Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Comeback of Some Well-Known Faces: Election-related cabinet mini-reshuffle

Thomas Ruttig 6 min

President Karzai has appointed five new ministers to fill the voids left in his cabinet by the incumbents resigning to join the presidential race. His 28 October mini-reshuffle in the cabinet brings back some long-standing allies, two relative newcomers and one controversial figure. AAN analysts, Thomas Ruttig, Gran Hewad and Kate Clark, have been looking into their backgrounds.

The five appointees, who are only acting ministers until and unless they pass a vote of confidence in parliament in mid-November, will only have a short tenure. After the April elections, the new president will no doubt want to appoint his own ministers. So most of the newly appointed will be no more than transitional figures, at least in their current positions. However, in the pre-election period, new appointments are always interesting and Karzai’s mini cabinet reshuffle has brought back some well-known and interesting figures.

Zarar Ahmad Moqbel Usmani replaces Dr Zalmay Rassul as Minister for Foreign Affairs (who is running for president)

Moqbel is a former Shura-ye Nizar/Jamiat-e Islami commander from the Shomali (Khuwaja Syaran village in Parwan) who was born in 1964 (read his official biography here and, slightly differently here. He studied at one of the top high schools in Kabul (Habibia), at the Parwan Teacher Training Institute and then the Kabul Polytechnic, but left without completing his final year in 1987 after his brother, a commander, was killed and he was arrested. He was subsequently released from Pul-e Charkhi prison in a prisoner exchange and joined the mujahedin, eventually serving as deputy chief of staff to Ahmad Shah Massud. It seems he was active in the consolidation of Massud’s Shura-ye Nizar, the military organisation within Jamiat which became extremely powerful during the late 1980s.

Moqbel was appointed chief of police of Parwan province in 1994 during the mujahedin government of Burhanuddin Rabbani. In 1998, two years after the mujahedin lost Kabul to the Taleban, Rabbani who still controlled most Afghan diplomatic appointments, sent Moqbel as first political secretary to the Afghan Embassy in Iran (1998-2002). This was an important posting, as Iran was a key military supporter of Massud and the Northern Alliance against the Taleban.

Post-2001, with his Shura-ye Nizar ally Yunis Qanuni, at Interior, he slotted back into his old job as chief of police of Parwan province and then provincial governor. He moved on to Deputy Minister of the Interior (2005) and then minister (2006-2008). At Interior, says his official biography, “he dramatically improved the capacity of the national police”. In reality, he was sacked because of long-standing allegations of corruption and unsavoury appointments (see our analysis here and media reports accusing him of embezzlement and selling posts at the ministry here, here and here and for background on corruption in the ministry at this time, see reports by AREU and here from World Bank/United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. A year later, however, the president appointed him Minister of Counter-Narcotics. The British government stopped funding the ministry because of its belief that he was himself involved in drug smuggling. It is one of the very rare examples of a donor unable to stomach paying out money.

Politically, Moqbel has gravitated towards the Parwani faction of Jamiat, a rival of the Panjshiri and Badakhshi mainstream factions and, with some allies, started distancing himself from the Jamiat mainstream during the 2004 presidential election. He campaigned for President Karzai and was rewarded with a cabinet position. He has proved an enduring Karzai ally.

Muhammad Aref Nurzai replaces Ismail Khan as Minister for Water and Power (who is running as first deputy to Ustad Sayyaf)

A leader of the large Nurzai tribe and born and raised in Kandahar, Nurzai started his higher education at the faculty of agriculture in Kabul University, but dropped out to fight against the Soviet occupation (see his official biography here). He was a commander with Ittehad-e Islami (re-named Dawat-e Islami after 2001), the mujahedin faction of Ustad Sayyaf, currently another presidential contender. He also later fought the Taleban as part of the Northern Alliance.  In 2010, Nurzai shifted his pre-war course credits from agriculture to civil engineering at Kabul Polytechnic and, decades after first enrolling in higher education, graduated with a BSC.

Appointed Minister of Light Industries at the 2001 Bonn conference, Nurzai held this position both in the interim and transitional administrations (2001-2003) before moving to the Ministry of Tribal and Border Affairs in 2004. In 2005, he successfully ran for parliament from his home province and became deputy Wolesi Jirga speaker (2005-2007).

He resigned from parliament in 2008 and was appointed to head the Local National Guard Administration (2008-2009), a general directorate established by presidential decree to safeguard polling stations ahead of the 2009 presidential elections. He set up guards/militias to protect the stations. In 2011, he was deputy head of the governmental commission that organised the Consultative Loya Jirga which discussed the Afghan-US strategic agreement (see our analysis here).

Nurzai has largely been a Karzai ally since 2001, but one showing significant independent room for manoeuvre – he was, after all, a significant jihadi commander and important enough to be a participant at the Bonn conference – where he argued for Karzai to become Afghanistan’s leader. In the last two years, however, he has gravitated more to the camp of Dr Abdullah, an opposition figure and presidential candidate.  This move by the president, to give him such an important ministry, may be an attempt to bring him back into the presidential camp ahead of the elections.

Haji Akbar Barakzai replaces Wahidullah Shahrani as Minister for Mines and Industries (who reigned to run as first deputy to Qayyum Karzai)

Barakzai has not developed a high profile so far, although he has worked as deputy in the ministry of light industries under Nurzai (2002-2003), as governor of his home province, Baghlan (2008-2010) and Deputy Minister of Public Works. He has a Hezb-e Islami background. His brother, Dr Ismael, a major commander in the province, was killed in the early 1990s and he himself has enjoyed the patronage of two major Hizb-e Islami figures, the key northern Pashtun Karzai ally, Juma Khan Hamdard (currently governor of Paktia) and the advisor to the president on tribal affairs and former Hezb-e Islami deputy leader, Waheedullah Sabawoon.

The ministry of mines, given the size of the contracts it negotiates and the income it may well, eventually, bring into the country, is hugely important to Afghanistan. It is also prone to corruption. This will be a difficult brief, given that the two largest mining projects in the country, for copper and iron ores, are under review on the initiative of the Indian and Chinese state-owned companies/consortiums who won, variously, the contracts.

Muhammad Shakir Kargar replaces Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady as Minister of Commerce (who registered to run for president, but was rejected by the Independent Election Commission and is now appealing)

Kargar, an Uzbek from Faryab province, was Minister of Water and Power during the interim and transitional governments (2001-04). In 2005, he successfully ran for parliament in his home province and became the deputy chairman of the Wolesi Jirga’s foreign relations committee. He ran again in 2010 and, after feeling he had won a seat, was disqualified by the special election court (our analysis here). He was then appointed as Afghan ambassador to Azerbaijan, a position he has held until now. Kargar started his political career in General Dostum’s Jombesh movement, but drifted towards the presidential camp soon after the 2001 Bonn conference.

Din Muhammad Mubarez Rashedi replaces Zarar Ahmad Moqbel (see above) as Minister for Counter-Narcotics

Rashedi has served as Deputy Minister of Culture and Information since 2005 and is also a board member of the Journalist Support Fund. Originating from Sar-e Pul, he completed his religious studies in Qum, Iran. This Arabic speaking, Hezb-e Wahdat linked cleric has proved an unlikely hit with journalists who have found him an active champion of a free press. He has played an important role, and, depending on who replaces him at the ministry, may well be missed by journalists.

Other positions vacated because of election-related resignations have also already been filled. They include the governor of Bamyan, Habiba Surabi who is standing as second vice president to Zalmai Rasul and has been replaced by the recently sacked deputy interior minister, Ghulam Ali Wahdat. Another gap was left by the resignation of the head of the legal advisory board to the president, the former minister of justice and former acting minister of higher education (he failed to get the parliamentary vote of confidence) and close ally of Second Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili, Sarwar Danish who resigned to run as second vice president to Ashraf Ghani. He has been replaced by the Kabul University professor, Nusrullah Stanekzai, who was already one of the president’s other legal advisors. 8 MPs have been replaced by those who were judged to have come second in the 2010 elections.

A number of other important positions vacated by presidential candidates remain open. The president has yet to appoint new heads of the Transition Commission to replace Dr Ashraf Ghani and the High Office of Oversight on Anti-Corruption to replace Azizullah Ludin (whose candidacy in the elections was rejected by the Independent Elections Commission). There is also, as yet, no new Senior Minister, a mainly honorific position formerly held by Hedayat Amin Arsala, the doyen of the old royalist Rome group.


election ministers reshuffles