Afghanistan’s political crisis deepened Sunday when a second provincial governor defied a presidential order for his removal.
On Saturday, President Ashraf Ghani’s office approved and announced the appointment of new heads for six provinces, including Samangan in the north, as part of efforts to improve local Afghan governance.
But Abdul Karim Khedam, who has been governing Samangan for about a year, denounced and dismissed his ouster by the president as unacceptable.
The central government appointed Abdul Latif Ibrahimi as the new governor of the northern Afghan province. He is a former member of the Hezb-e-Islami party of ethnic Pashtun former jihadi commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Ousted governor vows to stay
Addressing a news conference in the provincial capital Sunday, the ousted governor vowed to continue to work as the governor of Samangan.
Khedam defended his decision to remain in office and said the final authority to determine his political fate rested with the Turkemen tribe he represents in the province as well as with his political party, Jamiat-e-Islami, which shares power with Ghani’s national unity government.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah represents Jamiat-e-Islami along with other party leaders in the ruling coalition and the party largely comprises ethnic Tajiks. President Ghani’s support comes from the majority ethnic Pashtun community.
Khedam is the second provincial governor to have contested his firing order.
Earlier governor defied order
Atta Mohammad Noor, who has governed neighboring Balkh province for more than 13 years, was fired by Ghani in December. But Noor refused to accept his dismissal until the central government meets certain demands and continues to govern the relatively peaceful and prosperous Afghan province.
He, like Khedam, belongs to the Jamiat-e-Islami party and has also accused Ghani of appointing officials to key government posts on ethnic grounds, charges the president and his aides reject as baseless.
Noor has vowed to lead a rally of about 20,000 vehicles packed with his supporters for a three-day protest in Kabul, starting Feb. 27, to press the central government to deliver on commitments Ghani made when he formed the coalition government with Abdullah in 2014.
The planned protest coincides with an international conference the Afghan capital will host Feb. 28 where the government says it will present a plan to promote peace and reconciliation with Taliban-led armed opposition groups.
The U.S. mediated a political deal between rival presidential candidates, Ghani and Abdullah, and established the unity government, ending months of political turmoil in the aftermath of the controversy-marred 2014 presidential as both men claimed victory.
Political rift troubling
However, Washington, while pledging support for the Ghani government, has emphasized “internal matters” needed to be resolved by Afghan leaders themselves.
The deepening political troubles are seen as detrimental to the internationally backed efforts of the Kabul government to promote a political settlement with the Taliban insurgency to end the deadly conflict in Afghanistan.
The crisis also is likely to undermine efforts to organize long-delayed parliamentary elections later this year and presidential polls due next year.
Jamiat leaders, including Abdullah, have raised concerns over a multi-million dollar plan to issue new electronic identity cards ahead of the elections.
The controversy stems from the use on the new card of the term “Afghan” for nationality. The term in the past used to refer to Pashtuns in Afghanistan and members of other ethnic groups believe that since the cards will carry the person’s tribal identity the use of “Afghan” is redundant.
The tensions underscore deeply rooted ethnic-based sensitivities in the Afghan society and unless resolved will likely delay the parliamentary polls, officials warn.
The United Nations said last week war-relative civilian casualties stood at over 10,000 in 2017 and anticipated more bloodshed in the coming fighting season.