US-backed Afghan Prez faces rising nationalist resistance
Kabul: A governor in northern Afghanistan has become the second in the region to defy an order by President Ashraf Ghani to step down, deepening a political crisis facing the US-backed government in Kabul.
Abdul Karim Khadam, the governor of northern Samangan province, was sacked along with four other provincial governors last week.
But he followed Atta Mohammad Noor, the heavyweight governor of neighbouring Balkh province, who refused to leave office after he was also sacked in December.
Noor's refusal to step down has turned the so-called "King of the North" into one of Afghanistans most infamous politicians and a potential contender in presidential elections due in 2019, while underscoring the weakness of Ghanis government.
Khadam's decision to follow suit has deepened the crisis and threatened to further ethnic divisions between Tajiks and the Pashtun-dominated south, which often dominate Afghanistans politics.
An ethnic Turkmen, Khadam belongs to the Tajik-dominated Jamiat-e-Islami party, of which Noor is also a member.
"The decision is unfair and unjust. It is against the principles. I condemn this decision and dont accept it. I will wait for Jamiat party stance about this," he told reporters late on Sunday.
Jamiat in a statement on Monday said his removal was "unjustified and yet another step toward increasing tension in the country".
The dispute comes at a bad time for Ghanis US-backed government, which is facing growing public fury over recent deadly attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in the war-torn country that have laid bare its inability to protect civilians.
Ghani, who belongs to the countrys largest Pashtun ethnic group, took the presidency in 2014 in a US-brokered power-sharing deal with his rival, Jamiat-backed Abdullah Abdullah, who was named chief executive.
Jamiat has accused Ghani of failing to fulfil the terms of the agreement and has submitted demands to the presidents negotiators, including a restructuring of parliament.
Noor has used the ongoing crisis to show off his strength, holding televised rallies and meeting representatives of various ethnic groups and political parties from across the country.
But as the talks drag on there are growing fears the crisis could turn violent, sparking calls from the White House and others for a peaceful resolution.
Meanwhile, an Afghan official says that bodies of nine civilians abducted by militants early last year have been found in the countrys eastern province of Nangarhar.
A district governor says the bodies, including three of tribal leaders, were found dumped in a common grave over the weekend. Sayed Rahman Mohmand of Kot district says the locals found the bodies in neighboring Achin district.
The nine were abducted by militants in early 2017 in Kot and nothing was known about their fate till now.
Mohmand says the Islamic State group was behind the abduction and the killings, though the militant group has not claimed responsibility for the deaths. Both the Taliban and IS are active in eastern Afghanistan.