Political Landscape

The resignation of Atmar and Saleh; early thoughts


After what is reported to have been a day of rather heated discussions, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and head of the National Directorate of Security Amrullah Saleh have handed in their resignation. President Karzai swiftly accepted and has already appointed their deputies, Munir Mangal and Engineer Ibrahim, as acting heads.

The palace announced that the officials had resigned “over theirfailure to prevent Taliban attackson last week’s peace assembly in Kabul” after they had been summoned by Karzai to explain what had happened. According to the palace, and this was later confirmed by Amrullah, Karzai accepted the resignations “[s]ince the explanations presented by the Interior Ministry and director for the National Security were not convincing”.

So they resigned over the attack on the jirga? That’s a rather feeble explanation. It is not the first time that a high-profile attack has been blamed on the heads of the security organs (the blame game usually includes Defence Minister Rahim Wardak as well), but it usually blows over. And this had also not been an obvious failure. Although the MoI and NDS had been unable to prevent the attack on Wednesday morning, they did manage to keep the number of casualties to a minimum. Security officials additionally claim that they prevented multiple other attacks on the jirga, involving several other suiciders and large amounts of explosives and rockets.

The two men may have simply become tired of being always blamed and never praised, but that does not explain Karzai’s swift acceptance at a time when you would normally want to keep your experienced officials. The speculations on what the ‘real’ and ‘hidden’ reasons are have of course already started and were fueled by Amrullah Saleh’s comment that “there were tens of internal and external reasons” for his resignation (which he could however not expand on).

There have been suggestions that the two may have opposed Karzai’s most recent decision to establish a review commission for political detainees as part of the follow-up to the peace jirga, but that looks like an attempt to connect the most recent dots rather than a plausible explanation. It is much more likely that their fall-out came as a result of the long and deep lack of trust towards them on the part of the President. Both Atmar and Saleh have had rather a rocky relationship with Karzai, which was exacerbated at times by their popularity among the internationals and the fact that Karzai was not at liberty to replace them. Their position may have been further weakened by Karzai’s recent overtures to Pakistan. It might just have been his chance.

The international backers of the Karzai government have probably been taken by surprise, at least by the timing. The public nature of the resignation and the fact that it has been confirmed by all sides however makes it very difficult to overturn and it is unlikely that the US and its allies will spend political capital on seeking the reinstatement of the two officials, even if they would like to. Instead they will probably accept the acting heads as people they know and whom they can work with.

And anyway, it has become a pattern now. Who needs Ministers when their deputies (or their voted-off successors) can act in their place.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape