Political Landscape

The Cabinet and the Parliament: Afghanistan’s government in trouble before it is formed


Picture show the full proposed cabinet seated in Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga hall.

Afghanistan's President Ghani introduced his cabinet of candidate ministers to parliament on 20 January 2015, hoping they will receive the vote of confidence. Image: Pajhwok Afghan News (reproduced with permission)

President Ashraf Ghani has introduced his cabinet to the parliament, which now has to confirm or reject his candidates. But by the time the list was officially presented to the MPs on Tuesday, 20 January 2015, he had already lost three prospective ministers and the position of several others was looking shaky. The choices of Ghani and his Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Abdullah Abdullah, have caused upset in multiple camps and the MPs seem in no mood to compromise with the executive, AAN’s Kate Clark reports. (With input from Obaid Ali, Ehsan Qaane, Qayyum Suroush, Borhan Osman and Thomas Ruttig.)

Just drawing up a list of 25 prospective ministers and two equivalent posts (the directors of the Central Bank and the National Directorate of Security) was an excruciating process, involving long negotiations between Ghani and Abdullah and their rival and multi-faceted camps (see AAN reporting here, here and here; list and biographies can be found here). However, this was just the first step in forming the new government. Ministers need to be endorsed by the Wolesi Jirga and getting majority approval for each minister may well involve more painful delay. Moreover, even before Ghani got to the parliament today (notably, without CEO Abdullah), his list of candidates was already haemorrhaging.

The candidate ministers who never made it to the parliament

First to run into trouble was Yaqub Haidari (Agriculture), an Ahmad Zia Massud (Ghani camp) choice who, it was revealed, had allegedly run away from the Estonian courts who had convicted him for “large-scale tax evasion and fraudulent conversion”. He claims his innocence, but Interpol has issued a ‘wanted’ notice for him.

Then the day before the introduction of the cabinet to parliament, one of the ministers most wanted by Ghani, Jailani Popal (Finance), announced his withdrawal. He has, as yet, made no public statement as to his reasons. Possibly, he has a second passport. Possibly, as Pajhwok, quoting an un-named ‘Palace official’, reported, he had received “inordinate demands” for payments from some MPs in return for their endorsement and had decided to bow out. Whatever the reason, his withdrawal looks like a big blow to Ghani, who was relying on having a close, financially competent ally in this key ministry. His replacement, Eklil Hakimi, (his official biography here), the ambassador to the United States, is not known for his expertise in finance; he had earlier been in the discussion as possible foreign minister.

Then, on the day of the introductions itself, there was another bombshell. Close Abdullah confident and senior Jamiat-e Islami member Mahmud Saiqal (Energy and Water) withdrew his candidacy. On his Facebook page, he wrote:

I am happy that my stepping back as candidate minister of Energy and Water will help the south west, specially Herat and Heratis, to feel they share more in the power structure, compared to the past. Keeping the unity of our people is more important than personal interests. Inshallah, I will keep working with the national unity government. 

As with Popal, despite the noble sentiments, one has to wonder whether his withdrawal may also be linked to having a second passport (in his case Australian). But his withdrawal has also solved the perceived problem of a lack of Heratis in the cabinet. There had been vociferous complaints by the former minister of Energy and Water, Jamiat strongman and former ‘Amir’ (self-appointed) and governor (officially, from 2001 to 2004) of Herat, Ismail Khan. He had been furious, complaining that Abdullah had not consulted the ‘elders’ of his team and that Herat (his province) and ‘the mujahedin’ had been snubbed, in favour of leftists from the PDPA:

The nominees introduced by Dr Abdullah are not members of the ‘jihadi family’. A difference should be made between those who saved the country and those who fought against the people.

Khan now has a Herati candidate for the cabinet, Abdul Rahman Salahi. Salahi was an Abdullah supporter in the election, but it is not clear that this Herati businessman is particularly close to Ismail Khan. Indeed, his official biography, emailed to AAN by the CEO’s office, (1) says that during the 1980s, ie the PDPA era, he held a series of posts in the ministry of Public Works. It was, of course, possible in those days to be a non-aligned civil servant, but he was certainly not a mujahed. He is also a member of the Herat Professional Shura, traditionally a group at odds with Ismail Khan.

Two other candidates of whom the media and social media had suggested might fall by the wayside, did make it to parliament for the introductions. There were allegations that Khatera Afghan (Higher Education) had lied about her age to meet the 35 year old minimum age threshold for ministers (see reporting by 1TV here and Tolo News editor Lotfullah Najafizada here). There had also been questions whether Barna Karimi (Telecommunications) had the degree required for a ministerial job. The former Afghan ambassador to Canada’s official biography made no mention of an undergraduate degree and could be read as him having studied for an MA, but not having gained it. (2) However, today, he brought a previously hidden part of his biography into the public arena, claiming to have studied in Russia. It is not an uncommon amnesia: given the valorising of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghan politics, associations with the PDPA or the Soviet Union are sometimes ‘forgotten’ in official biographies.

Scrutinising the cabinet

Examination of the prospective ministers’ credentials by three parliamentary commissions had already begun before they were officially introduced. Based on article 72 of the constitution, a minister should only have Afghan citizenship (although the Wolesi Jirga is allowed to overrule this and to accept candidates with dual nationality), have “higher education, work experience and a good reputation” and should be 35 years or older. Also, no court should have convicted him or her of a crime, including a crime against humanity, or have deprived them of their civil rights.

In the past, the MPs have sometimes chosen to overlook dual citizenship. (4) For example, AAN witnessed ‘cabinet-level’ official Nurullah Delawari, former Director of the Central Bank, being quizzed by MPs in December 2011; he was open about his second nationality and was endorsed despite that. This time, however, the MPs have explicitly chosen to exercise their right to make this an issue, having already voted late last year to outlaw all dual national ministers. Parliament has also decided to vote on each candidate individually – rather than in blocks or for the full team, which makes it more likely that several ministers may not make it through.

MPs do not have to give reasons for rejecting a particular candidate, (they simply vote in a secret ballot). This gives the parliament a strong hand vis-à-vis the executive, which under President Karzai was often used to express dissatisfaction when feeling sidelined or ignored (see AAN analysis here) – a complaint that continues to be heard in the house under President Ghani.

The Chairman of the parliamentary International Relations Commission, Qader Zazai, has already pointed to problems ahead, telling Tolo News, “We cannot name the nominees with dual citizenship until our reviews are complete; at this point, we can only say that 11 nominees have dual citizenship, and some have requested their second citizenship be revoked.”

The cabinet is introduced

Ghani arrived in the parliament mid-morning on 20 January 2015, shaking hands with MPs and giving a typically long speech, of more than an hour, in which he laid out his ‘vision’ for the government. (3) It was received with little applause from the parliamentarians. He told MPs: “I have put all my efforts to have these people. Now it’s your turn,” after which the prospective ministers were introduced. The official information given about each candidate during the introduction can be found in the annex at the end of this piece. Do compare it with AAN’s biographies.)

More information should emerge in the coming days as each candidate is given an hour to present his or her programme with a further hour and a half for questions from the MPS – according to the internal regulations of the lower house. Voting on the candidates could theoretically start tomorrow, 21 January 2015, after the first presentations, but that is not yet clear.

A prospective cabinet with a lot of detractors

This cabinet list was clearly a result of a complicated process of compromise, horse-trading and negotiation. Other than Ghani and Abdullah, there were their supporters and those who had been brought on to their presidential tickets (now the two vice-presidents, the two vice-CEOs and the Economic Advisor) because of their supposed vote blocs (and sub-blocs) based on political party, ethnic or tanzim loyalties – all in an attempt to secure victory at the polls. The fact that Afghanistan ended up with a national unity government has doubled the number of people who thought they had ‘won’ the elections. It has also meant that the majority of the political elites think they, or their people, could or should be in the cabinet. Arithmetically, that was always going to be an impossible task. On top of that, Ghani had said he wanted only qualified candidates – and, at the same time, had ruled out former ministers or current MPs.

The president’s decisions ensured that some would-be ministers were automatically excluded and seem to have resulted in a fair number of nominees who lack the clout or strong networks to easily get them through the parliamentary vote. Even those related to the tanzims that are well-represented in the house, tend to be from their civilian, rather than military, wings and to be lesser known, and often less charismatic, members. Many, therefore, do not have banks of ‘natural’ backers in parliament who can be counted on for votes, but also and more importantly for the negotiating, organising and cajoling of the votes of other MPs. In the past, weak ‘natural’ backing could be augmented by offering payments (see reporting here and here). This time has been far less talk of that, although it has apparently not disappeared entirely: Head of the Foreign Affairs Commission Zazai, for example, has alleged that an “associate of the president” was distributing money and watches to MPs.)

The attempt to have a different kind of cabinet means that many who felt entitled to a position now feel snubbed. They include heavy-weight politicians and provincial strongmen who mobilised votes and presumably money and who now feel unrewarded or even betrayed. The snubs may be multiple and overlapping – both personal and on behalf of their tanzim, community, province or region. Complaints that have been voiced in the media or on social media have come from the mujahedin (our sacrifice for this country has been ignored while the leftists are rampant), Hezb-e Islami (only two ministers!), Hazaras (‘we were promised five seats and one has been given to a Sayed’), Panjshiris (only one minister and none of the security ministries, which all went to leftists), Heratis (no minister at all), Nuristanis (we’re the sixth biggest ethnic group and have ‘no representation’) and so on. Some of these groupings have strong representation in parliament, often with overlapping members – mujahedin, Hezbis and Jamiati, Hazaras and Heratis. Getting the numbers for an endorsement will involve some more difficult and complex arithmetic.

One also has to say that the list does give room for complaint. Some of the ‘merit-based’ appointees look weak – possibly because the need for compromise resulted in candidates whose main attraction was being inoffensive to both sides. Key qualifications for running a ministry – experience in running a large organisation and leadership skills, as well as subject expertise – often seem lacking. For example, university lecturer and former journalist Aya Sultan Khairi has been chosen to run Information and Culture, and a mid-ranking UNICEF employee, Khatera Afghan, for Higher Education. Although both women are from ‘old’ families, there is not much obvious in their backgrounds to suggest why they should suddenly be propelled to be ministers. Other examples include the religious programme presenter, Faiz Muhammad Usmani, appointed to Hajj and Awqaf, and another university lecturer, Sardar Muhammad Rahimi, to Commerce.

There are candidate ministers who do look to have necessary subject expertise and experience of running large, or at least, large-ish organisations – Daud Shah Saba at Mining, with his geology degree and experience in NGOs, as a governor and in private business; Firuzuddin Firuz at Public Health, a medical doctor and former deputy health minister; and Sallahuddin Rabbani, diplomat and chair of the High Peace Council, at Foreign Affairs. In general, however, this looks like a fairly inexperienced cabinet. Moreover, given the problems emerging already, with qualifications, passports, ages and criminal records, there do appear to have been shortcomings in the vetting.

Although Jamiat stalwart Mahmud Saiqal’s last minute decision to withdraw – which gave room for a Herati to come into the cabinet – may have allayed hurt ‘western’ feelings, it will not assuage unhappy mujahedin who will see this as having lost another one of their ranks from the cabinet. Of the candidates for the big ministries, Nur ul-Haq Ulumi looks particularly vulnerable at Interior – a former PDPA military-civilian head of the Kandahar zone taking on a ministry which since 2001 has often been run by Panjshiri Shura-ye Nazar ministers and which was an ‘Abdullah’ choice. Ulumi has, indeed, been a strong ally and supporter of Abdullah, and is generally well-respected, but he emerged only after Ghani rejected two far stronger allies – both former NDS bosses and both from Panjshir and Shura-ye Nazar, Aref Sarwari (better known as Engineer Aref) and Amrullah Saleh.

Now, the country must wait to see how much of the list can survive the parliamentary vote. If large chunks do not, there will be more negotiations, nominations and voting. Eventually – and hopefully – we will see how and if the national unity government can actually emerge from this bruising start, to begin governing.

 

(1) Abdul Raham Salahi’s biography, sent by the CEO’s office (AAN translation)

Abul Rahman Salahi, son of Abdul Baqi Salahi, was born in 1335 (1956). He is married and has four children. Salahi got his masters decree in civil engineering from Kabul Polytechnic in 1356 (1980). He is fluent in Dari and Pashto and well-versed in English and Russian. From 1363 to 1371 [1985-1993], he served in the state, with the Ministry of Public Works in different positions: he was a member of the department of planning, general manager of the department of statistics, and then a member of the technical advisory board of the Ministry of Public Works. Since 1995, Salahi has worked in the private sector and has his own companies. From 1995 to 2005, he worked with Hewad Reconstruction Service as a program officer and then as the executive director. From 2005 to 2008, he chaired Engineering and Rehabilitation Services for Afghanistan. In 2009, he established his own company, Kondor Construction and Reconstruction Company, and remains the chairman. Salahi, beside his businesses, has voluntarily taken part in different social and sporting affairs.

(2) Karimi’s biography reads:

Ambassador Barna Karimi was born in 1974 in Kabul, Afghanistan. He went to Istiqlal High School in Kabul and in 1991 succeeded to enter in Kabul’s prestigious Medical School, where he studied general medicine until the summer of 1992 when the university was shut down due to the outbreak of factional fighting in the country, followed by the Taliban’s oppressive regime in 1996.

Mr. Barna Karimi resumed his studies in University of Phoenix, from 1997 till 2003, studying Business Marketing for bachelor and Business

(3) Ghani spoke of women and children’s rights, mines, reducing imports, extending the development budget to three years, reviewing all foreign development projects in the next 45 days and, if they are found not to be effective, cancelling them or letting the government take the lead, having more control of the free market, not selling state land but building houses on it for distribution, bringing security through securing Afghanistan’s borders, and buying Afghan boots, food and other products for the security services.

(4) Former ministers who could have been quizzed about possible second passports – given that they had lived overseas – would include some of the most senior ministers from earlier administrations: Omar Zakhilwal (Finance), Rangin Dadfar Spanta (Foreign Affairs), Hanif Atmar (Interior) and Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi (Finance).

 

Annex Information given to the MPs about the candidates [Added information from AAN in brackets]

1) Ministry of Defence, General Sher Muhammad Karimi

General Karemi was born in Ismailkhel village of Khost province. He obtained his education in the military school and military university of Afghanistan. He was also educated in military affairs in England, the United States, Egypt and India. He worked in different positions in the Ministry of Defence (MoD). He has served in senior positions in the MoD since 1992 and currently serves as the chief of the army staff.

[A family member has said he was in the presidential guard during the Saur coup of 1978 and was jailed. After being released by Hafizullah Amin, he returned to the army.]

2) Ministry of Interior, General Nur ul-Haq Ulumi

Nur ul-Haq is the son of Abdul Hazim Khan Ulumi and was born in 1945 in Kabul. He obtained his education in Habibia High School and during his military service, he joined the military university (Harbi Pohantoon) of Afghanistan. He also obtained professional education in Russia and the US. He also served as the head of the No 1 military corps (Qul-e Urdu-ye Yak), commander of Kandahar Corp (Qul-e Urdu-ye Kandahar) and served as member of the Wolesi Jirga during 2005-2010 as head of the security and defence committee.

[Again there is a gap in his biography: between the fall of Najib and the Taleban, Ulumi lived in the Netherlands. This biography also underplays his key role in keeping Kandahar stable during the last years of the Najib government.]

3) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Salahuddin Rabbani

He was born in 1971 in Kabul and obtained his primary and high school in Pakistan and his bachelor degree from King Fahd University in Saudi Arabia. He also obtained an MA in management and business from the UK and holds an MA in international relations from the US. He served as the manager for a Saudi petroleum company, as ambassador to Turkey and the head of the High Peace Council (HPC)

[He is also the son of former president and leader of Jamiat-e Islami, the late Borhanuddin Rabbani.]

4) Ministry of Finance, Eklil Hakimi (introduced instead of Jailani Popal)

He was born in 1968 in Kabul province. He completed his primary and high school education at Isteqlal High School and obtained a bachelor degree in Kabul Polytechnic in 1991. He served as the deputy minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2003, and later served as the Ambassador of Afghanistan in US, China and Japan.

5) Ministry of Labour and Social Afairs, Sayed Sadat Mansur Naderi

He is son of Mansur Naderi, was born 1976 in Kabul and went to school in Kabul and Baghlan provinces and to high school in the UK. Mr Naderi holds an MA in economy and international business from the UK. He worked in private and governmental sectors. He served as the head of one of the departments of the Agha Khan Foundation and also is member of the central bank of the Afghanistan.

[His father, Mansur Naderi, was head of the Ismaeli militia set up by President Najib that, after the fall of the PDPA, took part in the civil war.]

6) Ministry of Refugee and Returnees, Sayed Hussain Alami Balkhi

Mr Balki was born in 1966 in Balkh province. He received education until grade 14 in Afghanistan. He holds an MA and PhD in religious affairs from Iran. He served in different government positions, as the minister for commerce, member of the ulama council, HPC, and member of the Wolesi Jirga in the current and previous parliaments.

[He also set up one of the Shia mujahedin groups which formed Wahdat-e Milli in 1989 and served as a member of the new party’s Supreme Monitoring Council.]

7) Ministry of Education, Zalmay Gul Yunesi

He was born in Balkh province. He received his primary education in Mawlana Jalaluddin Balkhi school and completed his high school in Balkh. He obtained his bachelor degree from law and politics faculty of Kabul University. He served in many government posts, as staff for ministry of planning, as a staff at the office of attorney general, and member of the High Peace Council in Balkh. He also took part in all the loya jirgas after the Bonn conference.

[A prominent northern Jamiati and close confidant of the Balkh governor, Atta Muhammad Nur.

8) Ministry of Public Health Ferozuddin Feroz

He was born in 1967. He obtained his higher education in the Kabul Medical University and joined the medical academy where he studied general surgery. He also holds an MA (from the UK) in leading and management of health affairs. He served as the head of the Kapisa province health department, advisor to the World Bank on health affairs, and deputy for the ministry of public health.

9) Ministry of Commerce, Sardar Muhammad Rahimi

He was born in Terinkot district of Uruzgan province. He did his primary and secondary schooling in Iran. Mr Rahimi holds MA and PhD degrees from Tehran University. He also served as a lecturer at private universities, a member of a policy group of Afghanistan, senior adviser to ministry of urban development, senior adviser for the cultural committee of the Wolesi Jirga and also senior adviser of the Kabul municipality.

10) Ministry of Urban Development, Shah Zaman Maiwandi

He was born in 1976 in Kabul province  and grew up in Kandahar, later going to Europe. He completed his high schooling in Germany and holds a bachelor degree in industrial engineering. He also holds an MA in business. In the past few years, he has run private business in Afghanistan.

11) Ministry of Economy, Sardar Muhammad Rahmanughli

He was born in Pashtun Kot district of Faryab province. He obtained his higher education at the Afghanistan Technical Vocational Institute, Kabul Polytechnic, and also in Ukraine. He worked for several government institutions as the manger for a  national televions project, lecturer at Balkh University, head of the border commerce department of Balkh, the head of the Afghan refugees union in Turkey,  member of the Wolesi Jirga during the 2005-2010 parliament and as a diplomat to South Korea.

12) Ministry of Justice, Ahmad Sayer Mahjur

He was born in Baghlan province. He completed his primary and high school in Kabul and his higher education in Islamic studies in Pakistan. He holds an MA and PhD from France.

[Hezb-e Islami has claimed him as one of their nominees.]

13) Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Technology, Barna Karimi

He was born in 1975 in Urozgan province. He obtained his primary education in Isteqlal High School. He holds a bachelor degree in economy and management from Moscow. He served as the deputy chief of staff at the presidential palace, deputy for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance and as Afghan ambassador in Canada.

[Previously, he had not revealed that Soviet university education.]

14) Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Naseer Durani

He completed his primary and high educations in Kabul. He holds a bachelor degree from the engineering faculty of Kabul. He also holds an MA from the US. He has worked as the deputy minister of mines, and later as the acting minister of mines.

[Hezb-e Islami has claimed him as one of their nominees.]

15) Ministry of Border and Trial Affairs, Qamarudin Shinwari

He was born in Nangarhar province. He received his education in religious schools, Wefaq ul-Madares of Pakistan and at Kabul Dar ul-Ulum. He holds a bachelor degree from Kabul University Faculty of Religious Affairs. He also served as the head of the Al-Fath high school, the head of the Attorney General Office’s rule of law department and head of the appeal court for the South.

[A brother of Mawlawi Jalaluddin Shinwari, the Taleban’s (pre-2001) attorney general and acting minister of justice who had a background in an early, later sidelined pro-royalist faction, and a key Ghani supporter in the east.]

16) Ministry of Women Affairs, Najiba Ayubi

She was born in 1969. She completed her education in Hira High School in Parwan province. She holds a bachelor degree in journalism from the private Ibn-e Sina University in Kabul. She has worked with Safe the Children and Radio Killid.

17) Ministry of Public Works, Ghulam Abbas Basir

He was born in Ghazni province, and received his education in Iran. He holds a bachelor degree in Islamic education from Qum and an MA and PhD from India. He served as a lecturer in private universities and lately as the chief of staff of the second vice president’s office.

18) Ministry of Transport, Faziullah Zaki

He completed his school in Shah-e Do Shamshera High School and holds a bachelor degree in geology from Kabul University. He served as the secretary and deputy of Jumbish and as a member of the Wolesi Jirga in the 2005-2010 parliament. He also served as the spokesman for the National Front of Afghanistan.

19) Ministry of Mines, Daud Shah Saba

He was born in 1964 in Gozrah district of Herat province. He holds a bachelor degree from Kabul Polytechnic and an MA and PhD from India. He served as a lecturer at Polytechnic University, the head of a private company and governor of Herat province.

[He clashed with Ismail Khan when he was governor.]

20) Ministry of Information and Culture, Aya Sultan Khairi

She was born in Faryab province. She completed her schooling in Rabia Balkhi High School in Kabul. She holds a bachelor degree from Kabul University and an MA and PhD from Turkey. She served as a lecturer in Balkh University, head of the labour and social affairs department in Balkh and as a journalist and translator for Turkish TV.

21) Ministry of Counternarcotics, Faizullah Kakar

He was born in Gorzewan district of Faryab. He completed his primary schooling in Faryab and high schooling in Kabul. He studied in the medical science faculty of Kabul and from there he went to the US to study biology. He holds a bachelor and MA degrees from the US. He also holds a PhD in public health from Washington University. He served as the head of the Islamic university of Afghanistan in Peshawar, deputy minister in the Ministry of Public Health, and an adviser minister for former president Karzai.

22)  Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, Faiz Muhammad Usmani

He was born in Kunduz province and obtained his education in religious schools in Zahedan, Iran. He holds a bachelor degree in social science from Kabul University. He is the founder of Rahyan Noor High School, and is a presenter of an Islamic programme in Tolo TV. He has also worked as a lecturer in private universities, as a member of the curriculum department of the ministry of education and as an adviser for Afghan-Turk schools in Afghanistan.

23) Ministry of Higher Education, Khatera Afghan

She was born in 1976 in Kandahar province. She holds a  diploma in management from Kardan University, a bachelor degree from the American University of Afghanistan in social science and also holds MA degree from the US.

[A member of the influential Wasefi family from Kandahar, she was most recently a middle-ranking officer at UNICEF in Kabul.]

25) National Directorate of Security, Rahmatullah Nabil

He was born in Jaghato district of Maidan Wardak. He holds a bachelor degree from Polytechnic University.

[A former colleague at UNHCR of Karzai confident and former deputy of the National Security Council, Engineer Ibrahim Spinzada, Nabil was brought into Palace security in 2002, eventually heading it up. He is currently serving his second term as director of NDS.]

26) Head of the Central Bank, Khalilullah Sediq

He was born in Chardehi district of Kabul province. He obtained his bachelor degree in national economics from Kabul University. He has 30 years of experience in banking. He has served in various capacities at the central bank (Da  Afghanistan Bank): as first deputy, adviser to the general director and head of the bank.

[The final position, that of minister of agriculture, has no candidate.]

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape