Within two days, President Hamed Karzai has changed two of his key cabinet posts: Muhammad Omar Daudzai was appointed acting interior minister on 1 September 2013, one day after Rahmatullah Nabil became acting head of the Afghan intelligence service. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig looks at the implications and predicts that, with the registration of candidates for next year’s presidential election set to start soon and the current foreign minister emerging as a strong candidate, more changes are to be expected (with input from Gran Hewad).
With Daudzai’s appointment, the President solves two problems. First, two weeks before the start of candidate registration for next year’s presidential election, Karzai ropes in his former chief of staff and ambassador to Iran and then Pakistan. Daudzai was the first politician from the Karzai camp to declare his “possible” intention to run in the election (read here and our analysis here). That this appointment ends Daudzai’s presidential ambitions was confirmed by his campaign office chief, Muhammad Sangar Amirzada, quoted in the New York Times of the same day, who said that “with the registration process for candidates beginning in two or three weeks, it is impossible for him to participate in the elections as a candidate”. Daudzai has apparently understood that he was no longer the first choice of either the President – after having been counted among the favourites for a long time (see for example here) – or his party, Hezb-e Islami.(1)
Second, with Daudzai’s appointment Karzai shows his intention to solve one of his problems with parliament. On 22 July 2013, the lower house, the Wolesi Jirga (WJ), cast a vote of no-confidence against his interior minister Ghulam Mujtaba Patang (we reported here and here) which Karzai did not accept. He asked the Supreme Court (SC) to evaluate the legality of the WJ’s vote on Patang but, since then, nothing has come out of the SC. So the president ended the affair by deciding to drop Patang and appoint Daudzai as acting interior minister.
Of course, with the parliament’s notoriously unpredictable behaviour, it is far from a done deal that the MPs will give Daudzai their vote of confidence. The vote over his appointment may well turn into the first show of strength between the President and the newly established united opposition of the “Electoral Union of Afghanistan” which is strongly represented in the Wolesi Jirga and keen to demonstrate closed ranks. There is also the very real issue that Daudzai lacks experience in security affairs. (The appointment of Kabul police chief Muhammad Ayub Salangi as Daudzai’s most important deputy – for security affairs – might be designed to offset that lack of experience, so that MPs who are persuaded to approve the new minister can justify their vote.) If the opposition wins, Daudzai might be left no position at all – although the President would have the option to move him to the chairmanship of the National Security Council (NSC), another cabinet-rank position.
In another move, not directly related to pre-election positioning, Karzai appointed Rahmatullah Nabil acting head of the country’s intelligence service, the NDS. The current holder of this position, Assadullah Khaled, was so severely injured in a suicide attack in December 2012 that he had to be medically treated in the US over many months (where he was visited in hospital by President Barack Obama in a highly unusual step). He returned to Kabul in April 2013 but has apparently been rated physically unfit to continue in his position. Nabil had already held the top NDS position from 2010 to 2012, replacing Amrullah Saleh who, after his ungentle dismissal by Karzai, has become one of the most vocal opposition politicians. Nabil was then replaced by Khaled and made deputy head of the NSC. He also needs parliament’s vote of confidence to officially regain his old position.
Daudzai and Nabil will have to face the vote of the Wolesi Jirga together with Mohammad Akram Khpelwak, the former governor of Farah, who was made acting minister of border and tribal affairs in late June 2013. The previous candidate for this position, Haji Din Mohammad, a former Nangarhar governor and campaign chief for Karzai in 2009, had not been able to win the vote of confidence in parliament and the ministry was left without a proper boss for almost ten months, until a territorial dispute with Pakistan (our analysis here) forced Karzai to act.
More changes in the Afghan cabinet can be expected in the next two weeks, particularly if the current foreign minister, Zalmai Rassul, emerges as Karzai’s favoured successor candidate. In this case, Rassul – a medical doctor and former close aide of the last Afghan king while in exile in Rome and, after 2001, minister of transport and civil aviation and head of the NSC – must step down from his current position. The Kabul rumour mill has it that Zarar Ahmad Muqbel, a former interior and current minister of counter-narcotics, and Sadeq Mudaber, currently the head of the Office of Administrative Affairs – a Tajik Jamiati and a Hazara – might become his running mates for the posts of first and second vice president, respectively.
Kabul’s rumour mill further has it that discussions are ongoing on a possible return of current NSC chairman Rangin Dadfar Spanta to his former position at the head of the foreign ministry. Former defence minister Rahim Wardak could then move to Spanta’s current position at the top of the NSC.(2) In the New York Times an anonymous western diplomat called Rassul “both the weakest and least offensive candidate”. That might turn out to be his advantage. None of this, however, can be taken for granted, as palace discussions tend to go back and forth. That it has become quiet around the recently hotly debated candidacy of Wahhabi jihadi leader Sayyaf (see our analysis here) is threfore not necessarily a sign that he is out of the race.
(1) Daudzai was a member of Hezb-e Islami during the war against the Soviet occupation and has been associated with it since. This party is currently still working on finding a joint candidate with other political forces, like Second Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili’s faction of Hezb-e Wahdat. Both are part of Karzai’s unofficial government coalition but they threaten to be dropped from the most promising, Karzai-supported three-way ticket, consisting of a presidential candidate plus two vice-presidential candidates.
(2) Nabil’s reappointment and Rahim Wardak’s possible move to the NSC could make the circle of key power holders around the President look ethnically, and even tribally, lopsided. Together with education minister Faruq Wardak and chief of staff Abdul Karim Khorram, the weight of the Wardaki “faction” would even grow further, to the possible dislike of other groups and among Pashtuns.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020