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Balkh boos for new government

Waheed Orya
Afghanistan's new Unity Government has already passed a series of decrees in its first week. But in Balkh, the losing candidate's heartland, many Abdullah supporters still lament the formation of the coalition…
6.10.2014  |  Mazar-e Sharif
Balkh-based media were mainly critical of the formation of the Unity Government. (This and main photo: Waheed Orya.)
Balkh-based media were mainly critical of the formation of the Unity Government. (This and main photo: Waheed Orya.)

The inauguration of Afghanistan's new Unity Government, which sees election winner and newly-inaugurated President Ashraf Ghani share power with his campaign rival Abdullah Abdullah, who assumes the newly created role of Chief Executive Officer, sent shockwaves through the Afghan media, especially in Balkh Province, the heartland of Abdullah's support.

“People have lost faith in not only the two candidates but also democracy and elections," said Balkh-based daily Asr-e Now in a commentary piece in its 380th edition. "Devaluing democratic principles could have long term impacts in the minds of people." The author argues that Afghanistan's current issues stem from the imperfections of the Bonn Agreement in 2001 which laid out Afghanistan's modern democratic course.

Besides the shortcomings of Afghanistan's fragile democracy, certain Balkh power brokers, such as the province's governor, Atta Mohammad Noor - a staunch supporter of Abdullah -  had encouraged the opthalmologist, former foreign secretary and current Chief Executive Officer to boycott the US-brokered coalition Unity Government. Noor had talked of large scale fraud in this year's vote and consistently criticised the Independent Election Commission (IEC) for failing to reveal a breakdown of the recount from the June presidential election. Even after the final recount was announced, Noor continued to deny the legitimacy of the process and the new president.

Noor: Ghani not elected but "negotiated" president

“Doctor Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is not an elected president. Rather, he is a politically negotiated one," Governor Noor told VOA's subsidiary Radio Ashna. Media loyal to Governor Noor continue to refuse to call Ghani the elected president, referring to him instead as "the chairman of the Unity Government".

Noor had promised large scale demonstrations, labelled 'orange' and 'green'  to represent raising scales of civil disobedience, and had threatened to take his supporters to the streets if the IEC declared Ghani as the new president. Ghani largely dimissed the threats and Noor later backed down, possibly at the behest of the international community, argues one Balkh-based author.

“James Cunningham, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, indicated that the centre of the post-election crisis would be in Balkh. For the first time, he warned that any move outside the framework of the constitution of Afghanistan would jeopardize the United States' aid to Afghanistan. He was clearly addressing Atta Mohammad Noor,” wrote Razzaq Mamoon in a recent commentary in a northern Afghan daily.

President Ghani and Governor Noor met last week at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. (Photo: Office of the President of Afghanistan)

The Balkh governor eventually accepted the IEC's decision, albeit reluctantly. “I could not have chosen crises over other options," wrote Noor in a recent post on his official Facebook timeline. "Our nation cannot afford another crises. I could not have opposed the decision of the leadership of the Reform and Partnership Team. It might have caused division. I thought it was necessary to abide by their decision.” Noor added that the IEC had been too scared to release the extent of "fake votes", claiming Abdullah's Reform and Partnership Team "won more than 50 per cent."

Ghani responded with what was widely seen as a veiled warning to Noor. “Everybody’s authority will be based on his position," said Ghani shortly after his inauguration, outlining new rules for governors. "The day has ended for those who have seen themselves above the law and autonomous. The Afghan people do not tolerate a parallel government.”

Noor later met with Ghani at the Presidential Palace and offfered his full collaboration for any reforms. "I will support any decision with regard to governors the Unity Government will take to improve good governance in Afghanistan,” said Noor, responding to a new decree by the Unity Governent that all governors must be "active in governship".

Some observers saw Noor's sudden u-turn as a move to safeguard his own political career. “He went to get his share and fight for it," says Noor Agha Afzali on Facebook. Others said Governor Noor "had finally surrendered". Some Facebook users filled the governor's timeline with vitriolic comments, accusing him of being a traitor.

Who is the king of Balkh?

Supporters of General Dostum carry a large placard of the military leader at a rally in Balkh last year. (Photo: Asghar Noor Mohammad)

Analysts of the rich northern province of Balkh envisage a future power struggle between the region's key players, Governor Noor and General Dostum. General Dostum, Ghani's running partner and a former Northern Alliance leader, is said to be vying for a candidate of his own to replace Noor. Dostum and Noor have been rivals for over two decades and their private militias clashed several times in the early 1990s, resulting in hundreds of casualties on both sides.

There are rumors about efforts by Dostum's National Islamic Movement to install the current Paktia governor, Juma Khan Hamdard, an outspoken rival of Noor's, in Balkh. Supporters of Noor's on the other hand are hoping for a candidate loyal to their camp.

“Given the support structure, Governor Atta Mohammad Noor is in a much better position. Certainly, what happened will never happen again, since there is a strong central government, which Governor Noor is a member of. Jamiat-e Islami Party is now very strong in the north. Nothing will happen to disturb this balance and the government is well aware of it,” said Mahboob Alam, a political analyst, talking on Radio Nehad. The future remains unclear for Balkh.