power. Dawood has not officially assumed office yet.
Noor is the latest factional regional strongman to lose his office in Ghani’s divided administration.
Earlier this year, after months of publicly criticizing Ghani for alleged lack of reforms, nepotism, and sidelining the JI, Noor forged an alliance with Ghani’s first Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and another northern regional leader who defected from Ghani along with a senior government official.
Critics say Noor built his own empire including a television network and vast businesses in the north on custom revenues, but his supporters point out the amount of reconstruction and security he has brought about in the province, which is seen as a model in Afghanistan while much of the rest of the country faces routine fighting and poor economy.
Lawmakers on Wednesday urged both the government and the JI to find a political settlement for what some consider a new chapter of crisis for Afghanistan while the country faces escalated attacks by the Taliban and affiliates of Daesh, particularly in some northern areas, despite the presence of coalition troops for 16 years.
In the face of rising tension, some military and civil servants in Balkh have vowed to stand behind Noor while his allies in the JI — which has long dominated Afghanistan’s politics and economy — threatened a march on Kabul.


Italian hostage freed after 3 years in Syria returns home

Updated 23 May 2019
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Italian hostage freed after 3 years in Syria returns home

  • The man who disappeared traveled to Turkey in October 2016
  • An official said the man was kidnapped by a criminal gang

MILAN: Italy’s defense minister says an Italian who had been held hostage in Syria for three years has been released and returned to Italy.

Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta late Wednesday confirmed Alessandro Sandrini’s arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport and thanked Italian intelligence services for their role in his liberation. Details were not disclosed.

Sandrini, who is in his early 30s, disappeared after traveling to Turkey in October 2016, and wasn’t heard from for over a year. In July 2018, a dramatic video showed Sandrini wearing an orange jumpsuit flanked by masked men brandishing automatic weapons, appealing to Italy to help free him as quickly as possible.

A local government in Syria affiliated with the Al-Qaeda-linked militant group Hayat Tahir-al Sham said he had been kidnapped by a criminal gang.