IN THE NEWS: AFGHAN LEADER ACCEPTS CALL TO OUST TWO TOP MINISTERS (AUGUST 5, 2012)
Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten
Afghan Leader Accepts Call To Oust Two Top Ministers
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
Sunday, August 5, 2012
By MARIA ABI-HABIB and HABIB KHAN TOTAKHIL
KABUL—Afghanistan’s president accepted parliament’s decision to oust the ministers of interior and defense, whose departure further complicates the pullout of international forces from Afghanistan.
Although President Hamid Karzai accepted the outcome of Saturday’s no confidence vote, he asked defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and interior minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi to stay on as acting ministers until he can find replacements. Mr. Karzai violated the constitution in the past by keeping on acting ministers for nearly two years, beyond the one-month limit.
Mr. Karzai “instructed the ministers—while respecting the decision of the House—to continue in office until new replacements are introduced within the provisions of the law,” said his statement on Sunday.
The ministers’ strong relationships with the U.S.-led coalition and the lack of clear replacements have observers worried that the security handover to Afghan forces will face major upheaval barely two years before most international troops withdraw. It also comes as another official well liked by the West—Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal—is being scrutinized by media and some parliamentarians over large amounts of cash flowing through his bank accounts.
Mr. Zakhilwal denies any wrongdoing.
Saturday’s vote came as lawmakers grilled the two ministers over the recent Pakistani shelling in the border province of Kunar, and questioned the defense minister about patient abuse in the Dawood National Military Hospital, a story first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
“We need an Afghanistan clean from these people,” said Lalai Hamidzai, a lawmaker from southern Kandahar province. “If Karzai wants to keep them as acting ministers it means Karzai wants an unsuccessful Afghanistan.”
The international community pledged $16 billion at the Tokyo donors’ conference in July, partly on condition that Afghanistan clamps down on widespread graft.
With the 2014 pullout date for most international forces looming, Afghan lawmakers may be trying to clean up government to curry favor for more donor aid.
Analysts and observers say the chances are good that Mr. Karzai will respect parliament’s decision post Tokyo and find replacements for both ministers within the one month deadline.
“If Karzai wants to appease the international community, he has to respect parliament’s decision,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul. “Especially if he wants parliament to help him with his new fight against corruption.”
In recent weeks since the Tokyo conference, the president has started an anticorruption drive. The diplomat said the president’s new anticorruption drive might be used to get rid of potential rivals before the 2014 presidential elections. Although Mr. Karzai has said he won’t stand in the elections, analysts and diplomats expect him to groom a close ally for the post.
Interior Minister Mohammadi, an ethnic Tajik former army chief of staff, is a powerhouse in northern Afghanistan, providing Mr. Karzai legitimacy among the population there. Defense Minister Wardak, a Pashtun, is well liked by the U.S. and has worked closely with the West within the ministry for the past 11 years.
Both Messers Mohammadi and Wardak are vital assets to the U.S., which isn’t well liked by many other ministers and presidential advisers.
“It’s a loss for the U.S. military during this time of transition because they both have worked with the U.S. military for a long time. Leadership is very important in these two ministries,” said a second Western diplomat in Kabul.
“This will further weaken the government in Kabul.”
The diplomat added that Mr. Mohammadi has been an important interlocutor between Mr. Karzai and the Northern Alliance, a key source of opposition to the president that draws its support from ethnic Tajik communities and other minorities.
In Saturday’s no-confidence vote, the Afghan lawmakers voted to oust Mr. Wardak by 146 votes, with 72 supporting him. Mr. Mohammadi received 126 votes of no confidence versus 90 in support.
At the forefront of the questioning Saturday was the shelling of eastern Afghanistan by Pakistani forces, which the government said displaced hundreds of Afghans living along the border and killed and wounded dozens.
Mr. Wardak was also questioned about the treatment of Afghan troops at the Dawood National Military Hospital, where soldiers starved to death while Afghan doctors and nurses allegedly stole U.S.-bought supplies to sell. The U.S. Congress also is investigating abuses at the American-funded hospital.
Also at issue was the ethnic makeup of both ministries, with each minister accused of tilting the composition of their ranks in favor of their ethnicities and placing allies in positions of power. Both ministers defended themselves, saying their ranks reflected the composition of the country.