A second Afghan provincial governor has defied an attempt by the president, , to remove him, deepening a political crisis that has underlined the weakness of the western-backed government in Kabul.
Abdulkarim Khaddam, the governor of the northern province of Samangan, followed the leader of neighbouring Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor, in rejecting an order to step down, issued last week as part of a shakeup of regional governors.
“I do not accept my removal because it is political,” Khaddam said in a televised statement on Sunday. “I have served Samangan well and my people won’t let me go,” he said.
Ghani has been struggling for weeks to resolve the conflict with Noor, who has refused to cede the governorship of Balkh, a province straddling key trade routes into central Asia that includes Afghanistan’s second-biggest city, Mazar-i-Sharif.
With Taliban fighters active across much of the country and the capital, Kabul, regularly hit by , the disputes have added to a picture of weakness and division that has undermined support for Ghani’s government before elections scheduled for this year.
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It was unclear whether the dispute would threaten Ghani’s government and Samangan, a mountainous and largely undeveloped region which has little of the strategic importance of Balkh, one of the richest provinces in the country.
But the standoff has underlined the fractious political climate, marked by increasingly open divisions between Afghanistan’s mix of different ethnicities.
Khaddam is an ethnic Turkman but both he and Noor are from Jamiat-i Islami, a party mainly supported by Persian-speaking ethnic Tajiks that has been increasingly hostile to Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun.
Although Ghani nominally shares power with the chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah from Jamiat, the two sides have become increasingly alienated, with Jamiat accusing Ghani of monopolising power and favouring his own Pashtun supporters.
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Formed in the wake of the disputed 2014 election that , the government has struggled to present a united front amid growing criticism of its handling of the insurgency.
The splits have been thrown into sharp relief by a row over new electronic ID cards, which have drawn bitter opposition as they register national identity as “Afghan”, a term used in the past for Pashtuns, traditionally the most powerful ethnic group.
Many Tajiks see the term as a means of entrenching longstanding Pashtun dominance and refuse to accept the cards.
In a symbolic move to build support for the new , Ghani and his wife were among the first to take their new cards last week.
However, the move only underlined divisions in the government. Jamiat leaders refused to follow suit and declared that the issue required a national consensus to be developed through further debate.