Northern Afghans threaten to rebel if power-sharing deal fails

By Jessica Donati and Mirwais Harooni PANJSHIR Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghans in a strategically important province north of the capital have threatened to rebel if the country's new president does not respect an agreement to share power with their chosen leader, Abdullah Abdullah. Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, was sworn in as president on Monday, ending the stand-off with Abdullah, an ex-foreign minister, over who won the vote. Stability will now depend on how well the alliance holds. The new president is an ethnic Pashtun with a support base in the east and south of the country, while Abdullah is backed by Tajiks, who make up most of the population in Panjshir and other northern areas. As part of the U.S. brokered agreement, Abdullah has become chief executive, a similar role to that of a prime minister, and will share control over key government decisions. But in Panjshir, governor Abdul Rahman Kabiri said people were worried Abdullah would be pushed out of power. "Panjshiris are watching the situation," Kabiri told Reuters in an interview. "If they don't commit to the agreement, people will demonstrate." Abdullah is backed by many Panjshiris because of his close ties to their beloved leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated in 2001 and is remembered as a national hero. Cracks in the deal to share power have already emerged, with Abdullah's camp nearly boycotting the swearing-in ceremony. On the streets of Panjshir, sentiment was a mixture of resignation and anger. One shopkeeper said he ripped up his voter card after Ghani was declared the winner. "There will be a struggle inside the government and ... this time it will develop into a crisis," said Wahid Rahman, in his late 20s. "As they deceived him (Abdullah) during the voting process they will deceive him again." Afghanistan remains deeply divided over the election. In a symbol of the north's defiance, the road from the capital Kabul to Panjshir is festooned with huge billboards announcing Abdullah as the winner. A former military official, who declined to give his name, said he and others in the province were prepared to fight. "If this continues and they do not stick to their commitments then we will fight," he said. "I have weapons as do many other people in Panjshir and we will fight. We can sabotage electricity supplies and roads to Kabul, and without this the government will collapse." The new government of national unity will have multiple challenges to overcome in addition to dealing with internal rivalries. Its coffers are empty and it faces a growing Taliban insurgency that has regained territory across the country. "Time will tell how long the deal will last ... If they ignore parts of the agreements things could escalate," said police chief Abdul Aziz Ghairat. "People of Panjshir are very good people and at the same time can be very bad people, and if the situation goes against their interests then you will see what they can do." (Editing by Maria Golovnina)