Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

The Cabinet vote: Fourteen in, eleven to go

Martine van Bijlert 7 min

The Parliament has voted for the second time. Seven out of seventeen ministers were approved this time. We have a Cabinet of fourteen now, still eleven to go (we’re still waiting to see who is going to be introduced as Minister of Energy and Water). And though the dust has not settled yet, a few things can already be said about what happened today.

First of all, the two votes do not indicate a commitment to competent and clean candidates. They also do not indicate the end of patronage, although it is clear that the simple fact that a candidate is introduced by a factional leader is not enough to secure the vote. The votes do illustrate the importance of block voting, partly along ethnic lines, which makes it difficult for candidates from minority groups (the shia/Hazara and the Uzbeks/Turkmen) to gather enough votes, in particular in the absence of a lavish lobbying effort.

The votes also do not necessarily indicate a breakdown in relations between the executive and legislative, or a major humiliation for President Karzai. Rather, there seems to be a sense of drift, where neither the President nor the Parliament really seems to know what they are pushing for. Although there is a general preference on all sides to have a complete Cabinet before the London conference, there is no real sense of urgency (which seems an acknowledgement of the fact that the Cabinet has not really been that central to the main political and policy making currents in the country).

The highest vote-getter was former Minister of Interior Zarar Moqbel. He left the ministry in October 2008 among long-standing allegations of corruption and unsavoury appointments. He was however good for the MPs and is said to have played the game of patronage and pay-offs well, which made him an attractive candidate to vote in. The current nostalgia within the Ministry of Interior, among some of the police generals who used to severely criticise him, has also possibly worked in his favour. Arsala Jamal, who also had to leave his post (as Khost governor) under a cloud of corruption allegations, did not fare so well and received only 94 votes. Both men were expecting to be rewarded for their role in Karzai’s re-election campaign, but it is unclear to what extent Karzai and his entourage actively lobbied in their favour.

Palwasha Hassan managed to garner only 56 votes – which probably represented mainly the Third Line group and their peers – despite the fact that she was clearly an experienced women’s activist, manager and networker. This tells us something about how the Women’s Affairs Ministry is seen, but also how the calls for competence only go so far. What many MPs really want is someone who has the necessary backing and the will to engage in patronage relations to be able to deliver. It should come as no surprise that the candidates who secured enough votes all have strong networks or personal relations.

The blank and the invalid votes are always interesting to watch, as they are not the result of an accident or a lack of understanding of the process. Invalidated ballots may signal a deal not really upheld (in the past MPs have recounted how they were asked to take pictures of their filled-in ballot papers with their mobile phones to prove that they were upholding their side of the deal – only to the invalidate the ballot afterwards, if they felt they really did not want support that person), while blank votes are often cast by MPs who feel they do not have enough information to make an informed choice (which can mean that they don’t know enough about the candidate, or that they have not been clearly asked, lobbied or instructed) or are torn between different considerations.

So the vote is over and Parliament can return to its recess. Karzai may seek to have a third and last round before the London conference, but that would mean moving even faster than this time, which was already incredibly swift. It is unlikely, but not impossible. Karzai could introduce his new list slightly quicker than last time – which was within a week – and Parliament, if it agrees to return for another round of extraordinary sessions, could finalise the minister’s presentations and the vote in less than a week, given that there are less ministers now. The main question however is whether this is considered enough of a priority. And whether hurriedly drawn up lists and an increasing pressure on Parliament to be constructive, will result in a strong Cabinet.

A brief overview of the votes (from high to low) and the candidate bios is given below. Corrections and additions, as always, welcome.


Zarar Moqbel (Counternarcotics): 161 for, 56 against, 4 blank, 1 invalid
1966, Tajik from Parwan, graduated from the Pedagogic Institute in Parwan, joined the resistance in 1988 and was involved in the establishment of the Shura-ye Nezar under Ahmad Shah Massoud, served as Kabul police chief and diplomat at Afghanistan’s Embassy in Tehran under Rabbani, under Karzai he was deputy minister of Interior from 2004 to 2006 and minister of Interior until October 2008, he remains an active senior member of one of the Jamiat factions and was actively involved in Karzai’s re-election campaign.

Zalmay Rassoul (Foreign Affairs): 132 for, 82 against, no blank, no invalid
1944, Pashtun born in Kabul, trained and worked as a medical doctor, was editor of the Haqiqat-e Afghan publication in Paris and chief of staff for the late king Zaher Shah in Rome, served briefly as Minister for Transport and Civil Aviation under Karzai and then as National Security Adviser to the President, linked to the royal family by marriage and personally close to Karzai.

Dr Yusuf Niazi (Haj): 132 for, 80 against, 10 blank, 1 invalid
1959, Pashtun from Nangarhar, studied Sharia in Saudi Arabia, has a PhD Sharia from Um-al Qurra University where he was also a lecturer, served at the Afghan Embassy in Saudi Arabia from 1996-2001, was currently serving as adviser to the Ministry of Education.

Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal (Economy): 120 for, 94 against, 6 blank, 2 invalid
1952, Tajik from Paghman, has a degree in Economics and briefly served as department head in the ministry of Planning before the communist coup, spent time in Pakistan and the US, briefly served as Finance Minister under Rabbani, was adviser on tribal affairs to President Karzai, elected head of (the officially registered branch of) Hezb-e Islami in 2008.

Amina Afzali (Social Affairs): 117 for 94 against, 10 blank, 1 invalid
1967, Tajik from Herat, has a degree in Social Sciences from the University of Kabul where she was a lecturer until she fled to Iran, her husband (a leader of a regional Jamiat faction) was killed by the Soviets, in Iran she was active in the field of women’s rights, training and employment, served as a commissioner in the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and briefly as minister for Youth Affairs, is considered close to one of the branches of Jamiat.

Habibullah Ghaleb (Justice): 115 for, 99 against, 8 blank, 1 invalid
1939, Tajik from Kapisa, studied Islamic Law at Kabul University and al-Ahzar in Egypt, worked in the Ministry of Justice under king Zaher Shah and President Daoud, left for Pakistan under the communist regime where he worked under Mojadedi, was appointed deputy Attorney General under President Rabbani, spent several years in the US during the Taliban, served as adviser to the Ministry of Justice and member of the Judicial Board in the President’s Office under Karzai, loyal to both the king’s family and Mojadedi.

Jarullah Mansouri (RRD): 113 for, 102 against, 6 blank, 1 invalid
1974, Tajik from Takhar, has a degree in Economics from the Islamic University of Islamabad, under Karzai he was respectively adviser to the ministry of Justice, special adviser to UNODC and deputy head of the Environmental Agency under Mustafa Zaher, grandson of the late king Zaher Shah, said to be close to First Vice President Fahim and the Jamiat party, Eng Abdul Rahim the unsuccessful candidate for Refugee Affairs is his uncle.


Dr Hashim Esmatullahi (Higher Education): 100 for, 108 against, 12 blank, 2 invalid
1955, Qizilbash from Kabul, studied Literature and Journalism at Kabul University and Tabatai University in Tehran, is head of the Union of Afghan Journalists, lecturer at the Journalism Faculty since 2004, member of the Special Advisory Board for Senior Appointments since 2006 (presidential nominee), is personally close to the President.

Abdul Qodus Hamidi (Telecommunication): 105 for, 104 against, 14 blank, no invalid
1951, Uzbek from Jowzjan, engineering decree from Kabul Polytechnic, held several engineering jobs, including chief engineer for Coca-cola, professor at Balkh university, director of the Fertiliser Plant and director of Northern Oil and Gas, also served as adviser to the ministry of mines in 2005 and as deputy minister of Sectoral Affairs until now.

Arsala Jamal (Border Affairs): 94 for, 116 against, 10 blank, 3 invalid
1966, Pashtun from Paktika, has a degree in Economics from Malaysia, worked for the University of Nebraska in Peshawar and in several NGOs, was program coordination Water and Sanitation at MRRD, served as the governor of Khost between 2006 and 2008, was an active member of Karzai’s re-election campaign team and is a former member of Hezb-e Islami.

Eng Abdul Rahim Awraz (Aviation): 87 for, 123 against, 12 blank, 1 invalid
1956, Turkmen from Faryab, has a degree in Engineering from Kabul University, worked in the training section of Radio Afghanistan in the 1980s, became senator from Jowzjan in 1990 and served as First Secretary at the Afghan Embassy in Ankara in 1998 and 1999, working at the ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2007, is said to be affiliated to Jombesh.

Soraya Dalil (Public Health): 86 for, 116 against, 17 blank, 3 invalid 
Father is Uzbek, mother is Tajik, studied Medicine at Kabul University and Health Care Management at Harvard, worked with MSF, IOM and UNICEF in Mazar-e Sharif, left for Pakistan under the Taliban, returned to Kabul in 2002, worked for MSF and UNICEF in Kabul and Somalia and left for the US in 2003 to sudy at Harvard, seems politically unaligned but others claim she is loosely allied with Jombesh.

Eng Abdul Rahim (Refugee Affairs): 82 for, 128 against, 15 blank, no invalid
1952, Tajik from Badakhshan, relative of Qanooni, has en engineering degree from the Kabul Polytechnic, worked as engineer at the minister of Water and Energy for four years, left for Peshawar, served as the international representative for Jamiat for 10 years in respectively China, Washington, Mashad and Islamabad and as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Indonesia, currently working as adviser to the ministry of Telecommunication, remains a close confidante of Rabbani.

Sultan Hussain Hessari (Urban Development): 80 for, 128 against, 12 blank, 3 invalid
1980, from Kabul, has a degree in Architecture from Kabul University and Iran National University, moved to Denmark in 1999 to do his PhD, active as a lecturer and an architect.

Eng Bashir Lali (Public Works): 78 for, 129 against, 15 blank, 1 invalid
1965, Hazara from Ghazni, degree in Engineering from Kabul Polytechnic, worked as the head of the department of Project Surveys in the ministry of Public Works in the 90s, was living in the US and returned to take up this job.

Mohammad Zaher Wahid (Commerce): 69 for, 127 against, 12 blank, 3 invalid
1945, Hazara from Ghazni, born in Kabul, degree in Economy from Kabul University with additional training in Japan, UK and India, held different positions in among others the ministries of Public Works, Mines, Commerce, Higher Education, the National Bank, AISA (Afghanistan Investment Support Agency) and Oxfam.

Palwasha Hassan (Women’s Affairs): 56 for, 150 against, 15 blank, 4 invalid
1969, Pashtun born in Kabul, has a degree in Science from Islamabad and a degree in Post-War Recovery from York University, founder of Afghan Women’s Education Centre, co-founder of the Afghan Women’s Network and former country director of Rights and Democracy Afghanistan.


Democratization Government


Martine van Bijlert

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