Six months after the inauguration of the National Unity Government and two months after the last attempt to introduce cabinet members to the parliament, there is now a new list of nominees. It contains 16 names for almost all remaining cabinet positions. AAN’s Christine Roehrs, Qayoom Suroush, Naheed Esar, Ehsan Qaane and Obaid Ali have gathered biographic details about these new candidates, as we did for the previous nominees and approved candidates. It is again a list from which ‘big names’ are missing, there are again many new faces – and quite a few of the candidates are rather young. Second Vice President Sarwar Danesh has today, 1 April, officially introduced them to the parliament. Allowing for internal consultations of the MPs, we could see more ministers by the end of the following week. However, the voting could also, like in the last round in January, take much longer.Most of the 16 new minister nominees, except for Salamat Azimi and Humayun Rasa. In the middle (to the left and right of the gentleman with the Pakol hat) stand the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and his deputy, Nabi Farahi and Karim Baz. Photo: social media
(Biographical information and analysis will be added to as we learn more, particularly on some of the lesser known new candidates.)
‘Spring cleaning’ ahead of the Washington trip
Nawruz is the time of spring-cleaning. The bokharis are put away, the flowers pots are brought from the gul khana out into the open, and all that is broken gets fixed. President Ghani and his quasi-prime minister (or chief executive) Dr Abdullah have started the new year of 1394 with some house keeping as well. On the evening of the first day of the new Afghan year, Saturday 21 March, they published a list of another 16 cabinet nominees to be introduced to the parliament where they have to be approved. Since his inauguration in September 2014, Ghani had ruled with a rudimentary set up, with no ministers for four months (keeping the former ministers and then the deputies as caretakers to handle affairs). When he finally introduced his lists of candidates in January 2015, eight ministers (and the new head of the NDS) were approved by parliament, ten were rejected, and eight candidates were dropped from of the process for of a variety of reasons, including allegations of dual citizenship, criminal prosecution and incomplete educational documents.
On 21 March, president Ghani also established a 15-member electoral reform commision headed by Kabul MP Shukria Barakzai – a move which had also been long overdue (see AAN reporting here). The commision further includes Sediqullah Tawhidi, Chief Executive Officer of Nai, an Afghan media watchdog, as deputy as well as prominent civil society activist Azizullah Rafi and women’s rights activist Wazhma Frogh (secretariat; see the full list of the 15 members here, in Persian). Tadamichi Yamamoto, deputy head of the UNAMA mission, a Japanese, has been appointed as the foreign member of the committee.
The release of the cabinet list and the establishment of the electoral reform commission was likely linked to the wish to show progress ahead of the president’s and CEO’s visit to Washington, starting the next day, on Sunday 23 March. The waiting for a full cabinet may well continue, though, as it is not clear whether the parliament will approve the candidates, or how long they will take to study the nominees’ documents and hear their plans. The list is, moreover, not complete, with the nominee for the key Ministry of Defence still missing. It seems to have been difficult to find an eligible candidate, which may have been complicated by the discussions to, for the first time in Afghan history, give the position to a civilian.
It is again a list from which ‘big names’ are missing. The most well known, at first glance, are Gulab Mangal for Border and Tribal Affairs, who was governor in Laghman, Paktika and Helmand; Satar Murad for Economy, former governor of Kapisa and prominent member of Jamiat; Sayed Sadat Naderi for Urban Development, businessman and son of Afghanistan’s most well-known Ismaili leader; and Abdul Bari Jahani for Information and Culture, who is a well known poet. The list also contains the promised four women candidates (after last time none of the three female appointees were approved by parliament): for Women’s Affairs, Higher Education, Labour and Social Affairs and, interestingly, Counter-Narcotics. Also interesting is that quite some of the candidates are rather young, in their fourties or even late thirties, among them Sayed Naderi for Urban Development, Assadullah Zamir for Agriculture, Mahmud Baligh for Public Works, Salamat Azimi for Counter-Narcotics, Abdul Razaq Wahidi for Telecommunication, Ali Ahmad Osmani for Water and Energy, and Humayun Rasa for Trade and Industries. However, there seem to be no “political only” appointments of obviously unqualified people, although many (about half of them) do not have any experience working in the government and others not in the field their are supposed to work in.
The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs sent this list to the parliament on Monday, 23 March. Tuesday, 24 March, the komite ruassa, the heads of all 18 parliamentary committees, decided that President Ghani – or one of his deputies – shall come in and officially introduce the candidates on Wednesday, 1 April. After today’s introduction, the MPs will need – at least – three or four working days to vote for or against the nominees (which could mean that we see more Afghan ministers by the end of next week). However, in the last round in January, it took them two weeks.
The candidates’ biographies
1. Mr Abdul Bari Jahani (Ministry of Culture and Information) (AG)
Jahani, who is in his sixties, is a well-regarded writer, journalist and Pashto poet, who wrote the lyrics for Afghanistan’s current national anthem. Born in Kandahar, he went to Mirwais Nika High School and then to Kabul University where he studied Pashto literature and history (1972/3). Later (no date given), he became a researcher at the Pashto Tolana (now named the Academy of Sciences). In 2012, Jahani told Al Jazeera that he had been against both Parcham and Khalq wings of the PDPA, describing how they “issued orders that clashed with people’s beliefs and traditions. Everything became one-party: only they could speak logic and no one else could be listened to. As if authority was only their right.” After he fled to Pakistan in 1981, he expressed his criticism of what he found there:
I crossed the border into Pakistan only for jihad. I wanted to see if I could help in any way with my pen, or with my understanding of Urdu and English. I wanted to see if I could use those skills to help in the media and fight for the struggle. But there, I found the situation just like Kabul and actually, worse and more dangerous. The Parcham [sect of communists] in Kabul had slowly bettered their behaviour. At least, they had gone to school and studied abroad and understood arguments. Those in Peshawar just did not get it. They were mostly a crowd of Mullahs in mosques. For them, every teacher was a kaafir [infidel], for them every military officer was a kaafir. For them, the entire Afghanistan, particularly Kabul, was a battlefield, and they openly said all this. They were such narrow-minded people, that I completely avoided their offices and camps, and rented house for myself away from it all, until I got depressed and left for Europe. In 1983, I moved to the US.
In America, he worked with the Pashto section of Voice of America Radio for two decades, hosting poetry programmes, anchoring political debates and working as a journalist and editor. After his potential candidacy had been floated earlier, criticism of his poetry surfaced, with some of his detractors accusing him of being Pashtunist and of justifying suicide attacks. The criticism particularly focused on a poetic dialogue (in Pashto here) between a woman and her son who wants to be a suicide attacker. However, the parts of the poem that have been translated, rather seem critical of suicide bombings and those who promote it. The accusations against Jahani were countered by expressions of support (see more of the discussion here and here).
2. Mr Assadullah Zamir, Agriculture (AG)
Assadullah Zamir, an ethnic Tajik in his late thirties, was born in Kabul. He has two Master degrees, one in Economy from the University of California and one in Management from Preston University in Pakistan. He is also one of the co-founders of “Fourteenhundred / 1400”, a group of young(ish) Afghans interested in influencing policies. The Facebook page that was created after his nomination also details three “certificates,” although it is not clear whether these were for short courses, trainings or whole courses of study (Strategic Management from the Management Institute of England, Natural Resources Management from Oxford University, Strategic Economy from the American Management Association). His Linkedin profile, that AAN, in most parts, could confirm with other sources, claims extensive experience working with Afghan ministries – including in the field of agriculture. He has worked as finance advisor with the Ministry of Rural Development (January 2003 to June 2004), also with the Ministry of Education (senior advisor from April 2007 to July 2009) and with the Ministry of Mines where he was Senior Policy and Program Advisor to the minister from August 2012 to October 2013. In the ministry he is supposed to head, the Ministry of Agriculture, he was Director General of Programs from July 2009 to July 2012. He has founded an NGO (Humanitarian Organisation for Local Development). Currently, he is deputy head of the USAID’s Mining Investment and Development for Afghanistan Sustainability (Midas) project.
3. Mr Muhammad Gulab Mangal, Border and Tribal Affairs (AG)
Muhammad Gulab Mangal was born in 1957 in Paktia province. He obtained a degree in literature from Kabul University. Being a member of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, he worked, in the late 1970s, in the Ministries of Interior and Defence. Later, he joined the mujahedin. Under the Rabbani government, according to this Pashto source, he headed an association dealing with the needs of disabled people, later on becoming the principle of a school for disabled children. Moving back to Paktia, he started a “private business.” In 2001, he was appointed a regional coordinator (or representative, not yet clear) for the Constitutional Loya Jirga for Paktia. He was also involved in the wider efforts to draft Afghanistan’s constitution (position not yet clear). Mangal was appointed governor of Paktika in March 2004, governor of Laghman in March 2006 and governor of Helmand province in March 2008 – where, according to this report, he managed to improve the security situation. Mangal was sacked by former president Karzai in September 2012 – no reason was given, but it was probably because Mangal was viewed as too close to international military and diplomats. In the 2014 presidential elections, Mangal supported Ashraf Ghani’s team.
4. Mr (Eng) Mahmud Baligh, Public Works (AG)
Baligh, an ethnic Hazara, is one of the youngest candidates introduced. He was born 1971 in Daikundi and has a MA in Geo-Technical Engineering from Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, according to the Shia News Association. After the Taliban time, he returned to Kabul and worked as chief editor for the weekly newspaper Eqtidar Mili, an outlet published by the Shia political party Eqtidar Meli, which at the time was led by powerful Kabul MP Mustafa Kazimi, a former jihadi commander who was killed in a suicide attack in Baghlan in 2007. In 2004, Baligh established the Omran Construction Company, which, today, is one of the largest companies in the country. It builds hospitals, roads, military compounds and government buildings, but has also branched out into other areas such as land surveying, waste-water management and fuel systems. Baligh and his company supported Ghani in the election, however, he himself does not have any working background with the government. Recently, he was a shareholder as well as a senior consultant to the Omran Construction Company and served as the head of the Engineering Department of Ibn-e Sina Private University.
5. Mr Abdul Satar Murad, Economy (AA)
Abdul Satar Murad is an ethnic Tajik and was born in Parwan province in 1957. Most recently, he served as deputy head of Dr. Abdullah’s electoral campaign team and chairman of the political committee of Jamiat-e Islami (2007 to 2014).
According to his own biographical data, Murad obtained a Bachelor degree in Management from Jawaher Lal Nehru University of India in 1979. For one year, in 1980, he also seems to have spent time at the Military Academy of India. In 1990, he says, he did his MA in Public Administration from a university in Pennsylvania. In 2000, he seemingly obtained another MA in Public Administration from Kuala Lumpur University of Malaysia (other sources, for example here, have this degree as a PhD).
In between, his biography looks quite colourful, from establishing a military academy for the mujahedin in 1980 – where he served as teacher for three years – to working as an English teacher in Pakistan from 1987 to 1990. He was acting head of the palace guard in Kabul, under the Rabbani government (the period in his bio – 1991-1993 – is likely to be in error, as the mujaheddin government was only established in April 1992). After working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1993 to 1995, he worked, from 1995 to 2002 in Afghanistan’s embassy in Malaysia (almost all embassies during the Taleban time were still run by the Islamic State of Afghanistan). In 2003, he became director for a private construction company. From 2004 to 2006, he served as governor of Kapisa province. Since then he has been chairman of the political committee of Jamiat-e Islami (2007 to 2014). In 2009, he also started working with another private construction company, Bahar Construction.
6. Mr (Dr) Muhammadullah Batash, Transport and Aviation (AG)
Muhammad Ullah Batash, 54 or 55, an Uzbek, was probably introduced by First Vice-President General Dostum for the Ministry of Transport and Aviation. Batash has a background with this ministry, having served as deputy and partly also as acting minister of transport from January 2010 to September 2012. Afterwards, he became governor of Faryab where he still is acting governor.
Batash was born in 1961 in Kunduz province, in the village of Durman, in the Batash area of Imam Sahib district. There is conflicting information about his education. Tolo News says he has a PhD from Moscow University, while the official website of Faryab province says that he won a scholarship from Kuban university (in southern Russia), where he obtained a Master’s degree in Social Sciences in 1985. According to the biography submitted to the parliament, the subject of his BA was history, while MA and PhD were in international relations. Afterwards, again according to the Faryab website, Batash served as assistant professor at the faculties of history and journalism, later on becoming dean of the Journalism Faculty and the head of the Social Science Institute of Kabul University. From 1995 to 2001, he worked for private companies (no details available yet). In 2004, he was an advisor to the Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs and from 2008 to 2010 advisor for the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG). He was a member of the government’s Special Board for Senior Government Appointments and served as Secretary for the Jumbesh party’s General Council (conflicting dates, often given from 2003 to 2005).
7. Mr Sayed Sadat Mansur Naderi, Urban Development (AG)
Sayed Sadat Naderi, born 1976, is the son of the religious leader of one of the main branches of the Afghan Ismaili sect and former militia commander allied with the PDPA (and after 1992 the ‘Northern Alliance’), Sayed Mansur Naderi, also known as Sayed-e Kayyan. (The family’s headquarter is in the Kayyan valley of Baghlan.) Sadat Naderi has a BA (Tolo News says it is an MA) in Economics/International Business from the University of London (1999). According to Tolo News, he was on the board of the Afghan central bank, and according to his introduction in front of the parliament also head of the Aga Khan Foundation in Afghanistan. He is also the chairman of Afghan Gold and CEO of SMN Investments, a privately held group of companies active in nearly all of Afghanistan’s main economic sectors – including fuel import and storage, construction, precious metals and gems, security, property dealing, advertising, supermarkets and insurance (also providing coverage for the Aynak Copper Mine). Sadat Naderi was awarded the 2012 Peace through Commerce award by the United States Department of Commerce.
8. Mr (Dr) Abdul Basir Anwar, Justice (AA)
Dr Anwar, an ethnic Tajik, was born 1952 in the Jabal Saraj district of Parwan province. Data about his recent history is still very scarce, but there are details about his career during the mujahedin time.
Abdul Basir Anwar is a member of Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan (the political party led by Arghandiwal, not the fighting branch led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). He has a degree from Kabul Medical University. According to this Pajhwok report, he also holds MA degrees in Political Science and Islamic Studies (according to his introduction in front of parliament, these degrees were obtained in Pakistan). During the mujahedin time, he served as head of Hezb-e Islami’s health committee and as a member of the party’s executive committee. During the Rabbani government, Dr. Anwar was deputy and acting minister of Public Health. He was a member of the constitution commission at the Constitution Loya Jirga and served as an adviser on social affairs to president Karzai.
9. Mr Abdul Razaq Wahidi, Telecommunication (AA)
Wahidi, an ethnic Hazara, also among the young minister candidates, was born in 1976 in Kabul. When he was six years old, the family emigrated to Iran. There, he studied math, finishing his studies with an MA degree from Isfahan University. In 2002, Wahidi returned to Afghanistan and started teaching mathematics at Kabul University. From 2003 till 2005, he served as a member of the Kankur Committee of the Higher Education Ministry, overseeing the university entry exams. In 2006, he was hired as General Administrative Director for the Ministry of Finance where, in 2011, he was appointed Deputy Minister for Administration.
10. Mrs Dilbar Nazari, Women’s Affairs (AA)
Dilbar Nazari, born 1958, is an ethnic Uzbek from Khulm district of Balkh province, (formerly part of Samangan, see here). Although a provincial profile affiliates her with Jumbesh, Dilbar told AAN that her nomination came from the CEO’s team, in particular Atta Muhammad Nur, the acting governor of Balkh, whose rivalry with Dostum is well-known. She obtained a degree from the Teachers Training Center of Balkh (Dar ul-Mualemeen Balkh) and also, according to her introduction in front of parliament, holds a degree from Balkh University in Dari and English literature as well as one from private Kateb University in International Relations (2011). Her own biography (no details or order given) includes stints as teacher and principal at the Naeem Shahid High School in Samangan (ten years), as well as work with Oxfam (three years), German Agro Action (three years), ZOA (a Dutch NGO) and UNICEF (two years, allegedly head of educational programs in Samangan) and as Civic Educator for the Joint Elections Management Body (JEMB) for the presidential elections in 2004. From 2005 to 2010, she served as member of parliament for Samangan. In 2012 and 2013, she worked as “a legal advisor to the first deputy.” Currently, she works in the Ministry of the Interior’s department for the development of the electronic national ID card (“gender section”).
11. Mrs Salamat Azimi, Counter Narcotics (AG)
Salamat Azimi, in her late forties, is, according to Afghan Bios, an ethnic Tajik (although some sources say she is Uzbek or Turkmen), hailing from Andkhoy district of northern Faryab. She holds a BA in Law and Political Science from Kabul University. Previously, she was professor (head of the criminal law department) and deputy director at Balkh University. According to her introduction in front of parliament, she at some point also served as the head of the law department in the Ministry of Justice. From 2011 to 2015, Salamat Azimi worked as the head of the section for children’s rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Mazar-e-Sharif. She was a delegate at several loya jirgas and is still a women’s rights advocate and director of the Ariana Legal Foundation in Mazar-e-Sharif province, besides being a member of Balkh lawyers’ association.
12. Mrs (Dr) Farida Momand, Higher Education (AG)
Dr Farida Momand, born in 1965, is from Momandara district of Nangarhar. She studied at Rabia Balkhi High School in Kabul and got a BA in Medicine from Kabul University. She is a professor at Kabul Medical University and was, for some time, as it says on her private Facebook page, also dean of the pediatric department. Since 1995, she is a trainer at the Maiwand Teaching Hospital and also works as a doctor at Kabul Hospital. In 2006, she worked with the Civil Service Commission (no field given). In 2010, she seems to have been a candidate for parliament (see a photo reportage here), but her name also appears on the list for the 2009 provincial council election in Kabul. In between, somewhere (no date given), she was appointed head of the Ministry of Higher Education’s quality assurance department, but, as it says on her Facebook page, “resigned soon.” She does not elaborate on the reasons. Her husband was a spokesmen for the northern alliance when the Taliban took power, which is why the family fled to Pakistan in 1997, returning in 2001. However, rumors are she is backed by Ghani.
13. Mrs (Dr) Nasrin Oryakhel, Labour and Social Affairs (AG)
Dr Nasrin Oriyakhel, born in 1964, is from Kabul province, Paghman district and was a leading member of President Ghani’s election campaign. She is an ethnic Pashtun and a medical doctor. She went to Rabia Balkhi high school in Kabul and did her degree at Kabul Medical University, in the field of gynaecology and obstetrics. She also taught at Kabul University and holds a Master degree in Public Health from Pakistan (see here). For a few years (no dates available yet) until 2004, Nasrin Oriyakhel was the director of the governmental Rabia Balkhi Hospital in Kabul. Since 2004, until today, she has been serving as director of the Malalai Maternity Hospital, also in Kabul. Here, she established the first centre in Afghanistan for the treatment of obstetric fistulas, a medical condition that often affects women after childbirth when no medical care is available. Dr Oryakhil is also board member of the NGO Afghan Family Guidance Association (AFGA). She was awarded the US Secretary of State’s International Women Courage Award in 2014.
14. Mr Ali Ahmad Osmani, Water and Energy (AA)
Ali Ahmad Osmani, an ethnic Tajik and among the youngest candidates introduced for cabinet positions, was born in 1972 in Herat province. He went to high school in Iran and returned to do his BA at the Engineering Faculty of Herat University. In 2000, he was hired as an engineer for the Food for Work Program of the World Food Program (WFP) where he soon became project coordinator. According to the biography details on his Facebook page, he started teaching at the Engineering Faculty in Herat . In 2007, he got his MA in Hydraulic Engineering from Ferdousi University of Mashhad, Iran. In 2008, he left his teaching job and joined a private company called Banat until 2012. The company, according to Osmani’s Facebook page, has built dozens of small dam across the country. According to his introduction in front of parliament, at some point he also served in the municipality of Herat. Since 2012, he is teaching in private universities in Kabul.
15. Mr Humayun Rasa, Trade and Industries (AA)
Homayun Rasa, an ethnic Hazara (with a Bayat mother) in his forties, is originally from Qarabagh district of Ghazni. He has a Master degree in Computer Science from Pakistan and a Bachelor in Natural Sciences from Kabul University, where he also obtained a MA in Information Technology. He served as Deputy Minister for Literacy with the Ministry of Education and as Deputy Head for Logistics of the NDS. Tolo News has him working for the UN as well (AAN believes he might have worked as a WFP data analyst in Pakistan, mapping information for an Afghanistan vulnerability assessment). He has been introduced by Mohammad Mohaqiq, second deputy of Abdullah Abdullah.
16. Mr Assadullah Hanif Balkhi, Education (AA)
Asadullah Hanif Balkhi, an ethnic Tajik in his fifties, hails from Balkh Province where he also became a member of Jamiat-e Islami. He is said to have had a particularly close relationship with the late Marshal Fahim and to have been an influential political advisor in the Palace . He went to the Abu Hanifa religious school in Kabul and according to his introduction in front of the parliament, has a Bachelor degree from Kabul University, Sharia Faculty. He apparently also studied in Saudi Arabia, where he obtained a Masters degree in Sharia Law; he translated several books from Arabic in to Dari. In 2010 and 2011, he was ambassador for Afghanistan in Kuwait. He is also the owner of a construction company that has provided services for the ISAF troops.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020