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December 26, 2017

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Political crisis in Afghanistan: Governor sacked by Afghan president refuses to step down

PESHAWAR: The political crisis that emerged after President Ashraf Ghani's decision to sack Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful governor of the northern Balkh province for the last 13 years, has still not been resolved.

The presidential office said Noor presented his resignation and it was accepted. However, Noor maintained that this resignation letter was presented to the president sometime back and was conditional. He said he hasn't resigned but was sacked.

Both Noor and his party, Jamiat-i-Islami, condemned President Ghani for unilaterally taking this decision in violation of the terms of their national unity government. It reminded that Jamiat-i-Islami candidate Dr Abdullah had won the 2014 presidential polls but had joined the unity government on the basis of guarantees by the US and UN to avoid a political crisis in the country.

The party, led by Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Noor, threatened to take appropriate measures if the president failed to review his decision. It accused the president of monopolizing power and warned that the Afghan people had the right to defend their legitimate rights. The statement argued that the Balkh province under Noor as the governor was peaceful and stable at a time when most of the provinces were insecure.

Meanwhile, the three party alliance of Jamiat-i-Islami, 1st Vice President General Abdul Rasheed Dostum's Junbush-i-Islami and the Shia Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqqiq has also rejected President Ghani's move to sack Noor and termed it yet another conspiracy by him to sabotage the unity government after earlier sacking Ahmad Zia Masood and forcing Dostum into self-exile to Turkey.

Engineer Mohammad Daud, the newly-appointed governor of Balkh has yet to take charge because Noor refused to step down. There were reports that another Jamiat-i-Islami representative may be appointed the new governor as a compromise between Jamiat-i-Islami and the Presidency. The issue has further strained relations between the president and CEO Dr Abdullah as the latter is under pressure from his Jamiat-i-Islami party to resign or take a tough stand to get Noor reinstalled as governor.

The issue has caused a clear division in the country with the Pakhtuns mostly backing Ghani and the Tajiks and other non-Pashtuns standing by Noor. Many Pashtun politicians and civil society activists warned that President Ghani's failure to get his orders implemented would weaken his position and cause chaos and indiscipline in the government.

Meanwhile, Noor refused to quit as the governor of Balkh and said he would resign if asked by his party, Jamiat-i-Islami. He also criticized his fellow party leader, Dr Abdullah, and described him as a wolf in sheep's clothing. He alleged that Dr Abdullah had a role in his sacking.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government has once again announced plans to launch a military operation against the Islamic State fighters in the northern Jauzjan province. The announcement was made by Defence Ministry, though no dates were given for undertaking the offensive. This is the second time such an announcement has been made. No operation could be launched despite the previous announcement and it is unclear when the offensive would be undertaken this time.

Separately, Afghan officials in the neighbouring Faryab province also stated that a military operation against the IS, or Daesh, would be launched. It was also announced that foreign forces would assist the Afghan army in the military action against the IS in Jauzjan and Faryab. The US-led foreign forces are expected to undertake airstrikes and also advise the Afghan forces.

The IS fighters control most of Darzaab and Qoshtipa districts in Jauzjan and only the district headquarters are held by the Afghan government. The IS has been fighting both the Afghan forces and the Taliban in Jauzjan and Faryab. The IS and Taliban have also fought for the control of Darzaab and Qoshtipa districts.

Earlier, Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rasheed Dostum, who is also the 1st Vice President, had led an offensive against the Taliban in both Jauzjan and Faryab by inducting his Uzbek militia in the battle. His forces had managed to evict the Taliban from areas under their control. However, Taliban recaptured these areas when Dostum's men left.

Meanwhile, a special group of policemen are being trained to protect Shia mosques following a number of attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan claimed by the Islamic State, or Daesh.

A group of 28 cops were recently trained for three weeks in Kunduz and then deployed at the two Shia mosques in the city. The local officials were worried that these two mosques in Kunduz city may be attacked by the IS. Members of the Shia community told the local media that many of their mosques are located in Taliban-controlled areas in Kunduz. They said the Taliban don't stop them from praying in these mosques and performing their religious practices.

The IS has claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks targeting Shia mosques and neighbourhoods in Kabul, Herat, Ghor and other provinces. The group is known for its extreme anti-Shia views and its fighters have been attacking Shias in the Middle East and in all other places where they have a presence.

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