In an apparent bid to showcase their resolve for backing the government, protesters in a restive Afghan province have displayed small arms.
The January 2 protest in the remote southwestern province of Uruzgan comes amid a tense showdown between the national unity government in Kabul and regional strongman Atta Mohmmad Noor. The longtime governor of northern Balkh Province is reluctant to leave his post two weeks after the government claimed to have “approved” his resignation on December 18.
“The youth and the people who are carrying their arms today are saying we will not allow anyone to oppose the government,” Rahimullah Popal, a protest leader, told Radio Free Afghanistan in Uruzgan’s capital, Tarin Kot, on January 2.
While the protesters refused to say who specifically they were protesting against, their anger was clearly aimed at Noor. “We are also calling on the Taliban to join the peace process,” Popal said. Since the withdrawal of most NATO troops from Afghanistan in late 2014, the insurgents have overrun large swathes of predominantly Pashtun-populated Uruzgan while repeatedly besieging Tarin Kot.
Yet Attaullah Afghan, a protester in Tarin Kot, now says he is ready to defend Kabul. “I have picked up arms to back my government and resist anyone who is opposing this government and might be harboring thoughts of bringing it down,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
Qudratullah Rahimi, another armed protester, agreed. “Our aim is to back our government in ending defiance,” he said.
Speaking in his northern city of Mazar-e Sharif on January 2, Noor accused Kabul of attempting to marginalize leaders of the armed groups who fought against the Soviet-backed Afghan regime in the 1980s. They also fought each other in a civil war and the Taliban in the 1990s.
“We do not want secularism to be dominant in our country,” he told supporters.
Reported by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Sharifullah Sharafat from Tarin Kot, Uruzgan. With Reporting by Tolo News.