Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

The Cabinet Vote: Confusion as Political Principle

Thomas Ruttig 3 min

A commentary — No, the rejection of two thirds of his cabinet proposals by the Wolesi Jirga is no ‘slap in the face of Hamed Karzai’, as some media put it. On the contrary, it is a success for him.

The Afghan President – often ridiculed as mayor of Kabul – has, again, shown it to everyone. He has confused commentators and misled politicians, he escaped from the pressure of his most important allies and gained time and room to manoeuvre.

Afghanistan is no democracy and doesn‘t function as one, on the basis of Western parlamentarian rules and principles. Karzai is not interested in governing, just in preserving power for himself and his enterprising family. This was clearly shown by the August presidential vote that was massively rigged by his staff. He also does not need any cabinet.

Karzai’s partner and antipodes, both at the same time, are – first – the warlords. They corralled a high number of votes for him during the August election, using their local commanders, either by falsifying them or exerting pressure on and violence against voters. According to the still valid local habit, they need to be compensated now, with ministerial posts, ambassadorships and other pork barrels (sorry for the un-Afghan term). Karzai can tell them now: Sorry, sh***t happens. I did my best but parliament did not play ball.

Parliamentarians, meanwhile, celebrate themselves for their principled stand against corruption – and will leave into their six week winter recess. These guys are out of the way, for the time being.

Secondly, there is the international community. It had declared Karzai’s cabinet choices its yardstick for measuring his – hopefully appearing, after all – reform-mindedness. This yardstick was to be applied at the 28 January London Conference. But after that vote of the Kabul lower house, heads of state and government of the donor countries will sit around that large table and will not have anything to measure. Karzai can calmly look forward to this exercise which was meant to be a critical examination of his political will.

Americans and Brits will not raise much criticism, anyhow. They got what they wanted: their darling-ministers they like most and for which they had massively lobbied in Kabul: defense minister Rahim Wardak who was trained at a US military academy and the minister of interior Hanif Atmar who, with his past as aid worker and minister for rural development, is considered to be a good administrator. There also won’t be any communication problems: both speak fluent English. It doesn’t matter that not Wardak but General Bismillah is running the MoD.

Furthermore, Seyyed Makhdum Rahin returns as minister for culture and information. Thanks goodness, a liberal ray of hope after his predecessor Mr Khorram who considered press freedom a Western conspiracy.

Karzai himself was able to get key figures from his kitchen cabinet confirmed: minister of education Faruq Wardak, agriculture minister Rahimi and the new rising star, finance minister Omar Zakhilwal, an Afghano-Canadian. He doesn‘t need more ministers to rule. That health minister Fatemi was dropped, probably was a glitch. Karzai’s former mujahedin leader Prof. Mujaddedi will not be amused. Even more so that with Hamed Gailani again one of Pir Gailani’s family fell through in an election: he was the Great Pashtun hope to lure back some tribe to the government and to open talks with (some?) Taleban.

The remaining ministries can be led by deputies as caretakers, in the meantime, as already the 17 with new proposed heads are led. Those caretakers are mainly young upward climbers and therefore Karzai loyalists. Under the existing over-centralised presidential system of Afghanistan with its steep hierarchies, Karzai determines the political course anyway. The cabinet has been a yeahsayer machine for the post-2001 years, meeting only once per week and often without a clear agenda, manipulated by an increasingly populist Karzai using anti-Western rhetorics. The ministries barely administer their ‘core budgets’ (i.e. the running costs) while the way their separate ‘development budgets’ are disbursed too often still depended on priorities set by the donor-countries and their embedded advisors.

Karzai, now, has all time of the world to tailor himself his own cabinet – plus the foreign minister and heads of the National Security Council and NDS (all of which, funnily enough, were not included in the submitted list at all). What his spokesman had to say after the vote shows that Karzai is not worried at all: ‘This is the beauty of democracy.’ Beautiful democracy, this.


Democratization Government