Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Too Cocky for Parliament’s Taste? Interior Minister voted out

Fabrizio Foschini 5 min

In a sudden turn of events – especially for a very hot and demanding day of Ramazan – the minister of interior, Mujtaba Patang, has been voted out of his position by the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the parliament. The reasons given were: deterioration of security on highways, the charges of corruption that he had made against MPs and his failure to appear when requested by the parliament. While according to the Palace’s announcement, Patang will continue as acting minister at least for a while, deeper reasons for this move have yet to unfold. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini reports, with input from Ehsan Qaane and Gran Hewad.

Red cards – no trust. The photo from yesterday, 22 July, shows members of the Afghan parliament indicating that they were not satisfied with Interior Minister Patang’s answers to their questions. Shortly after, they sacked him. Photo: Wakht News Agency

One year after having been appointed in the wake of the impeachment of his predecessor, Bismillah Khan, (read previous AAN dispatches here and here) as minister of interior (MoI), Mujtaba Patang has, quite unexpectedly, met the same fate at the hands of the Wolesi Jirga (read here and here).

Not that his being at odds with the Wolesi Jirga was a mystery: the MPs had summoned Patang several times during the last three months to answer their questions, but he had always sent one of his deputies instead. The last time this happened was last Saturday, 20 July. Afterwards, some MPs started to gather the necessary signatures (20 per cent of the house) to fill the form calling for the esteza, the ousting of the minister.

However, not many people were expecting that the threat to sack him for his lack of respect towards the MPs would actually happen. Nevertheless, the vote leaves no doubt: once they had the opportunity to do so today, 136 of the 205 MPs present voted against him.

The parliamentarians did not only act out of hurt pride, of course. The main reason that made them insist on summoning Patang was apparently the deterioration of the security on two roads, Kabul-Bamyan and especially Kabul-Ghazni (read a recent AAN dispatch here). After addressing these issues, they then wanted to hear from him why he had accused the MPs of being corrupt. (He had claimed MPs had forwarded to him in his capacity of minister some 14,000 ‘illegal’ requests.) They also wanted to know, of course, why he had not shown up before.

The minister responded that the MoI was not the only institution responsible for road security, as most of the attacks that happen on the highways originated in the villages or deserted areas adjacent to them. There, he maintained, the Afghan National Army, too, is required to provide security and remove insurgent threats. Interestingly, he complained about the failure of the disarmament programs carried out in the past, DDR and DIAG (see AAN paper here) and the huge number of weapons available in Afghanistan which made the police’s job all the more difficult.

Regarding the corruption charges he had made against the Wolesi Jirga, he said they had been directed only at some MPs – at those who had put him under a lot of pressure with requests for facilitating ‘personal issues’ such as getting their applications for illegal heavy weapons approved. He apologised if some of his assistants had been rude to MPs over the phone, but also pointed out that there was a department in his ministry specifically dedicated to communication between the parliament and the MoI – a structure established by orders of the parliament. Yet, none of the MPs had ever sought to get in touch through that official channel.

Finally, he justified his no-shows by saying that, as the requests of the MPs had been technical, he had considered it more useful to send his deputies who were better prepared to answer them.

Apparently, this was not enough. During Patang’s appearance, the house seemed split between loud critics of the minister and equally loud supporters. But it was rather a silent majority that decided the day. Once the minister left, the house voted by show of hands on the opportunity to pass a vote of non-confidence on him: 62 MPs declared themselves satisfied with his defense, while 78 asked to proceed to the vote, which was then quickly arranged. The minister received 136 ‘no’ votes, 60 in favour, and nine blank or invalid votes. The total attendance amounted to 205 MPs. The numbers clearly tell that a majority of MPs had not taken part in the initial show of hands at all, either leaving the hall or sitting quietly. But their weight was greatly felt during the second vote, for they all must have voted in favour of sacking Mujtaba Patang.

What could be the reasons for such a poor reception for a minister who used to be broadly considered a decent and professional one? Patang obviously committed a major mistake in not heeding the summoning of the house. A fellow minister, Bismillah Khan, with more personal clout but arguably also more enemies inside the Wolesi Jirga recently received an accolade from the parliament just for promptly showing up when required to do so (he may have learnt his lesson after having been sacked by the parliament in August 2012).

Patang’s behavior this morning looked assertive, almost haughty. He joked with the MPs supporting him and smiled at questions which he apparently thought futile. He may have had – or believed he had – his reasons for behaving so. An MP who preferred to remain anonymous told AAN that a month ago, Patang had decided to go to the Wolesi Jirga, but the day before doing so, he saw president Karzai who reassured him it was not necessary to go.

The minister also made an allusion while in the Wolesi Jirga that he was aware that, the previous day, one of his deputies had distributed money among the MPs, allegedly encouraging them to remove him. He could have been referring to Abdul Rahman Rahman. Rahman had already been a deputy minister and thus senior to Patang when the latter was made minister in September 2012; he had also previously been the commander of the border police at the national level.

Although in no way substantiated, the scheme could make some sense, at least in theory: Patang was appointed minister last year basically as a compromise candidate between President Karzai and Vice-President Fahim. The latter’s close ally Bismillah Khan, last remaining former commander of Shura-ye Nizar (the military network developed by the late Ahmad Shah Massud in the 1980s) in the cabinet, had just had to give up the ministry of interior to get defense a few weeks later. Rahman, might have been the preferred candidate for many in the jihadi faction inside the government, then and now. Rahman, like Patang, stems from Logar province, but is a member of Jamiat-e Islami with a consistent jihadi background while Patang was a member of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).

As it is, the vote is cast. The parliament, from today, is in its summer recess until early September. The presidential office made known that the parliament has the right to dismiss ministers, but that this action must be based on legally justifiable reasons. The president has asked the Supreme Court to check the validity of the reasons given for the sacking. In the meantime, Patang will continue as acting minister (read here).

Patang himself said at a press conference in the afternoon after the vote that he would not comment on the parliament’s decision and that he would continue to work while waiting for the verdict of the Supreme Court. If this supports him, he added, he will ask for his honour to be restored publicly.

His bitterness was visible. Earlier, during the question and answer section at the Wolesi Jirga, an MP accused the minister of having appointed wolves as shepherds to guard the sheep, referring to policemen committing abuses. Patang shot back: ‘Wolves are not just in the ministry of interior. The whole government is run by wolves.’

Authors:

Fabrizio Foschini

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