KABUL • Mr Atta Mohammad Noor, one of Afghanistan's most powerful regional leaders, is in talks with President Ashraf Ghani to join the central government, a move that could shake up the country's politics ahead of elections scheduled for 2019.
Negotiations have been going on for weeks, and while the outcome is uncertain and it is unclear what role Mr Noor would take, if any, his ambitions have implications for the balance of power between Mr Ghani and government co-leader, Mr Abdullah Abdullah.
"I am here in Kabul to continue my negotiations with the President," Mr Noor said in an interview at his house in the capital, where hundreds of visitors and petitioners crowd in daily to seek his help.
"If our negotiations succeed, we will leave Balkh to new and young faces," he said, referring to the northern province where he has built a far-reaching regional power base. "We are ready to support the government and work together."
Mr Abdullah is chief executive in a US-brokered power-sharing government, but he is under growing pressure to deliver more for his followers, many of whom believe he has failed to protect their interests.
Some political commentators see Mr Noor's initiative as a challenge for the leadership of Afghanistan's powerful ethnic Tajik group, currently led by Mr Abdullah, a former ally whom he backed in the 2014 election.
Mr Ghani is a Pashtun, traditionally the strongest ethnic Afghan group that is often viewed with suspicion by Tajiks and other minority communities.
Mr Noor's relations with Mr Ghani have been strained in the past, and the President tried to dismiss him as Balkh governor.
But recent talks point to a thaw and have sparked keen interest in the mainstream and social media. There has also been a steady stream of politicians and foreign diplomats to Mr Noor's residences in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.
"The big question people are asking is, 'Is this the start of the 2019 presidential campaign for Afghanistan?' " said Mr Scott Worden, director of Afghanistan and Central Asia Programmes at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.