Key Abdullah ally warns of Afghan unrest if vote recount is ‘one-sided’

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of senior Abdullah aide Mahmoud Saikal. He said Thursday that he had no comment on the statements of Attah Mohammed Noor.


Attah Mohammed Noor, left, a former Afghan warlord and governor, greets guests at his home in Kabul on Wednesday. He is sitting under a portrait of the late militia leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. (Pam Constable/TWP)
August 14

A powerful Afghan governor and former militia leader, who had threatened mass protests in the wake of the disputed presidential runoff in June, warned Wednesday of a “civil uprising” if the ongoing ballot recount proves biased and his candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, is not named the winner.

Attah Mohammed Noor, 50, had not been seen in public since the election controversy and was rumored to have fled Afghanistan. He came to the capital Wednesday and said he had been away undergoing surgery for shrapnel wounds suffered during the Afghan-Soviet conflict.

Noor immediately issued a blunt challenge to the costly, high-stakes process that has been undertaken by Afghan and international officials to salvage the country’s first democratic transfer of power since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.

“If the vote recount is one-
sided or fraudulent, we will not bow down and accept the results,” he said in an interview. “We do not want a crisis, but we will defend the rights of our people. We will have a big civil uprising. . . . We will occupy government buildings and institutions. . . . We will boycott the process, and we will not recognize the next government because it will have no legitimacy.”

His comments came a day after Abdullah’s rival, Ashraf Ghani, appeared to back away from a power-sharing relationship outlined in a joint-governing agreement both sides reached in June at U.S. urging, saying, “Dual authority is not possible.”


Noor has threatened to launch a civil uprising if the current presidential election recount is biased against his candidate. (Pam Constable/TWP)

Noor made similar threats in June after preliminary results showed Abdullah — who came in first in an initial round of voting in April but did not win a majority — losing to Ghani in the runoff. Abdullah alleged massive fraud and tensions mounted. Convoys of armed men were reported converging on Kabul, and Noor warned that he would create a parallel government if Abdullah lost.

With the election process on the brink of collapse, Secretary of State John F. Kerry flew to Kabul and persuaded both candidates to agree to a full ballot recount and the formation of a national unity government, with the winner becoming president and the loser being named chief executive.

Since then, however, the process has bogged down repeatedly in disputes between the two camps, both over the fairness of the U.N.-supervised audit of 8.1 million ballots and the terms of a post-recount power-sharing arrangement.

Although Noor said he and other members of Abdullah’s team want to be “reliable partners” for the international community, he also made it clear that he does not trust the foreign-backed vote audit and that he sees himself as an avenger of the millions of Afghans who voted for Abdullah and feel they have been cheated of victory twice in five years.

In the 2009 presidential election, Abdullah was the main challenger to incumbent Hamid Karzai. As in 2014, Abdullah appeared to be winning, but there were major charges of election fraud. In the end, he agreed to withdraw his candidacy to avoid a volatile runoff, and Karzai was sworn in for his second five-year term.

This time, Noor said, “everyone knew he [Abdullah] won the honorable vote, but the triangle of the government, [Karzai’s] palace and election commission did fraud. We accepted the option of the recount, but it must be fair. Otherwise the sacrifice of the voters will have been in vain. If it is not fair, if there is still fraud, we will not accept it.” He did not say how he would gauge the fairness of the audit.

A senior Abdullah aide, asked to comment on Noor’s statements, said the campaign was more upset about Ghani’s statements Tuesday, which seemed to reject the “parity” set out in the agreement for a unity government.

“We have all worked hard on this agreement. We are not happy with some parts of it, but we signed it and we will respect it,” said the aide, Mahmoud Saikal. “Now Mr. Ghani seems to be rejecting some basic aspects of it, that there must be some parity and balance of power. With such behavior from him, I cannot rule out anything.”

The audit process has gone slowly, with constant disputes between monitors for Ghani and Abdullah, and only about 30 percent of 23,000 ballot boxes counted by Tuesday. But officials are still hoping it will be completed in the next few weeks so a winner can be declared and a new government formed.

Noor, one of the most influential allies of Abdullah, was once his cohort in the Northern Alliance, which fought the Taliban and was led by the late Ahmed Shah Massoud. In recent years, as governor of Balkh province, Noor has won praise for his economic development schemes. But he has remained a feared figure, commanding the loyalty of thousands of armed men.

Pamela Constable covers issues related to immigration policy, immigrant communities and international figures and issues that crop up in our local and regional midst.
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