Afghan governor ignores president's order to resign

Governor of Balkh says no one in the National Unity Government has the right to remove him

Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of the Balkh province, speaks during an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan January 25, 2017. Picture taken January 25, 2017. To match Interview AFGHANISTAN-POLITICS/ REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC17F64288C0
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Prominent Afghan leader Atta Noor is refusing to step down as governor of a northern province and threatening to withdraw support from the Western-backed government of Afghanistan, throwing into doubt the already long-delayed elections scheduled for 2018.

The governor of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan told a political rally of party supporters,“I wasn’t hired with a letter  [decree] and no one can remove me with a letter.

Last week, Afghan president Afsan Ghani sacked the former Mujahideen leader by “accepting” his resignation letter. However, leaders of Mr Noor’s political party, Jamiat-i-Islami, rejected his sacking,saying the letter in question was an undated resignation from months ago submitted as “a gesture of good faith” and part of a larger political negotiation.

Mr Noor laid the blame for his dismissal and the weakening coalition on his former ally Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with the president and has the title of chief executive.

“Your teeth will not sink into us. We will break your teeth,” Mr Noor warned  Dr Abdullah during the Saturday gathering.

Clarifying his stance to The National, Mr Noor explained, “We [Jamiat Party] nominated Dr Abdullah as our representative in the National Unity Government. We gave him three years to deliver on the demands of our constituency; unfortunately, he hasn’t fulfilled any of the promises to the people despite repeated reminders and opportunities. We have a responsibility towards our people.”

He also believes  Dr Abdullah played a big role in his dismissal. “We expect this from Dr Ghani since he is our political rival, but it is shocking coming from Dr Abdullah, who is our representative,” he said.

Dr Abudllah's office declined to comment.

However Mr Noor told The National that he would willingly step down if the government met his demands, which include picking his own successor.  “However, if the demands are not met we will be at a stalemate with the government .... and take appropriate civil actions, the consequences of which we cannot foresee,” he warned.

Mr Noor  said he has also been communicating with a few international stakeholders. “Dr Ghani and Dr Abdullah have been telling the international community that I am threat to security and a factor of instability. I am clarifying that I only have the interest of the people of Afghanistan, and its stability, in my heart,” he told The National.

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Describing the dismissal as a "unilateral decision" by President Ghani, Jamiat's leadership called into question the legitimacy of the unity government formed in 2014 after a bitterly contested presidential election.

"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 Mr 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 said.

The standoff adds to an already clouded political climate in Afghanistan, where the United States pledged stronger involvement in an effort to break a stalemate with the Taliban and force a settlement to the conflict that began in 2001.