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Ustad Atta Mohammed

Ustad Atta Muhammad ["ustad" means teacher], also known as Atta Muhammad Nur or Atta Mohammed Noor, was the Tajik who was senior commander of the Northern Alliance opposition forces based in Mazar-i-Sharif that overthrew the Taliban in 2001. He became the Commander of 7th Corps of Northern Afghanistan until July 2004 when he was appointed by Hamid Karzai as the Governor of Balkh province in a calculated effort to bring wayward provinces under central government influence in the upcoming presidential elections.

Atta Muhammad was among Tajik mujahideen Islamists who fought against Abdul Rashid Dostum in the anti-Soviet struggle in the 1980s. He was allied with the Jamiat-i-Islami party of former Afghan president Burhannuddin Rabbani, Ahmed Massoud, and the powerful Kabul-based warlord, Defense Minister Muhammad Fahim Khan and shares their vision for Afghanistan's future. General Rashid Dostum became deputy defence minister in the interim government, while Fahim appointed his strong military commander, Ustad Atta Muhammad as the Corps Commander of Mazar-e-Sharif to serve as a check on the Uzbek warlord. Atta Muhammad was described by Dostum's supporters as "too fundamentalist" for the moderate secular reform they espouse.

Atta Muhammad, an ethnic Tajik, Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum and Shi'a Hazara Ustad Mohaqiq were allied together under the Northern Alliance and fought together against the Taliban. Time Magazine reported in November 2001 that "Ustad Atta Mohammed, 37, an ethnic Tajik, is a bearded giant given to joking and easy small talk, and his men have Mazar-e Sharif, but as they consolidated control, they massacred 100 Pakistani Taliban fighters who were trying to surrender -- and then watched as 12 of their own mullahs, on a peace mission to the Taliban resisters, were executed while clutching their holy texts. In retaliation, the Alliance soldiers then slaughtered the rest of the resisters.

In its annual report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan for 2002, Human Rights Watch reported: "In the last months of 2001 and first months of 2002, there was a wave of attacks on Pashtun civilians in the north of the country, seemingly because they shared the same ethnicity as the Taliban leadership. Specifically, troops associated with the predominately Uzbek party Junbish-i Milli-yi Islami-yi, led by Rashid Dostum, the predominately Tajik party Jamiat-e Islami, led in the north by Ustad Atta Mohammad, and the predominately Hazara party Hizb-i Wahdat, led in the north by Mohammad Mohaqiq, were all implicated in systematic and widespread looting and violence in almost every province under their separate control, almost all of it directed at Pashtun villagers."

That alliance had fallen apart in the consequent victory and peace. Their forces came into clashes in 2003 involving tanks, artillery and heavy casualties. In October 2003, 60 people were reported to have been killed in skirmishes between Atta and Dostum in the Sar-i-Pul west of Mazar-i-Sharif. The clashes between these two powerful warlords, both of whom are ostensibly members of the Karzai government, had tremendous implications for the future stability of Afghanistan and the war against resurgent fundamentalism and terrorism.

In 2004 Ustad Atta Mohammed Noor was apointed the Governor of Balkh Province, a position he has held since. By 2008 Balkh Province was the only city where people had electricity and hundreds of schools have been established for the girls and a central University was also built. Students also enjoyed visiting a new built modern library. Balkh is the only province in Afghanistan that women are shopkeepers. Governor Atta is an outspoken advocate for womens rights including ending all types of violence against women and supporting women as a key resource in the development and reconstruction of the country.

In the 2009 presidential race, Atta put Abdullah on the map in the north while refraining from criticizing Karzai publicly and from attending pro-Abdullah rallies. Balkh Governor Atta was confident that his influence in the north will continue to attract supporters to Dr. Abdullah's campaign. He claimed to have wrested Turkmen, Uzbek, Arab, and Hazara support from under the noses of ethnic Turkmen Minister Qarqin, Junbesh-e-Milli Chairman Sayed Noorullah, and Wahdat-e-Mardum leader Mohaqqeq. Atta was bankrolling Abdullah's campaign. Atta's poaching of supporters from other political leaders did not confine itself to Turkmen areas. He claimed that he has convinced several of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum's ex-commanders to vote for Abdullah instead of Karzai, who the Junbesh Party endorsed.

According to one profile, "Some regard Mr. Noor, 46, a former mujahedeen commander and an ethnic Tajik, as a thinly disguised warlord who still exercises an unhealthy degree of control across much of the north and who has used that influence to grow rich through business deals during his time in power since 2001. But Mr. Noor, who is from Mazar-i-Sharif, has brought development and security, with a good measure of public support, to regions divided by ethnic and political rivalries. The governor has slowly gained the attention and support of Western donors and become something of a study in what kind of governing, imperfect as it is, produces results in Afghanistan. His supporters say he has made the transition from bearded guerrilla fighter to business-suited manager. Though many presume he has used his position of power to make money, Mr. Noor speaks out against corruption and has apparently checked it enough to maintain public support. That support has enhanced security, and the security has allowed others to prosper, too, another important reason that he has maintained popular backing."

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Page last modified: 21-08-2012 12:37:47 ZULU