World News

Tensions Rise as Fired Afghan Governor Refuses to Go

Posted December 23, 2017 2:13 p.m. EST

KABUL, Afghanistan — A powerful Afghan governor fired by the country’s president refused Saturday to leave a post he has held for 13 years, raising fears that the escalating political tensions could undermine the country’s fragile security.

Speaking to a crowd of about 2,000 people in Mazar-e-Sharif, the governor, Atta Mohammad Noor, said that President Ashraf Ghani did not have the power to unilaterally remove him because his party had half the seats in the coalition government.

“I have said many times that no one can remove me with a decree,” Noor said, adding that he would remain governor unless an understanding was reached.

When the 2014 presidential election ended in a deadlock, the United States brokered a deal that made Ghani president and put the runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah, in a post similar to prime minister. Abdullah is a leader of Noor’s party, Jamiat-e-Islami.

On Saturday, Noor called Abdullah a “snake up our own sleeve,” accusing him of plotting to weaken his own party from within the administration. Noor said he had realized that 80 percent of the effort to remove him had come from Abdullah, and the rest from the president.

“Your teeth will not sink into us,” Noor said, referring to Abdullah. “We will break your teeth.”

The crowd chanted: “Death to Dr. Abdullah.”

Although Noor used his great wealth and power, accumulated over his years as governor, to back Abdullah in the presidential race, relations between the men soured soon after the coalition government was formed. Noor saw Abdullah as too soft in the face of Ghani’s efforts to marginalize their bloc.

Before Noor spoke out Saturday, some of his supporters had been trying to negotiate with Ghani’s office to find a way out of the clash. Ghani has already named a new governor of Balkh province, but Noor has said that choosing his own successor is one of his conditions for leaving the governorship. He also wants certain senior government positions to go to members of his party.

While Noor urged his supporters to protest civilly, he also made not-so-subtle references that strongmen in the north would lend a hand if force were needed. He said that Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Afghan vice president who also has a strong base in the north but is in exile in Turkey on charges of abducting and raping an opponent, had told him that all his men were under Noor’s command.

Just as during the tense times of the 2014 election, many fear that the political infighting could fracture the country’s nascent security forces, which are fighting a difficult war against the Taliban. Two senior security officials in the north — the deputy police chief of Balkh province, Gen. Abdul Razaq Qaderi, and the head of the civil order police, Gen. Haseebullah Quraishi — both said that they support Noor.

“This rank of general, the cars and money — these are temporary,” Quraishi said of Noor. “Whoever comes, they will have to shed my blood first.”

Afghan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak said the men had made a mistake by taking sides in a political dispute.

“Police should remain impartial and independent,” Barmak told Afghan news outlets.

But Quraishi sat in the front row during Saturday’s speech, clapping as Noor lashed out at the government. He wore his uniform.