MAZAR-I-SHARIF -Reuters/UNS : A second Afghan provincial governor defied an attempt by President Ashraf Ghani to remove him on Sunday, deepening a political crisis that has underlined the weakness of the Western-backed government in Kabul.
Abdulkarim Khaddam, governor of the northern province of Samangan, followed the leader of neighbouring Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor, in rejecting an order to step down, issued last week as part of a shakeup of regional governors.
“I do not accept my removal because it is political,” Mr Khaddam said in a televised statement. “I have served Samangan well and my people won’t let me go,” he said.
Mr Ghani has been struggling for weeks to resolve the conflict with Atta Noor, who has refused to cede the governorship of Balkh, a province straddling key trade routes into Central Asia that includes Afghanistan’s second-biggest city Mazar-i-Sharif.
With Taliban fighters active across much of the country and the capital Kabul regularly hit by devastating suicide attacks, the disputes have added to a picture of weakness and division that has undermined support for Mr Ghani’s government ahead of elections scheduled for this year.
It is unclear whether the dispute would threaten Mr Ghani’s government as Samangan, a mountainous and largely undeveloped region, has little of the strategic importance of Balkh, one of the richest provinces in the country.
But the standoff has underlined the fractious political climate, marked by increasingly open divisions between Afghanistan’s mixes of different ethnicities.
Mr Khaddam is an ethnic Turkman but both he and Mr Noor are from Jamiat-i-Islami, a party mainly supported by Persian-speaking ethnic Tajiks that has been increasingly hostile to Mr Ghani, an ethnic Pakhtun.