Powerful Afghan Governor Resigns, Ending Standoff With Ghani

Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful governor of Afghanistan’s Balkh Province, has agreed to resign, ending a long standoff with the country’s president.

Noor, who for months had rejected President Ashraf Ghani's efforts to remove him from office, on March 22 told a rally of supporters that he has decided to step aside “now that our demands have been met.”

"I say goodbye today, but I will still be here and always with my people," Noor said during a rally in the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif.

"Big political games are ahead, including the elections, and we will be major players," he added.

Noor is a leading figure in Jamiat-e Islami, a party that represents Afghanistan's Tajik ethnic group.

His resignation will allow his hand-picked successor, parliament member Mohammad Ishaq Rahgozar, to assume the governor’s position.

News agencies reported that under terms of an agreement between the governor and the president, Noor was also allowed to choose a new police chief for Balkh Province, name a new education minister in the national government, and to choose the ambassador to Kazakhstan.

The resignation appears to peacefully end a stalemate between Noor, who is known as the "King of the North," and the central government in Kabul.

The presidential palace on December 18 announced it had approved the resignation of Noor.

However, Noor said he was rescinding a previous offer to resign, claiming Ghani had reneged on the terms of an agreement between the two, and he vowed to fight for his job.

That raised fears of potential conflict as the Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

Noor is one of several powerful regional and ethnic leaders whom Ghani has struggled to control since he took office after a disputed election in 2014.

Observers say the standoff has raised Noor’s national profile, making him a potential rival to Ghani in the presidential election scheduled for 2019. Afghanistan is also planning to hold parliamentary elections later this year.

Balkh remains one of Afghanistan’s most stable provinces. It profits from its position as a trade route to the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and has not seen as much militant activity than some other regions.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters