KABUL - Events unfolding in Afghanistan's northern province of Balkh provide a
window into Afghan politics and throw a harsh light on the problems faced by
those attempting to bring good governance to the country.
What's happening in this Afghan microcosm is this: the provincial governor
supports a rival of Afghanistan's incumbent president, Hamid Karzai; a leading
warlord, formerly an ally of the governor, switches sides to become Karzai's
running mate in the presidential elections, and a blood feud results; the
governor accuses Kabul of distributing arms to various warlords in the
province, to destabilize it and force his ouster; Kabul accuses the governor,
who is of an ethnic minority, of creating a fiefdom and killing off rivals; and
the populace is caught in the middle of this infighting between national and
provincial government, rival
presidential candidates and assorted warlords.
Balkh's governor, Atta Mohammad Noor, accuses the Ministry of Interior of
distributing weapons to powerful warlords in the province to undermine his
power because of his support for rival presidential candidate Abdullah
Noor told a gathering this month, "Our people are aware of the distribution of
weapons to local commanders. The responsibility for any violence and conflict
in Balkh [falls on] the people who distributed these illegal weapons."
In a conversation with Killid Weekly, Noor's spokesman, Munir Farhad, said the
warlords were using the weapons to intimidate locals.
"This is against the Afghan constitution and the central government doesn't
have the right to distribute weapons to these people who are illiterate,
unprofessional and unqualified. These armed commanders are using weapons
supplied by the government against Afghan national solidarity and interests.
These are not professional security organs," Farhad said. "They are warlords."
But some analysts say that it is Noor, an ethnic Tajik, who has created
extra-legal power in Balkh. "Atta Muhammad Noor has established a small
kingdom," said Fazal Rahman Oria, a Kabul-based political observer. "He follows
his own rules and principles and does not obey the central government."
Rohulla Samun, a spokesman for Juma Khan Hamdard, governor of Paktia province
and former governor of Balkh, says that there is no weapons distribution
program and that Noor is "just using this as an excuse to kill Pashtun tribal
leaders he doesn't like".
A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior denies that there is a government
effort to arm warlords in Balkh. Noor's complaint, he says, has been referred
to the Attorney General's office and National Security Council for
The deputy and acting attorney general, Fazel Ahmad Faqir Yar, said that "a
mixed commission should be assigned to evaluate whether [these allegations are]
true or not. If it is true, clearly there will be an investigation."
The presidential election
Observers say that if these warlords are being armed by the Karzai government,
there is a broad political purpose behind the action. The aim is to weaken Noor
and force him out of office due to his support for Abdullah's candidacy in the
August 20 polls, the results of which are still pending.
"This is politics," said Farhad. "It has a deep root in political issues. The
government is not working for security, their goal is political."
It is rumored that Karzai once offered Noor a position in his cabinet in
exchange for Noor's abandoning support for Abdullah, an offer that Noor
declined. Marshal Mohammad Fahim, a Northern Alliance comrade of both Abdullah
and governor Noor, switched sides and accepted a similar offer and is now
Karzai's running mate. That defection led to a blood feud between the
candidates and resulted in numerous incidents of violence on the campaign
The latest accusations and counter-accusations come during Afghanistan's tense
wait for results of the presidential election.
With the outcome in limbo, Karzai has maneuvered behind the scenes to try and
prevent a possible runoff vote if he does not secure 50% of the total votes
cast. It is rumored that he has offered Abdullah 12 ministry chairs, to be
filled by him and his supporters, in exchange for a withdrawal of the
challenger's candidacy. It is unclear whether Abdullah will accept the offer,
though in public statements he has stridently rejected any such compromise.
The situation in Balkh demonstrates the weakness of the central government to
maintain security through constitutional means.
"The [statements] of the Interior Ministry show the weakness of the Afghan
police, that police do not have the ability to enforce the law," said analyst
Oria Rahman, adding that the very fact that the allegations had to be referred
to an authority outside the Interior Ministry shows the weakness of that body.
Local police commander General Mujtaba Patang rejects this, asserting at a
press conference that "weapons haven't been distributed in the north of
Afghanistan. We are the government and we are armed. I assure you that no one
has the ability [to act outside] the government's authority."
The people of Balkh are caught between a governor who does not have the
confidence of the president and increasingly well-armed warlords. All sides
have called for calm and expressed hope that the situation will not further
escalate into bloodshed.
Noor's spokesman lamented, "This will make the situation worse across
Afghanistan and not just in Balkh. This will create problems for Afghan
And the Taliban? They appear to not even be a factor in the battle for Balkh. A
victory by the Western allies over their foes leaves them with "friends" like
the protagonists in Balkh, while the lot of ordinary Afghans is likely to
(Published by Inter Press Service under an agreement with The Killid Group,
re-edited by Asia Times Online)