Today, after an indecisive week, the Wolesi Jirga smoothly voted its confidence for three out of four candidates previously introduced for the ministry posts. The morning mood inside the house left few doubts as to an eventual positive outcome; the protesters were few and mostly went unheeded. Even the only exception, the failure of Haji Din Mohammad to get through the vote, can be seen as accidental. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini and Obaid Ali report from the Wolesi Jirga voting session.
After they had been introduced to the parliament by Vice-President Fahim on Wednesday, the four candidates for the vacant (or to be vacated) ministry posts were expected to be voted on today by the Wolesi Jirga. This accounted for the massive presence of MPs in the house, otherwise often gloomily half-empty during ordinary sessions: 241 out of 249. The administrative board and most of the MPs appeared to look forward to their main task of the day and did not want the other major issue – protests against the anti-Islam movie originating from the US – to distract them from that. So, after the more incensed MPs had vented their outrage for around half an hour, the experienced Yunus Qanuni satisfied both his indignant colleagues and the need to turn to the order of the day by suggesting that an official declaration on the issue be prepared and ratified at the end of the session (which was eventually done).
The four candidates were then introduced: Bismillah Khan Muhammadi for the Ministry of Defence, Ghulam Mujtaba Patang for Interior, Haji Azizullah Din Muhammad for Tribes and Borders and Assadullah Khaled for the National Directorate of Security (NDS) (for their biographical sketches see our previous blog) and proceeded to present their action plans.
Bismillah Khan (Defence) mainly recollected his achievements during his two years at the Ministry of Interior, and stated that if these did not prove enough and the MPs chose to dismiss him, he had serenely set his mind on going back home. It was President Karzai, he maintained, who during the recent Week of the Martyrs’ celebrations convinced him that he was still needed, this time at Defence, in view of the dire security situation of the country.
Mujtaba Patang (Interior) gave a lengthy speech, appearing both out of place and confident in his police uniform – an impression that was probably strengthened by his apparent lack of habit when it comes to giving speeches in public. He emphasised that he was not driven by factional, political or tribal loyalties, and explained in detail his plans to revise the ALP program, improve literacy among policemen, fight corruption inside the ministry and increase public confidence in the police. He proudly remembered how he was the first professional policeman (maslaki) to be nominated for the Ministry of Interior in the last 35 years, a claim that drew an applause from many MPs.
Haji Din Muhammad (Tribes and Borders) thanked President Karzai for his trust in introducing him and assured the MPs that he would lead the Ministry with the utmost impartiality towards all ethnic groups and communities of the country. He concluded his intervention with a tale of Mulla Nasruddin (1): Nasruddin was once robbed of all his belongings, which he had left on his donkey while resting overnight in a village. He threatened the villagers that they should retrieve all his property ‘or I’ll do to you what I did to the people of the other village!’ The villagers, frightened, did their best and returned to him all the stolen goods, before Mulla Nasruddin finally confessed what his fearful retaliation against the other village had consisted of: exactly nothing. The meaning was of course that he was strongly suggesting the MPs to vote for him, but that he would not go after them if they did not.
Assadullah Khaled (NDS) appeared the most self-assertive and relaxed of the four, joking with the MPs and cutting short his presentation for lack of time with nonchalance. He stopped the MPs from applauding him, mimicking the house speaker who had previously told the MPs off for doing so. He described the conflict in Afghanistan – quite appropriately in fact – as a war of perceptions, where propaganda plays a major role, and he promised to thwart enemies’ plans inside their terrorist nests, leaving them no time to approach their targets. He also made a vow not to arrest and abuse innocents.
The mood in the session was altogether cheerful while listening to the candidate ministers, and at the end of their presentations it was decided not to spend time on further questioning. The protest staged by the ‘usual suspects’ (Lalai Hamidzai, who had been among the most vocal supporters of Bismillah Khan’s dismissal one month ago, and who now asked for promises from the would-be ministers that if rejected they would not keep serving as acting ministers, joined by Latif Pedram, who defended the procedural right of posing questions, and of course Ramazan Bashardost), although spirited was soon stifled by the fact that their microphones were switched off. And the voting started.
As expected, it turned out to be a reasonably good harvest of votes for everybody, with the exception made for Haji Din Muhammad, who missed the quorum of 121 by four votes only. Here are the complete results of the vote:
Bismillah Khan Muhammadi
Blank votes: 11
Ghulam Mujataba Patang
Haji Azizullah Din Mohammad
So what to make of these results? Should we infer from Haji Din Muhammad’s failure that the MPs voted for those who have more political clout than Mulla Nasruddin’s empty threat? This however does not seem to be the case for Patang, who has no clear political or factional backing. Maybe Haji Din Muhammad, like Mulla Nasruddin’s jokes, has become old, with MPs choosing to bring in a relatively new and young class of ‘professionals’ – Patang, but also, in his own ominous way, Khaled. The aim appears to have been to, at all costs, strengthen the effectiveness of the all-important security sector as Afghanistan approaches 2014. Apart from a great deal of support from Karzai and an apparent ability to reach out to different political factions (as well as strong economic assets), Khaled’s high number of votes in spite of the recent reminders about his past human rights record, may well signify a growing tolerance among some Afghans, MPs but also ordinary citizens, to be tough, nasty, brutal, as long as something is done about security. (2)
Confidence votes by the Afghan parliament are often about who gets rejected; this time it appeared to be about who got in. Haji Din Mohammad’s failure to get the vote of confidence is not so relevant and may not even have been intentional – four votes short could represent a random result, a mistake, personal problems with some MPs, or indeed a failure to apply some ‘oil’ to the voting gear. The important outcome is that the three security ministries have been re-filled legally, avoiding a typical parliament-president impasse, through an apparently largely shared consensus. This was not necessarily to be expected, given that political scheming for the 2014 presidential election has already started, and this usually enhances fragmentation. It would probably be a mistake to interpret today’s vote as a sign of a reforming trend inside the Afghan government or even of an increasingly cooperative relationship between the parliament and the palace – Afghan politics remain fickle and it is unlikely to last. But it does show a will to survive and the ability to compromise when considered necessary.
(1) Mulla Nasruddin is a famous character in Afghan, Persian, Turkish and Central Asian folklore, protagonist of a thousand short stories and jokes. A lazy, greedy gourmet, he only manages to redeem himself by way of his wits.
(2) Compare this with the more than favourable reception that Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf’s recent statements about the need to subject apprehended Taleban suicide attackers to torture and exemplary capital punishment met among many Afghan politicians (read here and here)
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020