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Bulls in Afghanistan's China Shop

By       Message James Duglous Crickton       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Mohammed Atta Noor, Governor of Balkh province,Afghanistan
(Image by wikipedia)
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Mohammed Atta Noor, Governor of Balkh province for the past 13 years is clearly angry at Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and more importantly at Afghan CEO Dr. Abdullah. Abdullah and Noor belong to the same party, the Jamiat-e-Islami (JeI) and it was with Noor's help that Abdullah had won the elections in 2014, thus bringing the JeI into the National Unity Government (NUG).

The challenge before the JeI today is to stay politically relevant since Afghanistan's political landscape has many players and each is vying for power in Kabul. Further, the JeI is facing internal strife and differences amongst its major leaders such as Atta Noor and Dr. Abdullah - a situation which is likely to become more accentuated as Afghanistan is going to elect a new Parliament this year followed by Presidential elections.

Atta Noor, is a former Army Commander who had fought against the Soviets, like the rest of the JeI during the invasion of Afghanistan which began in 1979. He regrets supporting Dr Abdullah to be a part of the NUG, and calls him a snake for his brand of politics.

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NUG depends on the JeI to some extent and vice versa and at this point in time no one group or individual wants to give up power. There is also another power broker by the name of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who is getting ready to rock the NUG.

As of now, NUG and Jamiat-e-Islami continue with the latter are holding negotiations with the latter making a series of demands many of which are enshrined in text of the agreement signed prior to the formation of the NUG itself. That is really the challenge; for both sides know that they need to work together or else the ship will sink. That gives Atta Noor the breathing space he needs to recoup his strength before the next battle. Noor is defiant and he knows he can get away with it as the government cannot get rid of him just like that.

Significantly the Jammat believes that it is in a position to extract the maximum concessions from President Ghani, who is trying to move things forward within the little time left. Governance has become a causality in the process.

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Then there is the bull in the China shop, the Taliban. It has become hyper active with prompting from across the Durand Line. The attack on the Inter-continental Hotel and the Ambulance attack that had claimed more than 100 lives clearly shows the intent and capacity of the Taliban. By all means the Taliban will continue to put pressure on the National Unity Government with its high-profile attacks; each time an attack takes place, the credibility of the NUG goes down the barrel.

From commons.wikimedia.org: Afghanistan's Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah {MID-251103}
Afghanistan's Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org))
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In this context, what is the role that Dr. Abdullah is playing in the NUG? This is perhaps the question that Atta Noor is asking from a JeI perspective as well. The JeI says that Dr. Abdullah has not done enough for the party meaning thereby that he is not fulfilling the promises made under the NUG. Put differently the JeI charge is that the CEO is acting on his own to the discomfort of the party. Well, Abdullah was willing to be extremely critical of President Ghani in 2016. But today he is aware that as CEO he does not actually wield any power and he is comfortable with what the reality. His position can be formalized if there is a Loya Jirga and if it could recommend creation of the post of Prime Minister constitutionally.

The other possibility is that Abdullah becomes President of Afghanistan in the 2019 elections. For this he would have to be nominated by the JeI as its candidate, something the party at this juncture doesn't appear to be in a mood to do so. The JeI wants Atta Noor to be its candidate.

Fundamental to the present struggle within the NUG is also a struggle within the JeI as to who will head the party. Each politician, be it Atta Noor, Salahuddin Rabbani or Dr. Abdullah claim to hold a high position in the party, but the issue of who is actually in command remains moot. Noor, for instance, heads the party's Executive Council, while Rabbani is the head of the party.

The position of JeI head has been transitional since the assassination of the party's founding leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani in 2011. JeI has been since that time led by his son, Salahuddin Rabbani, who is currently acting Foreign Minister also. When Salahuddin took the position in October 2011, it was supposed to only be for a period of two months, after which, as per the party's constitution, a regular Congress was to be convened to choose its permanent leadership. This has never happened and each time it was proposed, it has been rescheduled for various reasons. In 2013, it was decided to hold the party conclave "after the 2014 Presidential election", but the Congress is yet to take place.

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From 2016 onwards, Atta Noor has pushed the JeI to re-negotiate the terms of the NUG to try and gain more power for the party. The rank and file also supported his efforts to renegotiate his own position as Governor of Balkh with President Ghani. Eventually, Noor managed to convince Ghani that he was better placed to function as a full-time Governor of the Province as opposed to being an 'acting' governor, something that Ghani had announced on assuming office in 2014; all Governors would be acting till further orders.

Although the JeI is supportive of Atta, there is internal resistance to his ambitions of becoming leader of the party and to some extent to his running for Presidency. The JeI leadership council has the authority to convene the Party Congress and choose a new leader. It is clear that many party members remain doubtful about Atta Noor and are therefore, opposing convening of the Congress.

Frankly, the tussle between Atta Noor and the Central government is not unique. Afghanistan has witnessed provincial and inter-personal struggles for power endlessly. Last year, for instance, Balkh saw a violent feud break out between Governor Atta Noor and a provincial councilman Asif Mohmand, when Noor sent gunmen and police officers to arrest the latter. Mohmand, who enjoys the support from the Hizb-e-Islami party, engaged in a shoot-out with Noor's men resulting in the death of two men and injuries to seventeen. The short point is that potential for trouble exists very clearly and any attempt by President Ghani to forcibly ensure the exit of Governor Noor is likely to be resisted by force.

Admittedly, greater importance in the current context are the differences between Noor and Abdullah. As pointed out at the outset, Noor supported Abdullah to power in 2014 with his influence and money in Balkh. However, Abdullah's chosen path as CEO clearly demonstrates that power corrupts and corrupts absolutely. The same goes for every other warlord in Afghanistan including Noor. That said, it must be recalled that Noor claimed in early 2017 that the party had taken away the responsibilities of Abdullah within the JeI and reassigned them to another office holder.

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A blogger since July 2008 James Duglous Crickton is a London based consultant working with a consultancy firm focusing on Asia, particularly South Asia and East Asia. Political Research is his functional focus area. While his interests are (more...)
 

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