“We don’t fight Atta. We need to save Atta from Atta — that’s what Dr Abdullah tells his team every time the governor acts out in public,” an associate close to the Afghan chief executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah told me earlier this year while I was researching for a profile Atta Noor, a powerful governor of the northern Afghan province of Balkh.
At the time, the power and influence held by Afghanistan’s longest-running provincial governor was undeniable. It remains so, largely due to the semblance of stability and development he has brought to the northern provinces under his control in a country that otherwise remains precariously balanced on political quicksand.
In February, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani had officially appointed Mr Noor governor, even though he had held the post for the last 13 years.Last week, the president fired the governor by “accepting” an old resignation letter Mr Noor had submitted to the president in “a gesture of good faith” during happier times, when both were striving to weaken the chief executive, who shares power with the president in a US-brokered coalition government.
As expected Mr Noor and his Jamiat party rejected the “resignation” and the governor remains in place in Balkh, a province that has steadily grown into the country’s economic hub. He is considered so unassailable that even international stakeholders have turned a blind eye to accusations of human rights violations.
And by calling Dr Abdullah “snake in everyone’s sleeve” in public, it is clear who Mr Noor blames for his dismissal.“Your teeth will not sink into us. We will break your teeth,” he said of Dr Abdullah at a public gathering on Saturday.
Dr Abdullah and Mr Noor were close allies for years, their friendship dating back to the civil war when they both fought alongside Ahmad Shah Masood, the slain Mujahideen leader from the Panjshir valley.Mr Noor even backed Dr Abdullah’s bid for presidency through Jamiat party in 2009 and again in the 2013 election which ended in a deadlock with Mr Ghani. But the relationship fell apart almost two years ago with Mr Noor accusing Dr Abdullah of failing to stay true to his promises and commitment to Jamiat.