Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Smoke signals about a new Afghan cabinet in the making

Thomas Ruttig 5 min

Kabul’s rumour mill is up to speed again on the issue of a possible – and necessary – cabinet reshuffle. President Karzai has for months been working with a rump cabinet with seven acting ministers. It has now been confirmed from within the parliament that four names have been submitted for a new vote, all of them candidates who were rejected for the very same portfolios over a year ago, yet are now being proposed again. This looks like a return to Karzai’s old salami tactics, thinks AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig.

Rumours that President Hamed Karzai was working on completing his cabinet started late last week. On 4 April, Tolo TV reported that ‘the government is to introduce the remaining ministers to the parliament’. A presidential spokesman confirmed this, added that some changes might occur in the cabinet, but it was too early to comment on anything. However, four people have been named byTolo TV, Afghan print media and one of the new intake of MPs, Muhammad Aref Rahmani (Ghazni), as being put forward by the president – although nothing official has been said. They are (from top left to bottom right):

• Ismail Khan for water & energy
• Amirzai Sangin for telecommunications
• Daud Ali Najafi for transport and civil aviation.
• Soraya Dalil for public health

Despite the parliament’s rejection of the four more than a year ago, the President kept all four on as acting ministers (see an earlier blog on thishere) Today’s Payyam-e Mujahed newspaper makes the good point that the current WJ rules of procedure do not allow rejected ministers to be re-introduced, but also reports that some WJ members have already proposed to change the rules on this. (Some lawyers argue that this part of the WJ rules is against the constitution because it prevents the president from appointing people of his liking.)

There was a broader list speculating on a forthcoming cabinet reshuffle in the Kabul daily Arman-e Melli, (a paper critical of the government), on 6 April. Arman-e Melli names men who are largely already powerful or influential (unlike three of the four names above who are technocrats and with no power base of their own). The following are Arman-e Melli‘s names. The comments are ours:

– Gen. Bismillah Muhammadi, former ANA chief of staff and current minister of the interior, is speculated to replace Gen Rahim Wardak at Defence. Both have a military background as commanders in the anti-Soviet resistance. Wardak is one of the last people in the immediate cabinet who were linked to the royalist Rome group. Gen. Bismillah (a Northern Alliance, Shura-ye Nazar commander) is said to have strengthened the overall position of his NA allies with a number of recent appointments in the police – these were seen as a precautionary measure against a possible Taleban comeback. Wardak is said to be getting the post of advisor to the President on security which – although this is not entirely clear – might be the same as the top job in the National Security Council . (The Wall Street Journal also names Gen. Abdul Rauf Begi, a professional army officer who served under Dr Najibullah in the PDPA era as Herat division commander, before joining Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum’s Jombeshparty after 1992. If this were true, it would signal a rapprochement between the President and Dostum – a man whom Karzai actually dislikes deeply but whose mobilisation of Uzbek votes the president relied on in the 2009 election.)

– Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta who already had a career as a Green Party politician in Germany, would return as foreign minister. There is no suggestion by Arman-e Melli as to where the incumbent foreign minister, Dr Zalmai Rassul – another former Rome group member and former secretary of the late Zaher Shah – would move to – if this speculation proved true.

– Wahidullah Shahrani, hitherto minister for mines and industries, would replace Omar Zakhilwal – one of the West’s ‘darling ministers’ as Minister of Finance; the Wall Street Journal already voiced concerned that replacing Zakhilwal might further deteriorate the US-Afghan relations.

– Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, currently the ‘enteqal czar’ heading the Joint Afghan-NATO Enteqal Body (JANEB) who in the past had run unsuccessfully for both the Afghan presidency (against Karzai) and the UN Secretary-General’s job (against Ban Ki-Moon), would move to the ministry for mines and industries. This is considered a key ministry after the (re-)discovery of Afghanistan’s 6 billion-worth mineral wealth, which is, in turn, frequently cited as the carrot to entice the international community to stay involved in a post-2014 Afghanistan. With his World Bank background, Ghani would be the man who could probably best ensure that as many gains as possible from the mines in the country stay in the country. Concerns centre around multi-nationals or government officials removing most of the profits abroad – reasonable fears given the experience of other third-world countries. Left open is whether Ghani would remain responsible for transition if he took over this ministry.

– Assadullah Khaled, the ubiquitous former governor of Ghazni and Kandahar, current Minister for Borders and Tribal Affairs and self-declared aspirant for the NDS top job, perceived a good ally by the US at least for a while but also known for his odious ‘human rights’ record, is mentioned as the coming interior minister. He is basically a Sayyaf man who became a loyal client of the Karzai brothers.

– Ataullah Ludin from Nangrahar, leader of the unofficial parliamentary faction of the registered part of Hezb-e Islami faction in the last Wolesi Jirga, and now an HPC member, is rumoured as being considered for the job of Attorney General.

While the actual portfolio changes might look completely different from those named above, it is of concern that the President, by introducing only four candidates at this stage, appears to be again using ‘salami tactics’ with the parliament. As in 2009, he seems to be testing the water to see how far he can go with the new MPs, whether they will be more accommodating towards him, as the rumoured initiative to change WJ rules on re-introducing ministers may indicate, and whether they are ready to overrule the decision of their predecessors. It is far from clear, however, whether the new Wolesi Jirga will play ball, as the election of the WJ speaker indicated which went against the outcome expected by the Palace.

Some observers believe that we are observing a deal in the making: ‘you accept my ministers and I will save you from the Damocles sword of the Special Tribunal and you can keep your seats despite the fraud you committed to get them’. The other side of the medal might be that the president just wants to use the opportunity to get these ‘candidate-ministers’, some of which had been under severe professional criticism as well, out of the way and make place for new ones.

In this context this means that whatever the outcome the president will always be the winner. But apart from this, the approval or rejection of all the ministers – whether old or new candidates – could, again, become a process painfully dragging on for weeks. This, in turn, would indicate an unwelcome comeback of the haphazard executive-legislative relationship of the 2005-10 parliamentary period. But as the previous long process of confidence votes was financially lucrative for MPs who took bribes from hopeful ministers in 2010 (see our earlier blog on this here) they might become winners as well.


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