A massive portrait of a middle-aged man towers over the Ferris wheel and giant mushrooms at an amusement park here in Afghanistan.
His admirers call him “Ustad,” or “Teacher”. His critics call him the King.
For more than a decade, Atta Mohammad Noor, Governor of Balkh province, has controlled this northern region with an iron hand, imbued with the authority of the freedom fighter he was and the ultra-rich man he has become.
To many war-weary Afghans, former warlords such as Noor have to be marginalised for the nation to move into a new era. To their supporters, they remain a bulwark against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and, possibly, Isis.
That struggle is becoming the definitive battle for the future of every aspect of the country’s affairs.
The ascent last year of President Ashraf Ghani, a US-educated former World Bank official, was widely seen as a key step in altering old notions of power. But Noor and other strongmen are challenging his efforts to strengthen the government’s authority.
Billboards looming over intersections show Noor with influential former mujahideen leaders from years past. The message is unmistakably clear: Noor is the heir to their legacy. © Washington PostReuse content