, the Afghan president, is struggling to placate furious tribal elders in Kandahar after one of his top aides punched a senior leader in the face.
Ghani visited Kandahar, the provincial capital and ’s second biggest city, on Thursday on a trip intended to bolster support for his national unity government in one of the most of the country.
Instead, he found himself embroiled in an embarrassing debacle when a fight broke out during an event with tribal elders between Naseem Sharifi, his head of protocol, and Haji Sayed Jan Khakrezwal, the respected head of the Kandahar provincial council.
Witnesses and reporters looked on in shock as the heated exchange, which involved a deeply offensive obscenity, broke out between the two men, who had a longstanding feud. It ended when Sharifi struck Khakrezwal in the face.
Ghani immediately sacked Sharifi and said in a statement he was “deeply saddened” by the incident. He said the dignity and pride of the Kandahar elders was as valuable to him as his own.
However, the incident has left deep resentment among the Kandahar tribal leaders, whose support in one of the country’s most strategically important cities is vital to Ghani’s struggling government.
“Sacking his chief of protocol is not enough,” said Naqibullah Hakimi, an influential elder from the Popalzai tribe, one of the biggest and most powerful of the Pashtun tribes of southern . “He has to be prosecuted and jailed for this kind of insult and disrespect.”
He said that only the fact that Ghani had been at the meeting had prevented immediate bloodshed.
Kandahar, a largely rural and tribal province on the border with Pakistan, is a heartland of the Taliban, which Nato troops fought for years to control.
Without the backing of the tribal elders, Ghani’s government, already under strain because of the , would struggle to retain its authority in the south where the Taliban has made increasing inroads.
Haji Nimatullah Sherdelai, from the Noorzai tribe, said the insult to Khakrezwal would make it difficult to continue to support the government.
“Our people are already very upset and telling us to cut off from the government,” he said. “Looking at all the shortcomings of the government and on top of all the other difficulties, this happens. Our tribe’s members are already distancing themselves.”