As Afghan security forces battle the Taliban and other militant groups who are threatening to overrun parts of the previously stable region, RFE/RL correspondent Frud Bezhan on June 23 spoke with Atta Mohammad Noor, powerful governor of northern Balkh Province, about his plans to restore security in the volatile region.
RFE/RL: After 12 years as governor of Balkh, what are your political ambitions? Will you stay on as governor?
Atta Mohammad Noor: I would like to be involved in the strategic decision-making of the country. I would like to run in presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections. I've been a governor for a long time and I don't have the same desire as before. I agreed with the National Unity Government that they should appoint me as governor and afterward I would decide which job I would choose. But I don't want to be removed as governor as a result of some post-electoral games. I don't want to stay for long. I will choose another position for myself.
RFE/RL: Where do you think Balkh would be if you had not been governor for the past 12 years?
Noor: What I've brought to Balkh is order, discipline, law and order, the presence of women in government, and democratic values. Compared with other provinces, we have made better progress. If I hadn't been the governor to this point, the gun would be the order of the day, not the law.
RFE/RL: Afghanistan's northern provinces have seen increasing violence in the last few months and districts in Badakhshan and Kunduz have fallen to the Taliban. What's the reason behind this?
Noor: The government has made efforts, but there's a weakness in leadership. The government's mismanagement has exacerbated the problems in the region. Instead of solving problems, the government is creating more challenges. For example, the government doesn't have any organized military plans and it shows our weakness to the enemy. On the other hand, the enemies of Afghanistan have become more active because of a new geographical shift. We are in a very dangerous war. If we take the right measures, we will be able to tackle the problems easily.
RFE/RL: There are reports that militias besides the Afghan Local Police (ALP), pro-government village militias, are being used to fight the Taliban in Balkh. Militia leaders have said they have been given money and weapons from your provincial government. Is this true?
Noor: I'm not supportive of creating militias. I haven't supplied weapons and I don't have weapons to supply. I see the arming of militias as a last resort -- when our enemy is taking over the country, people are being killed, and the government collapses and can't provide security to its people. I support lawful structures, including the National Army, police force, and intelligence agency. We should support and improve these institutions. I don't support structures that are above the law. The ALP is separate because they're under the control of the Interior Ministry. They're formed in places of need and have proved very successful in some places. If they're needed, former mujahedin fighters can be absorbed into the armed forces. The former mujahedin are veteran fighters who have the courage to defend the country.
Abdul Rahid Dostum has now struck up an alliance with Atta Mohammad Noor. The men were once bitter rivals
RFE/RL: You have formed an alliance with your old rival First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum to fight the Taliban in the north. What does this deal involve and what is the reason behind it?
Noor: This is an alliance meant to establish security, defend people, and push back our common enemies. As you see, provinces like Faryab, Sar-e Pol, and other provinces are under threat. We wanted Jamiat-e-Islami (Noor's party) and the Junbish party (Dostum's party) to be united with one hand and to inflict a powerful blow (to our enemies). We will work to bring security -- defending our government, constitution, values, the gains we've made in the past 14 years -- and push back our enemies. We are coordinating forces from the provinces to repel attacks from our enemies.
RFE/RL: Are the Afghan National Army and police force strong enough to fight the Taliban? Or do former militias and mujahedin groups need to be remobilized?
Noor: The Afghan security forces have the capability to defend Afghanistan, but only if it receives proper equipment and if they're managed well. If this happens, the national forces have the required ability, bravery, and morale. If needed, the national forces can recruit old forces like the mujahedin, which can be absorbed lawfully into the security institutions. They can be used effectively. But I'm not supportive of other structures not controlled by the government.