Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Peace Leadership: Power struggles, division and an incomplete council

Ali Yawar Adili 24 min

Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has approved a 46-member Leadership Committee for the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), but criticisms have come in hard and fast from all quarters. The most significant rejection has come from Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who asserts his right under the power-sharing agreement to lead the peace process, including making appointments to the HCNR. Meanwhile, Ghani has appointed Abdullah’s nominees for his share of cabinet posts and made some new governorship appointments. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili looks at these developments in detail and concludes that Ghani seems determined to hold sway over the HCNR and its sweeping power over peace talks with the Taleban. 

In absence of the High Council for National Reconciliation designed to supervise the intra-Afghan negotiations, Ghani and Abdullah jointly met the negotiation team on 2 September before its imminent departure for Doha for the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations. Photo: Presidential Palace Facebook, 2 September 2020

The power struggle between President Ghani and Dr Abdullah over appointments to the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) continues to undermine prospects for effective and unified leadership in the peace process on the republic’s side. The 17 May political agreement between the two men, which ended the impasse over September 2019’s disputed presidential election, envisaged a power-sharing cabinet and the establishment of a High Council for National Reconciliation led by Dr Abdullah to supervise the peace process. However, efforts to implement the agreement have been plagued by mistrust and power struggles. These have hampered the formation of the cabinet and the HCNR. While cabinet appointments finally seem to have been completed, Ghani’s recent announcement of the formation of the HCNR seems to be an attempt to exert his control over the council. This has infuriated Abdullah and alienated others. In looking into detail at recent developments and the appointments and what they tell us about political dynamics within the republic, this report is structured as follows:

  • Ghani’s decree on the formation of the HCNR 
  • Who is on the Leadership Committee of the HCNR?
  • Reactions to the appointment
  • Recent cabinet appointments
  • Provincial governor appointments
  • Conclusion: A divided republic

Ghani’s decree

On 29 August, Ghani issued decree no 72 approving 46 members of the Leadership Committee of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), which is led by Dr Abdullah Abdullah. (For the text of the decree, please see footnote 1.) Their 17 May political agreement envisages two bodies within the HCNR: a Leadership Committee and a General Assembly. The Leadership Committee is politically important as it is supposed to steer the government’s negotiation team, providing “approvals and guidelines” for talks with the Taleban. That 21-member team, announced by the government on 26 March 2020, is led by key Ghani aide, Masum Stanekzai; he is Pashtun from Logar and is the former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS). A mix of people drawn from Abdullah, Ghani and a few other camps and of ethnicities and factional backgrounds, the members are mainly male, generally younger than the HCNR members, and largely mid-ranking, with some children of major leaders, such as Batur Dostum (son of Abdul Rashid) and Khaled Nur (son of Atta Muhammad) included (see footnote (3) of this AAN reporting for the list and brief backgrounds). 

The decree also calls on the HCNR to finalise members of the council’s General Assembly within an – unrealistic – time period of one week (meaning September 5, already past). Membership is to include religious scholars, members of the parliament, provincial councils and the recently-held Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, representatives of the former High Peace Council, “prominent political and social personalities” and “elected members of the media.” There are no defined authorities for the General Assembly as yet. 

Who is on the Leadership Committee?

A full list of the 46 members was published along with the decree. (2) It divided the members into four categories.

  1. “Political and jihadi elders who are members of the High Council for National Reconciliation”

In this category are 19 people, largely older men and a fairly predictable host of figures, given that the 17 May political agreement calls for the Leadership Committee to be made up of “political leaders and national personalities.” The 19 are mostly the senior leaders of the tanzims (political-military organisations), mainly mujahedin, but also PDPA-militias, that fought in the 1980s and 1990s, including against each other in the civil war that followed the fall of the PDPA regime in 1992. Some were also involved in the fight against the Taleban in 1996-2001. These men have maintained considerable influence since 2001 and indeed, along with a few more junior players from the pre-2001 era, can be seen as the main beneficiaries of the current political order established by the Bonn Agreement of late December 2001. They include men from each of Afghanistan’s main ethnic groups, and ethnic politics have often played a part in their rise to ­–­ and continuing occupation of – leadership positions in the country. They are: 

  • Six Pashtuns: former president Hamed Karzai, jihadi leader and head of Dawat-e Islami Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, leader of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Mahaz-e Melli Sayed Hamed Gailani, leader of Jabha-e Nejat Melli Zabihullah Mujaddedi and deputy leader of Arghandiwal’s Hezb-e Islami faction, Engineer Muhammad Khan; 
  • Four Tajiks, all heavyweights from Jamiat-e Islami: former Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of Jamiat, Salahuddin Rabbani, former Vice-President Muhammad Yunus Qanuni, former Minister of Water and Energy Ismail Khan and former Balkh governor Atta Muhammad Nur; 
  • Three Hazaras: leader of Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami and former Vice-President Muhammad Karim Khalili, leader of Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-e Mardom and former Deputy Chief Executive Muhammad Mohaqeq and leader of Ensejam-e Melli and former head of the Karzai’s Administrative Office of the President, Dr Sadeq Mudaber; 
  • Three Uzbek leaders: former Vice-President and leader of Jombesh-e Melli Islami Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, former Minister of Haj and Religious Affairs Enayatullah Shahrani and head of the Federation of Afghanistan Chambers (of Commerce), Muhammad Ismail Ghazanfar (this seems to be a sympathy pick as he is the brother of Muhammad Yusuf Ghazanfar, who died from Covid-19 in early July, after backing Ghani in the 2019 presidential election and being appointed as Ghani’s special representative for economic and business development and poverty reduction);
  • One Ismaili: leader of Paiwand-e Melli Sayed Mansur Naderi (his son, Jaffar led one of the PDPA-era militias). 
  • Ulema: the acting head of the Ulema Council of Afghanistan, Attaullah Ludin, who was appointed by the president following the death of its former head Qiyamuddin Qashaf in May 2020 (media report here) and the head of the Ulema Council in the western zone, Mawlawi Khodadad Saleh; both are Pashtuns. Ludin is a member of the Hezb-e Islami faction led by acting Minister of Finance Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal and was also a member of the now defunct High Peace Council. Ludin is also a member of the 21-strong negotiation team. (3)

Apart from Hekmatyar who himself was a candidate in the recent presidential elections, the rest either supported Ghani or Dr Abdullah in the 2019 election or were members of a third informal force around Karzai, who boycotted the election. (4)

  • “High-ranking government members of the council”

Nine people are listed under this category and again, all of them are men. Stacking the committee with all these government officials is against the concept envisaged in the Ghani-Abdullah political agreement which stipulates, “In addition to other members of the Leadership Committee, an authorised representative of the president shall also participate in the leadership [committee]’s meetings as a member.” The members listed under this category are:

  • Ghani’s two vice-presidents, Amrullah Saleh, a Tajik from Jamiat, former head of the NDS, and Sarwar Danesh, a Hazara from Hezb-e Wahdat Islami led by Khalili. Khalili supported Danesh in the 2014 presidential election but the two men have become estranged from each other and Khalili fielded his aide, Saadati, as Abdullah’s second running-mate in 2019 presidential election; 
  • Speakers of the House of Representatives, Mir Rahman Rahmani, a Tajik from Parwan, and Senate, Fazl Hadi Muslimyar, a Pashtun from Nangrahar;
  • Three presidential advisors: National Security Advisor Hamdullah Moheb, a Pashtun, senior presidential advisor Haji Almas Zahed, a Tajik, Hezb-turned-Jamiat, and senior presidential advisor Mawlawi Jura Taheri, a Pashtun;
  • Foreign minister and former minister of the interior, Hanif Atmar, a Pashtun, 
  • The State Minister for Peace. When the list was originally published, this was an unfilled position. Two days later, on 31 August, Sayed Saadat Naderi (an Ismaeli), son of Sayed Mansur, one of the 19 “political and jihadi leaders,” was appointed (he replaced Ghani supporter, Abdul Salam Rahimi). 

Of these government officials, the vice-presidents and advisors are all from Ghani’s camp and although Atmar did not support any candidate in the election, he was one of the first figures to side with Ghani amid the election dispute, after which Ghani nominated him as foreign minister. The Senate speaker is a member of Sayyaf’s Dawat-e Islami party and a close ally to Ghani. 

Wolesi Jirga speaker Rahmani, by contrast, was supported  in his election to this post in July 2019 by Abdullah (and also by former Balkh governor and chief executive of Jamiat-e Islami, Atta Muhammad Nur). He was at odd with Ghani on the recent Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, which was convened to decide about the release of the 400 controversial Taleban prisoners. Rahmani had initially opposed the gathering as illegal but then participated following intervention from the United States embassy (see the details in AAN’s reporting here).  Sayed Sa’adat Naderi’s father’s party, Paiwand-e Melli, supported Abdullah in the 2019 presidential elections.  

Apart from the Wolesi Jirga speaker and state minister, then, seven out of the nine men in this category are close allies or aides of Ghani.

3. “Prominent women members of the council”

 There are eight women listed here:

  • Safia Sediqi, a Pashtun and former MP from Nangrahar, who had roles in both the 2003 Constitutional Loya Jirga and 2011 Traditional Loya Jirga;
  • Mary Akrami, a Tajik, is the Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Network and founder of the Afghan Women Skills Development Centre (AWSDC);
  • Dr Farida Momand, a Pashtun from Nangrahar, is a former Minister of Higher Education, a former professor at Kabul Medical University, and is from President Ghani’s camp. She was the first running-mate  of Ahmad Wali Massud in the 2019 presidential election; 
  • Najiba Ayubi, a Tajik from Parwan province, is a veteran journalist and managing director of the Killid Group, a non-profit media network;
  • Zarqa Yaftali is from Badakhshan and is currently the executive director of the Women and Children Legal Research Organisation
  • Aliye Yilmaz, an Uzbek, is a Commissioner of the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC);
  • Nasrin Oryakhel, a Pashtun, was born in Paghman district of Kabul. She was a leading member of Ghani’s election campaign in 2014 and served as Labour and Social Affairs Minister in the National Unity Government;
  • Zia Gul Rezayi, a Hazara from Maidan Wardak, is a lecturer with Al-Mustafa International University, in Kabul (according to a biography sent to AAN). She was an unsuccessful 2018 parliamentary candidate and is close to Hezb-e Wahdat-e Mardom led by Mohaqeq. 

Together with the one female member of the Leadership Board (described below), women make up only 19 per cent of the Leadership Committee of the HCNR. Given that women’s rights are such a sensitive topic in negotiations with the Taleban, a strong presence of women is important, and only partially met by this list. 

4. “Leadership Board of the High Council for National Reconciliation.” 

The Ghani-Abdullah political agreement stipulated that the Leadership Board would be a six-person body – Abdullah as chair plus, as deputies, his two running-mates and three others introduced “in consultation with the president.” Ghani has, however, unilaterally expanded the board by adding four more (two deputies and two ‘members,’ there is no apparent difference in the roles of deputies and members). He has therefore ensured it is dominated by his people. 

Along with Abdullah as chair of the Leadership Board, are these seven deputies:

Abdullah’s two running-mates, Enayatullah Babur Farahmand, an Uzbek from Faryab and former chief of staff to Marshal Dostum, and Asadullah Sa’adati, a Hazara from Daikundi and close aide to Karim Khalili;

Former State Minister for Peace Abdul Salam Rahimi, a Pashtun from Farah province, and Ghani’s former chief of staff;

Deputy Governor of Paktia Zohra Motahhari, a Pashtun from Paktia;

Leader of Hezb-e Islami-e Nawin (New Islamic Party), Haji Din Muhammad, a Pashtun from Nangrahar, a senior commander with Hezb-e Islami Khales and member of the influential Arsala clan (according to the Ministry of Justice, his party is registered as De Afghanistan De Sole au Permekhtag Islami Gund (Peace and Progress Islamic Party of Afghanistan); 

Former presidential advisor and Head of the High Peace Council Secretariat, Muhammad Akram Khpelwak, a Pashtun from Paktia;

Ulema Council member and former deputy of the High Peace Council, Atta ul-Rahman Salim, a Tajik from Panjshir.

The two ‘members’ appointed by Ghani are his chief negotiator Masum Stanekzai and Ghani’s special representative for good governance Nur ul-Haq Ulumi, a Pashtun from Kandahar. He was a powerful PDPA-era ‘governor-general’ of his home city (Parcham wing). Ulumi was an Abdullah ally in the 2009 and 2014 presidential elections and served as Minister of Interior in the National Unity Government. He stood for president in the 2019 election but withdrew, this time in favour of Ghani. 

On the same day the list was announced, Ghani appointed Salaam Rahimi as his special representative for peace, thereby making him a member not only of the Leadership Board of the HCNR, but also the cabinet, the National Security Council and the High Commissions and Councils. 

Reactions to the appointments

Dr Abdullah Abdullah responded to Ghani’s decree with anger, while three of the heavyweights who topped the 46-strong list rejected their own appointments outright.

Karzai was first to react. He issued a statement a day after the list was published saying he would continue his effort for peace as a “citizen” of the country, but would not take part in any “government structure.” Head of Jamiat, Salahuddin Rabbani issued a statement, two days after  the Palace’s announcement of Leadership Committee, also refusing to cooperate, saying “no consultations” had been made with the leadership of Jamiat on the inclusion of its leader in the list of members of HCNR. (5) Salahuddin Rabbani was one of the main supporters of Abdullah in the 2019 presidential election, but parted ways with him after Abdullah struck a power-sharing deal with Ghani. Rabbani criticised the political agreement and vowed to continue his ‘struggle’ separately. 

Hezb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in an interview with Ariana News on 1 September, said he would neither be in the council nor on the negotiation team. He called it a “government council divided between the Palace and the Sapidar Palace [Abdullah’s office as chairman of the HCNR and previously as Chief Executive]”. He said the council’s decisions would not be heeded as the Palace would still take the final decisions. A member of the 21-strong negotiation team told AAN on 4 September that Hekmatyar’s representative on that team, his son-in-law Ghairat Bahir, would not travel to Doha because “the leader does not allow him.” (The member said that another member, Fatema Gailani, would not travel to Doha either due to health reasons.) Hekmatyar also accused Dr Abdullah of breaking promises he had made to him and to other political groups in his electoral alliance amid the election dispute that he would not accept Ghani as the elected president. He said he had reneged on this under pressure from the US, repeating the same “John Kerry experience,” (a reference to then Secretary of State Kerry’s political pressure to form the National Unity Government in 2014). Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami, had itself put forward a peace plan, proposing that four major political factions should agree on the formation of both a negotiation team and an advisory High Council for Reconciliation. They were Hekmatyar’s own Peace and Islamic Justice; Ashraf Ghani’s State-Builders; Dr Abdullah Abdullah’s Stability and Integration; and a group of “influential personalities” led by former President Karzai. 

Perhaps the most serious objection was Dr Abdullah’s. He was silent for two days until 31 August, perhaps because he wanted the Palace to announce the appointment of his cabinet nominees first. Then, a few hours after the Palace’s announcement of the appointments, he issued a statement saying that, based on the 17 May 2020 political agreement, he had the authority to form the council, and there had been no need for a presidential decree.

Abdullah’s statement cites part of section B of the agreement which reads: 

The Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation [ie Dr Abdullah] shall form this council in consultation with the president, political sides and leaders, the speakers of the two houses of the National Assembly, civil society and the country’s elites.

As AAN earlier reported, Abdullah had been insistent that the political agreement remain the founding document for the HCNR in order to avoid Ghani controlling the council through presidential decree. Abdullah’s concerns have now been realised. 

Abdullah said the composition of the HCNR should be “national, comprehensive and all-inclusive” and that he had started consultations with leaders and different political-civil currents in this respect and was finalising those consultations. Karzai issued a second statement on 1 September announcing his support for Dr Abdullah’s consultation process for selecting members of the council, saying he was confident that such a broad consultation would lead to the formation of an “inclusive and credible national council” whose decisions would be acceptable to all the people of Afghanistan. 

It is, however, interesting to note some contradictions between Abdullah’s statement and his remarks. Speaking (see the video here) at an event in Kabul two days before the list was published, on 27 August, Abdullah had said the “list of personalities” for the HCNR Leadership Committee “was finalised” and that it would convene its first meeting with the negotiation team two days later, on 29 August, before the negotiation team members travelled to Doha for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taleban. (He also said with “relative confidence” that the negotiations would begin the following week). The media reported sources close to Abdullah’s office complaining that the list they had submitted had been changed by the presidential palace. Speaking at a press conference on 1 September, Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi denied there had been any manipulation of the list, saying the Palace had been in constant consultation with politicians, especially Dr Abdullah, before the decree was issued. Sediqqi said the government was open to considering those who wanted to be members of the council (media report here). 

A spokesman for Abdullah told AAN on 1 September that they had been told not to speak to the media about the HCNR after Sediqqi’s statement. Abdullah’s order of silence, the spokesman said, was an attempt to stifle mounting opposition to the Palace. Another source close to Abdullah told AAN that Abdullah planned to add a few other figures close to him to the list and then announce a new ‘final list’ of council members. 

A different criticism came from the chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Shaharzad Akbar, who tweeted that “[m]ultiple bodies” had been set up for peace but “none of them” were led by a woman. She said that women had “insufficient representation” in both the negotiation team and HCNR which, she said, also lacked “sufficient representation of youth.” She asked “What message does this send about inclusivity as a key principle?”

The Civil Society and Human Rights Network issued a statement calling for the list to be reconsidered, saying it was not “inclusive.” It noted the exclusion not only of young Afghans, but also representatives of war victims, and ethnic and religious minorities. It also said women were only weakly represented. 

Representatives of certain minority groups such as Aimaq and Kuchis sent statements to the media complaining about their exclusion from the council (see media report here). 

It is unsurprising that the list of 46 excludes young people and has few members of minority groups and women, given that the Ghani-Abdullah political agreement had already referred to the composition of the Leadership Committee as comprising “political leaders and national personalities.” This naturally leads to members of the current elite, who are overwhelmingly male, older and mainly former leaders, commanders or civilian members of mujahedin or PDPA-militia-era factions. 

Changing the make-up of the HCNR now will be tricky. Dr Abdullah’s anger may be quelled with a few additional members. Other figures like Hekmatyar and Karzai will be hard to bring in. Hekmatyar has said he opposes the council as he believes it is controlled by the Palace and that Dr Abdullah is unable to defy Ghani’s orders. If Abdullah did control the council, this would hardly be better in the eyes of Hekmatyar or Karzai, both of whom appear disdainful to the idea of working under Abdullah as chair. 

Recent cabinet appointments

While the row over the formation of the HCNR was brewing, belated progress had been made in finally forming a cabinet. Perhaps this was an attempt by Ghani to pacify Abdullah for what was bound to be a controversial presidential decree on the HCNR. Even so, at present, Abdullah still does not quite have the 50 per cent of cabinet positions that he is entitled to according to the political agreement.

Two days after the publication of the HCNR Leadership Committee members, on 31 August 2020, the Administrative Office of the President announced that, based on separate decrees by the president, the following nine ministers and one state minister had been appointed:

  • Bashir Ahmad Tahyanj as the acting Minister of Labour and Social Affairs
  • Nesar Ahmad Ghoryani as the acting Minister of Commerce and Industries
  • Qudratullah Zaki as the acting Minister of Transport
  • Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi as acting Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Water Irrigation
  • Masuma Khawari as acting Minister of Telecommunication and Information Technology
  • Mohebullah Samim as acting Minister of Frontiers and Tribal Affairs
  • Fazl Ahmad Manawi as acting Minister of Justice
  • Nur Rahman Akhlaqi as the acting Minister of Refugees and Repatriations
  • Abbas Basir as the acting Minister for Higher Education.
  • Sayed Saadat Mansur Naderi as the State Minister for Peace

Two months previously, Dr Abdullah had submitted a list of 14 nominations (their biographies annexed to AAN’s report here). All of the ten now appointed were on that list, aside from Zaki who replaced Kaneshka Turkistani. Another on Abdullah’s list, Masud Andarabi, had already been appointed by Ghani on 18 July, as the Minister of Interior. The last two nominees on the list are yet to be appointed – Najib Aqa Fahim for the State Ministry for Martyrs and Disabled and Azizullah Ariafar for the Independent Commission for Administrative Reform and Civil Service. 

Also among the initial recommendations was Abdullah’s nephew Mustafa Mastur. He has been Minister of Economy appointed in December 2017 during the National Unity Government, but Abdullah had wanted him to be the State Minister for Peace – a role which includes being head of the secretariat for the HCNR. By proposing Mastur, Abdullah intended to ensure his control of the State Ministry for Peace and the executive arm of the HCNR. However, Ghani did not approve Mastur, apparently because he did not want Abdullah to control the structural framework for negotiations. The man he eventually appointed, Saadat Naderi, seems to be a compromise pick. Saadat Naderi served as Minister of Urban Development from March 2015 until his resignation in June 2018 and, given his father’s support for Abdullah in the 2019 election, should be in Abdullah’s camp. However, Saadat’s father had supported Ghani in 2014 presidential election and was appointed as the Minister of Urban Development from Ghani’s camp under the National Unity Government. The possibility that he will be co-opted by Ghani again cannot be ruled out. Saadat Naderi was officially ‘introduced’ mainly by Ghani’s aides, including National Security Advisor Moheb, on 3 September (it is a common practice that newly-appointed officials are introduced officially. Abdullah’s other appointed nominees are expected to be officially introduced in coming days). 

Mastur was Minister of the Economy during the National Unity Government, and according to Abdullah spokesman Faraidun Khazun on 1 September, does not need to be “reappointed,” ie introduced to and confirmed by parliament. However, a source from the Administrative Office of the President, who did not want to be named, told AAN on 5 September that if Mastur was to remain in his position, he did have to be re-appointed. The source said the situation was the same for another incumbent, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Karimi. 

With these new appointments and two earlier ones from Ghani’s camp (Qasem Halimi as the Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs and Mujib Rahman Karimi as Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, see the announcements in footnote (6)), there seems now to be a complete cabinet list with the exception of questions about the fate of Mastur and of the Minister for Public Works. (On 16 June 2020, Ghani appointed, through a decree seen by AAN) the general director of Afghanistan Railway Authority Muhammad Yama Shams as acting minister until the “introduction of new minister”). It is important to note that article 71 of the constitution defers the number of the ministers and their duties to a separate law yet to be enacted. Therefore, the number of ministries has changed, as ministries have been merged or dissolved, rendering it hard to keep track of the total number. For instance, on 27 January 2019, Ghani issued  a decree to merge the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics with the Ministry of Interior. On 19 February 2020, Ghani issued decree number 36 splitting the Ministry of Water and Energy into two separate independent authorities: the National Water Affairs Regulation Authority and the Authority for the Regulation of Energy Services (see the background on the website of National Water Affairs Regulation Authority here). If the number of cabinet positions is 23, then with the recent appointments, Abdullah has 11 ministers and one state minister, almost but not quite 50 per cent. (7)

It has taken Ghani five months to get this far with forming his cabinet, starting with his appointment of Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal as Minister of Finance on March 31. All the nominees now need to be approved by the Wolesi Jirga which is returning from its summer recess on 6 September. A consolidated table of all the ministers appointed since Ghani’s inauguration on 9 March can be seen in footnote 6.

Provincial governors

The political agreement stipulates that provincial governors will be introduced based on a rule to be agreed upon by the two sides. Yet the president had already appointed 16 governors between 3 April and now (before and after the political agreement being signed on 17 May). Apart from Daikundi governor, who is affiliated with Dr Abdullah’s electoral ally Muhammad Mohaqeq, all the others are from Ghani’s camp. As AAN reported, by 4 August, 14 out of 34 governors had been appointed (see table in AAN’s previous reporting here and table 2 here). Since then, there have been a few new appointments and shifts. 

  • On 17 August, the IDLG announced that, based on its recommendation and order number 1200 of the president, Turan General (Brigadier General) Juma Gul Hemmat had been appointed as governor of Badghis. . Hemmat was supposed to travel to Badghis on 20 August, but protestors there, including MPs and the deputy governor refused to allow him to travel to the province by blocking the airport of Qala-ye Naw, the provincial capital. Junaidullah Ashkani, a civil society activist in Badghis, said the IDLG head had promised Badghis MPs in a meeting in Kabul that they would not introduce a new governor without consultation and coordination with the elders of Badghis, but when MPs went on their summer recess, the new governor was introduced (see media report here). A few days later, on 24 August, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Tariq Arian, tweeted that Juma Gul Hemmat had been introduced as the new chief of Kabul police. A day before, on 23 August, National Security Advisor Hamdullah Moheb and IDLG chief Shamim Khan Katawazi held a videoconference with Badghis MPs, provincial council members, the provincial head of the Ulema Council, women and security officials to discuss their demands. However, a new governor has yet to be appointed.
  • On 23 August, the IDLG announced that Zia ul-Haq Amarkhel had been appointed as the governor of Nangrahar. He was the controversial head of the Independent Election Commission in 2014, who was accused of rigging votes for Ghani. 
  • On 24 August, the IDLG announced that Muhammad Omar Sherzad had been appointed as governor of Uruzgan.  Sherzad previously served as the governor of Farah, but was dismissed, along a number of high-ranking provincial officials, based on decree 573 dated 28/10/1393 (18 January 2015), and introduced to the Attorney General’s Office on a charge of embezzlement (media report here). It is not clear if the investigation was carried out or if he was convicted or acquitted.
  • On 27 August, the IDLG announced the appointment of Taj Muhammad Jahed as the new governor of Farah. He had been appointed as the governor of Baghlan less than two months before, on 6 July. He is a former minister of interior. He is also the cousin of the late Jamiat commander and former vice president, Marshal Qasim Fahim.

Conclusion: A divided republic

Ghani has tried to circumscribe Dr Abdullah’s powers accorded to him by the 17 May political agreement as much as possible. He expanded the Leadership Board of the HCNR to a ten-member board, which was originally designed to comprise only Dr Abdullah and five deputies, and appointed his close aides to it. Two of these, Salam Rahimi and Nur ul-Haq Ulumi, have been appointed his special representatives and are also members of other decision-making bodies –the cabinet, National Security Council and various councils that Ghani has created since he took power in 2014. Ghani has also appointed his chief negotiator with the Taleban, Masum Stanekzai, to the Leadership Board. These men, by virtue of their other roles, are all likely to wield more influence.

The 17 May political agreement explicitly put Abdullah in charge of the peace process. In an earlier report here, we had already asked whether Abdullah’s new position at the top of the High Council for National Reconciliation was a genuine concession from the president, and whether he would actually hand authority over the peace process to Abdullah. The list of HCNR members published by the Palace shows that Ghani has not ceded control. Its publication, at a critical point just as intra-Afghan talks were about to start, also caused confusion. It highlighted the division and disunity within the Republic, in contrast to the Taleban’s apparently united front.

The other body of the High Council for National Reconciliation, the General Assembly, has yet to be formed. The political agreement defers the authorities and duties of both the Leadership Committee and the General Assembly to internal procedures to be developed by the council. Given that, according to the political agreement, it is the HCNR which is the key body; the negotiation team should serve under the guidance of the Leadership Committee and act in accordance with its approvals and guidelines. However, the Palace has worked to dilute that power and the Leadership Committee’s independence by appointing key government officials, as well as other figures close to the government. 

The HCNR should have brought together the various factions. However, the formation of the Leadership Committee has turned into yet another divisive battle for positions. At the same time, it has sidelined women, young people, religious minorities and victims of the war. It has accommodated most of the jihadi and political leaders, whether they supported Ghani, or Dr Abdullah, or former president Karzai or Hekmatyar. By packing the committee with Ghani aides and allies, the Palace also appeared to be trying to dilute the influence of heavyweight members like Karzai. His response – to disown the body – has only weakened its standing. 

All these struggles seem to be driven by a fixation with the end state of intra-Afghan negotiations and the possibility that they could lead to an interim power-sharing arrangement. The various political factions are trying to ensure they will have their share by maximising their representation in the structural framework for the peace efforts. 

This factional competition over the control of the peace process (and possibly its end state) undermines the prospects of a unified government side to deal with the Taleban – and has made the Taleban look united in contrast. While this competition might be in the nature of the politics of a republic, it risks enhancing the clout of the Taleban in talks. 

The size of the Leadership Committee makes it anyway unwieldy as a decision-making body aimed at steering the government’s negotiation team, by providing “approvals and guidelines” for their talks with the Taleban. The appointments appear rather to be aimed at including those who cannot be excluded – the ‘big beasts’ of Afghanistan’s political jungle, while trying to also pack it with enough Ghani supporters to give him control, and with a nod to women. It looks less like a body aimed at helping to make the government negotiation team effective than a reflection of Afghanistan’s factional and political struggles.   

Edited by Rachel Reid and Kate Clark

(1) AAN’s working translation of Decree, no 72, approving 46 members of the Leadership Committee of the High Council for National Reconciliation decree, from the original Pashto.

Decree of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regarding the formation of the High Council for National Reconciliation

                                                                                                               Number: 72

                                                                               Date: 8/7/1399 (29 August 2020)


Considering the sublime values of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, for the purpose of building national consensus for countrywide peace and to respect the consultations of the two consultative peace Loya Jirgas, based on the country’s political system as republic, in order to advance the peace process, and based on paragraph 13 of article 64 of the constitution and considering the political agreement which was signed on 17 April 2020, I approve the establishment of the High Council for National Reconciliation led by the country’s political and national personality, Dr Abdullah Abdullah. The list of the members of its leadership and political committee is attached to this decree. 

The High Council for National Reconciliation has a duty to prepare and finalise the list of members of the council’s General Assembly within one week, with the participation of the religious scholars, members of the national assembly, members of provincial councils, the private sector, members of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, representatives of the former High Peace Council, prominent political and social personalities and elected members of the media. 

I ask God Almighty for the further success of the leadership and members of the council.

Muhammad Ashraf Ghani

President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 

(2) The list of members of the HCNR Leadership Council in English (AAN’s working translation). The list is in the original order and with descriptions of the members, as published by the Palace (Any clarifications or additional information from AAN is in square brackets []):

Introduction of Members of Leadership Committee of the High Council for National Reconciliation
Political and jihadi leaders who are members of the High Council for Reconciliation
1Hamed KarzaiFormer PresidentMember1
2Ustad Abdul Rab Rasul SayyafJihadi leaderMember2
3Gulbuddin HekmatyarJihadi leaderMember3
4Ustad Abdul Karim KhaliliFormer Vice-President and leader of partyMember4
5Ustad Muhammad MohaqeqHead of Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami [Mardom]Member5
6Marshal Abdul Rashid DostumLeader of Jombesh-e Melli IsmaliMember6
7Muhammad Yunus QanuniFormer Vice-presidentMember7
8Salahuddin RabbaniLeader of Jamiat-e IslamiMember8
9Muhammad Ismail KhanJihadi personality and former cabinet ministerMember9
10Atta Muhammad NurMember of leadership of Jamiat and former governorMember10
11Sayed Hamed GailaniSuccessor of leader of Mahaz-e MelliMember11
12Zabihullah MujaddediHead of Jabha-e Nejat and Jihadi personalityMember 
13Sayed Mansur NaderiReligious and political personalityMember13
14Enayatullah ShahraniPolitical figure and religious scholarMember14
15Engineer Muhammad KhanPolitical figure and deputy of party [Hezb-e Islami]Member15
16Head of Ulema Council of Afghanistan Head of Ulema Council of AfghanistanMember16
17Dr Sadeq MudaberLeader of party and former head of administrative office of the presidentMember17
18Muhammad Ismail GhazanfarGeneral director of Federation of Afghanistan ChambersMember18
19Mawlawi Khodadad SalehHead of Ulema Council of Western ZoneMember19
High-ranking government members of the Council
1Amrullah SalehFirst Vice-PresidentMember20
2Ustad Sarwar DaneshSecond Vice-PresidentMember21
3Muhammad Hanif AtmarForeign MinisterMember22
4Hamdullah MohebNational Security AdvisorMember23
5Fazl Hadi MuslimyarChairman of Meshrano JirgaMember24
6Mir Rahman RahmaniSpeaker of Wolesi JirgaMember25
7Haji Almas ZahedSenior presidential advisorMember26
8State Minister for PeaceState Minister for PeaceMember27
9Mawlawi Jura TaheriSenior presidential advisorMember28
Prominent women members of the Council
1Safia SediqiCivil activist and former MPMember29
2Najiba AyubiFormer MP [Journalist and Managing Director of The Killid Group]Member30
3Mary Akrami[Executive Director], Afghanistan Women’s NetworkMember31
4Zia Gul RezayiCivil society activistMember32
5Aliye YilmazCommissioner of Administrative Reform Commission, Turktabar [Turkic]Member33
6Farida MomandFormer Minister of High EducationMember34
7Nasrin OryakhelHead of Medical Council of AfghanistanMember35
8Zarqa YaftaliCivil society activist, WCLRFMember36
Leadership Board of the High Council for National Reconciliation
1Dr Abdullah AbdullahChairman of the Council for National Reconciliation Chairman37
2Abdul Salam RahimiDeputy chairman of HCNRDeputy38
3Enayatullah FarahmandDeputy of the Council for National Reconciliation Deputy39
4Asadullah SadatiDeputy of the Council for National Reconciliation Deputy40
5Engineer Zohra MotahhariDeputy Governor of PaktiaDeputy41
6Atta ul Rahman SalimMember of Ulema Council of AfghanistanDeputy42
7Haji Din MuhammadLeader of Hezb-e Islami NawinDeputy43
8Muhammad Akram KhpelwakPolitical figureDeputy44
9Muhammad Masum StanekzaiHead of negotiation team of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Leadership member45
10Nur ul Haq UlumiSpecial representative of the presidentLeadership member46

(3) Ulema Council spokesman Sa’id ul-Rahman Ehsas told AAN on 5 September that the Ulema Council’s acting head still had to be confirmed by about 120 members of the council and that usually the acting head is confirmed.

(4) During the 2019 presidential elections, the 19 “political and jihadi elders” took the following sides:

  • Ghani’s electoral supporters: Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Zabihullah Mujaddedi, Muhammad Khan, Atta Muhammad Nur, Sadeq Mudaber, Ismail Ghazanfar, Mawlawi Khodadad Saleh.
  • Dr Abdullah’s electoral supporters:  Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, Karim Khalili, Muhammad Mohaqeq, Salahuddin Rabbani, Sayed Saadat Naderi; 
  • Karzai supporters: Yunus Qanuni, Ismail Khan, Hamed Gailani

(5) There are currently two Jamiat factions, after a (not yet formal) split in July 2020 (see media report here).

(6) On 6 August, the Administrative Office of the President (AOP) announced that Ghani had nominated Qasem Halimi as the Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs. Then on 17 August, the AOP announced that Ghani had nominated Mujib Rahman Karimi as Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and that his nomination would soon be referred to the Wolesi Jirga by the State Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs.

(7) AAN asked both the presidential spokesperson’s office and the Administrative Office of the President for an updated list of the ministries but was not given one. AAN’s own count shows 23 ministers plus the head of the NDS and governor of the Central Bank who both also need to be confirmed by the Wolesi Jirga. Below is a consolidated list of these figures. AAN cannot confirm that Mastur will remain in his position and there is also no update about the Minister for Public Works.

Table 1: New ministerial nominations
NoNameMinistryDate of appointmentEthnicityParliamentary confirmation needed?
Ghani’s nominees
1Abdul Hadi ArghandehwalMinistry of Finance31 March 2020PashtunYes
2Ahmad Zia SerajNDS1 April 2020TajikYes
3Muhammad Hanif AtmarMinistry of Foreign Affairs4 April 2020PashtunYes
4Ahmad Jawad OsmaniMinistry of Public Health31 May 2020TajikYes
5Mahmud KarzaiMinistry of Urban Development and Land1 June 2020PashtunYes
6Ajmal AhmadiDa Afghanistan Bank2 June 2020TajikYes
7Hasina SafiMinistry of Women’s Affairs6 JunePashtunYes
8Taher ZuhairMinistry of Information and Culture7 June 2020HazaraYes
9Rangina HamidiMinistry of Education10 June 2020PashtunYes
10Harun ChakhansuriMinistry of Mines and Petroleum 11 June 2020PashtunYes
11Asadullah KhaledMinistry of Defence18 July 2020PashtunYes
12Muhammad Qasem HalimiMinistry of Hajj and Religious Affairs6 August 2020PashtunYes
13Mujib Rahman KarimiMinistry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development17 August 2020PashtunYes
14Muhammad Yama ShamsMinistry of Public Work16 June 2020PashtunHe is acting minister and has not been nominated for the ministry
Abdullah’s nominees
15Massud AndrabiMinistry of Interior18 July 2020TajikYes
16Bashir Ahmad TahyanjMinistry of Labour and Social Affairs31 August 2020UzbekYes
17Nesar Ahmad GhoryaniMinistry of Commerce and Industries31 August 2020TajikYes
18Qudratullah ZakiMinistry of Transport31 August 2020UzbekYes
19Anwar ul-Haq AhadiMinistry of Agriculture, livestock and Water Irrigation31 August 2020PashtunYes
20Masuma KhawariMinistry of Telecommunications and Information Technology31 August 2020HazaraYes
21Mohebullah SamimMinistry of Frontiers and Tribal Affairs31 August 2020PashtunYes
22Fazl Ahmad ManawiMinistry of Justice31 August 2020TajikYes
23Nur Rahman AkhlaqiMinistry of Refugees and Repatriations31 August TajikYes
24Abbas Basir Ministry of Higher Education31 August 2020HazaraYes
25Mustafa MasturMinistry of Economy TajikNot clear

Annex: Below is short biographical information about the three newly-appointed ministers, plus the State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, who were been covered in our previous reports. Other biographies of other ministers can be found here and here)

  • Mujib Rahman Karimi for Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development

Karimi was born in Khost province in 1356 (1977). He holds a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Kabul University (2001) and a master’s degree in regional planning and rural development from the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand (2014). He has served as Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development since 1396 (2017). Prior to that, he served as field worker and coordinator for UNAMA (2007-2012) and trainer and capacity-building manager with National Solidarity Programme of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (2003-07). 

Karimi also served as lecturer and head of the agricultural economy department of Sheikh Zayed University, Khost (2003-2015)  and chancellor of the same university (2015-17). (His biography in English here and Dari

  • Muhammad Qasem Halimi for Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs

Halimi was born in Kharwar district of Logar province in 1352 (1973). He holds a bachelor’s degree in sharia and law from Al-Azhar University in Egypt and his studies for a master’s degree from Al Azhar University are ongoing. He has served as deputy director of the Department of Studies and Scrutiny in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, head of the regional office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Balkh; deputy director of the Protocol Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; General Director of the Judicial Inspection Department of the Supreme Court; general director of Internal Audit; general director of administration and finance of the Supreme Court; lecturer of judicial internship/judicial stage course; senior advisor to the Ministry of Education; political advisor to the High Peace Council; legal consultant to the Asia Foundation; member and spokesman of the Ulema Council; head of the Eslah-e Qaba Foundation and; head of religious affairs of the Office of National Security Council. He speaks Pashto, Dari, Arabic and English. (His biography in Dari here) and English here) He was appointed minister on 7 August 2017 (see here

  • Qudratullah Zaki for Ministry of Transport

Zaki was born in Bangi district of Takhar province in 1979. He graduated from Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani High School in Peshawar in 1374 (1995) and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Istanbul University (1383/2004). He has worked as general director for oil and gas in Takhar, news editor of Payam-e Jamhoriyat Weekly and head of the Cultural and Social Foundation of Shahid Zaki (see here and here

  • State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Gul Pacha Majidi 

Majidi, son of Haji Zargul, was born in 1345 (1966) in Jaji district of Paktia. He supported Ghani in both the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections. He holds a baccalaureate and has been a businessman, serving as head of southern zone of Sazman-e Majma-ye Melli (a regional social organisation) and a member of the executive board of Mahaz-e Melli. He served as MP for two terms (2005-2010 and 2010-2019). He is married and has a daughter and two sons (according to his short biography on the Wolesi Jirga website, in Dari here and English here). 


Abdullah Abdullah Ghani High Council for National Reconciliation new cabinet


Ali Yawar Adili

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