Afghan political crisis deepens as ousted governor refuses to go

Kabul, Dec 26: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani`s bid to oust one of the country`s most powerful provincial governors has run into strong resistance that has deepened political uncertainty just as Washington steps up its campaign against the Taliban insurgency.
Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of the strategically important northern province of Balkh, has refused to leave office, a week after Ghani`s office said the president had accepted his resignation and named a replacement.
The standoff has underlined how uncertain central government control remains outside the capital and how volatile the political situation has become as manoeuvering begins ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2019.
One of a number of powerful regional leaders who command strong local loyalty while acting semi-independently of the government, Atta Noor has long sought a role on the national stage and is a potential candidate in the 2019 election.
Allies have warned that unless Ghani reverses his decision, he risks civil unrest that will threaten security and allow Taliban and Islamic State militants to gain a foothold in Balkh, a major economic hub which sits on lucrative trade routes to Central Asia.
“If President Ghani does not show flexibility, he will be responsible for the consequences,” said Farhad Azimi, a member of parliament from Balkh province.
However, he said no side had any interest in a confrontation that would cause violence or threaten security.
The standoff, which has alarmed Afghanistan`s Western partners, has re-opened divisions that were only partially covered up by the U.S.-brokered agreement creating Ghani`s unity government following a disputed presidential election in 2014.
After widespread claims of fraud by both sides in the election, Ghani was finally installed as president alongside his former rival Abdullah Abdullah from the Jamiat-i Islami party, who took the specially created post of chief executive.
Atta Noor, who has built a strong regional power base as Balkh governor, has received the backing of the party, which is supported mainly by ethnic Tajiks from northern Afghanistan, many of whom still resent Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun.
“Atta Mohammad Noor is the strongest figure in Jamiat,” said Bresha Rabeh, another member of parliament from Balkh. “He will not back down.”