A powerful warlord-turned-governor's rejection of Hamid Karzai's election victory is raising fears that one of Afghanistan's most stable provinces could collapse into fighting. Atta Mohammed Noor—the only one of Afghanistan's 34 governors to have openly supported Karzai's rival, Abdullah Abdullah—has denounced Karzai as an "unlawful president." His many supporters in the northern province of Balkh are expected to turn violent if the federal government tries to remove him.
Atta, who fought the Taliban as a Northern Alliance commander, hasn't ruled out a reconciliation with the Karzai government if it eradicates corruption and gives the Abdullah side key posts. Intelligence sources, however, note that his supporters are already arming themselves and warn that removing Atta could have dire consequences. "People trust and respect" Atta, one man tells the Wall Street Journal. "But if he's gone, they will turn to backing the Taliban, as it happened in other provinces."