Cape Times

Pence urges peaceful change of leadership in Balkh


KABUL: US Vice-President Mike Pence called for a peaceful change of leadership in the northern Afghan province of Balkh, where the powerful governor has defied attempts by the central government to oust him for the past month amid sensitive ethnic rivalries.

The standoff between President Ashraf Ghani and Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Noor has threatened to destabilis­e the fragile Western-backed administra­tion in Kabul and raised fears the government could try to use force to break the stalemate.

Pence spoke to Ghani about Washington’s new South Asia strategy and afterwards posted a message on Twitter saying he had emphasised support for the Afghan government “to engage (with) Balkh Governor Atta and conduct peace transition of leadership”.

Noor is one of the most prominent powerful regional leaders who have been a thorn in the side of Ghani, a former World Bank official named president after a disputed election in 2014.

The confrontat­ion, amid increasing political manoeuvrin­g ahead of presidenti­al elections next year, has been coloured by the ethnic rivalries that have become increasing­ly prominent in Afghan politics.

Noor is a leader of Jamiat-i Islami, a party mainly supported by Persian-speaking ethnic Tajiks in the north who have become increasing­ly resentful of Ghani, a Pashtun, whom they accuse of favouring his own ethnic group, which is mainly based in the south and east.

Negotiatio­ns between the president’s office and officials from Jamiat have been going on for weeks, so far without result, and Western diplomats in Kabul are concerned the standoff could degenerate into violence.

As well as damaging the government, the uncertaint­y has threatened to undermine the new US strategy of stepping up pressure on the Taliban through air strikes and increased support for Afghan security forces to try to force the insurgents to the negotiatin­g table.

On Monday, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanista­n, General John Nicholson, said that the US and the internatio­nal community wanted to see a peaceful solution.

“We respect and support all Afghans and we hope, of course, that internal political resolution­s will occur so that we can move forward,” he told reporters at the margins of a change of command ceremony held in the southern province of Helmand.

“If this is sorted out, this is a big win because it demonstrat­es to all Afghans that difference­s can be resolved non-violently through a political process.”

 ??  ?? MIKE PENCE

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