We continue our reporting and discussion about the next Afghan cabinet – with this blog by our founding member MINNA JARVENPAA.
There has been paralysis in the Afghan government for the last six months. No meaningful business was transacted while the elections took their excruciatingly prolonged course, or in the following months of deal-making over top positions in Government. And now with the Afghan Parliament’s Wolesi Jirga – the lower house – rejecting most of Karzai’s cabinet, the first instinct has perhaps justifiably been to worry about several more months of paralysis. On the face of it, the latest Obama strategy for Afghanistan is already slipping off course. However, if the Parliamentarians stick to the criteria they have cited for rejecting 17 out of 24 Karzai nominees – lack of competence, vested interests, ties to warlords, corruption – there may actually be an opportunity in all of this.
Before the vote, it looked like Afghanistan would end up with a government line-up that looked to most Afghans like more of the same. Even the Americans, with all the political capital they had spent on lobbying President Karzai, had barely managed to hold on to a few ministers from the previous government who were perceived to be effective. With such a cabinet, there could be no expectation of change, at least not for the better. And so, despite all the drama surrounding the elections, Karzai would have been able to continue running the country as in the past, using his pre-existing networks, only even more beholden to the warlords than before.
After Saturday’s vote in the Wolesi Jirga there may still be something to play for to get decent appointments. A group of parliamentarians, including most prominently Shukria Barakzai, Daud Sultanzoy and Mirwais Yasini, are calling for merit-based appointments and clean government. They have vowed to send back any nomination that is linked to one of the warlords. It is hard to gauge how large this group is, but many even in Parliament are said to have been surprised by the results of Saturday’s secret ballot. Members of Parliament have also called on Karzai not to send back nominations that have already been rejected; some are irked that the President is putting out feelers about reintroducing Ismail Khan (Water and Energy), Danesh (Justice), Fatemi (Public Health) and Women’s Affairs Minister Ghazanfar, among others.
On the civil society side, a group of well-connected and educated women ranging from human rights activists to government officials and members of the judiciary has taken a cue from the Wolesi Jirga. They have seized on the rejection of two thirds of cabinet nominees as an opportunity to make demands for a government that includes women in substantial ministries and that is based on competence, rather than ethnic quotas and patronage networks. This group that includes Fatima Gailani, Sima Samar and others has submitted a list of women candidates for the various Ministerial positions and is mobilising to lobby the President and his inner circle.
The Wolesi Jirga has begun to find its voice. Some members are said to have agreed among themselves that even if they are offered a bribe for voting a particular Minister in, they might take the money but still vote as they wish. Rumour has it that this is what was done already in October when parliament was asked by the President if he should accept a second election round against Dr. Abdullah. The President thought he had secured a ‘no’ to a second round, in support of his public position and better to defy the international community, but Parliament responded with a resounding ‘yes’.
Against this background, it is perhaps not surprising that the President has come out strongly in defense of the constitution and insisted that parliamentary elections must happen already on 22 May this year. A large number of the current members could stand to lose their seats, especially if the necessary reforms are not put in place in time to prevent vote rigging.
Whether the Wolesi Jirga stays its course on the issue of cabinet appointments and succeeds in forcing Karzai to nominate people of a higher caliber remains to be seen. Perhaps parliament will be out-manoeuvred once again. Perhaps it will in the end be bought. But the resolve of parliamentarians may have been stiffened by Karzai’s delay tactics that have eaten into their winter break, and the latest presidential decree from 4 January that suspends the parliament’s 45-day recess until the cabinet has been confirmed. Somewhere in all of this there seems to be a slim chance for change.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020