Afghanistan: The Struggle for Power in Mazar-e-Sharif

UN staff terrorized over the control of Mazar-e-Sharif

Opening of new MOD Middle Eastern training facilities at Stanta in Thetford Forest, Norfolk which consist of a rural village and urban complex designed by OPTAG to train troops heading to Afghanistan Photo: ALBANPIX

By Hanan Habibzai

UN mission in Afghanistan post ponded its office in Mazar -e -Sharif after a violent mob of protesters killed At least seven UN staff earlier this month in a quiet city of the war-shattered country. A delegation investigating the case, indicated last week that some of the neighboring countries including Iran were behind the attack on the UNAMA office. Here, Hanan Habibzai analyzes the political situation in the Mazar-e- Sharif.

The Bamiyan in Mazar e Sharif, Afghanistan

Balkh is a strategic province of Afghanistan, located across the border with Uzbekistan, a door for the highway which connects central Asian states to the South Asian ones. Hirata, a small town, is the only way that links the province to the region under direct Russian influence, the Central Asian states.

Its capital, Mazar -e -Sharif, is a city of business and trade that considers a significant economical resource for those who control the province.

Since 2004, Northern Alliance’s popular warlord Atta Mohammad Noor controls the city of Mazar- e- Sharif, and despite profound crashes with president Karzai, he governs the province.

Afghan constitution imposes an obstruction on the participation of state officials to have a view about either presidential election or parliamentary election however as serving governor he opposed the candidacy of Karzai for the 2009 presidential election and launched a campaign to support his rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

Meanwhile, though Karzai dislikes his position and has accused him of corruption, Noor has remained untouchable.  In surrounding himself with supporters from the non-Pashtun of the north, Karzai has become dependent on those more loyal to Noor than himself.

Vice President Qasim Fahim and most of the members of the cabinet are aligned with the same political party and same ethnic which Atta Mohmmad Noor belongs to.

In order to control the strategic city of Mazar- e- Sharif warlord, Atta Mohammad Noor’s armed men continuously fought against his Uzbek and Shiite allies from 2002-2004.  Hundreds of civilians died during these clashes.

Noor used the power of his political friends in Kabul to suppress the Uzbek Warlord Rashid Dustam and Shiite warlord Mohammad Mohaqiq, as a result forcing them out of Mazar e Sharif.

In the immediate aftermath, he dismissed the members of Uzbek and Shiite minorities from official posts in Balkh province. Noor is an ethnic Tajik and a member of the Islamic Jamiat party led by another Tajik cleric Burhanuddin Rabani who has close ties with Russians, according to Tehran Times.  They also say that Noor is getting financial support from Russia.

During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s his party, under Ahmad Shah Masoud, signed a ceasefire with the Russian army.  He then used Soviet arms and financial support to jointly suppress other anti-Soviet groups, a kind of civil war which was later generated in 1990s in aftermath of the collapse of the communist regime under Najibullah. From that time the Jamiat Party remained close to Russians.

Russia supports Burhanodin Rabani’s blockade of the influence of the Taliban-style – Sunni brand of Islam to Central Asian states.

Now, Mazar- e -Sharif, under Atta Mohammad Noor, turned on the intelligence base of the Russian-Jamiat relationship and a city of Masco’s agenda, which might pose a major threat to American interests in the region.

When, in late 2001, the American military removed the Taliban regime, Mr. Noor entered Mazar- e- Sharif in a military uniform, the only property he owned; ten years later his colored buildings and economic wealth shocked his critics.

The people around him, who had nothing, today own hundreds of thousands of dollars of businesses or cash and invoked criticism by the local population.

Ordinary people complained that such big finance is impossible through official salary, where they earned it from?

Iranian influence in Mazar e Sharif

Iran has a particular interest in Mazar- e- Sharif, using it as a base to spread its agenda to Central Asian states. Tehran is also looking to destabilize US strategies and interests in Afghanistan.

Iranian agents in the city pay out cash as they do in Kabul.  This pushes forward Iran’s agenda, giving them a place “at the table” in the political gamesmanship between Mazar- e- Sharif and Kabul.

Tehran wants to decrease American influence in the strategic province of Afghanistan at any cost.

The transition of security is scheduled which will hand over local control to Afghan forces which may tighten central governments’ influence on provincial affairs.

Mr. Noor fears that the people president Karzai is preparing to deploy in Mazar-e-Sharif city might be Pashtuns who may be able to put his authority at risk.

The chief of security service, the commander of 209 Shaheen Military Corps, and the Chief of Police are Pashtun who is not in favor of Mr. Noor.

By destabilizing the province, Noor means he wants everything to be controlled by himself. Russians and Iranians are concerned if the security responsibility is held by Pashtuns in Mazar- e -Sharif, their interests may face challenges.

For a couple of months, Atta Mohammad Noor is criticizing UNAMA for not coordinating affairs with him, Previously, Mr. Noor criticized the international aid agencies stationed in Mazar e Sharif for not doing enough but UNAMA always defends the position of those aid agencies.


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Hanan Habibzai, an investigative journalist with more than ten years of experience in global journalism has covered the US invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Taliban regime, and post-Taliban developments, including the rise of militancy in the country. MA in global journalism from Coventry University, Hanan writes on the conflict in Afghanistan and the regional politics, his work has been published by the BBC Afghan Stream, Pajhwok Afghan News, Reuter’s news agency, the Washington Post, Veterans Today, several local and the global media agencies, Including contribution in a journalism book Afghanistan War and the Media: Deadline and Frontline (2010), edited by R, Keeble & J, Mair, Hanan’s academic work is published around the world.