Political Landscape

Winnowing the Cabinet List: MPs vote, nine of 27 ministers endorsed


WJ cabinet vote MPs voted to endorse or reject the candidate ministers put forward by the National Unity Government. 9 got the vote. 10 failed. Photo: Pajhwok News Agency.

WJ cabinet vote MPs voted to endorse or reject the candidate ministers put forward by the National Unity Government. 9 got the vote. 10 failed. Photo: Pajhwok News Agency.

Afghanistan finally has some ministers – nine men; yes, all those who succeeded in getting the lower house’s endorsement were male. Today (26 January 2015), the Wolesi Jirga rejected ten other candidates, while eight other prospective ministers had already fallen by the wayside (because of having a second passport, a criminal conviction, not having a graduation certificate or because they had resigned). It means Afghanistan still only has a third of a cabinet at the start of one of its most crucial years. MPs said they were now going off for their 45-day winter break. However, the presidential spokesman told AAN the executive was looking for legal ways to keep the MPs in Kabul or call them back early, in order to get on with the business of forming a government. Kate Clark reports, with input from Ehsan Qaane, Obaid Ali and Qayoom Suroush.

Today, MPs got to vote on eighteen of the 27 candidates originally put forward for ministers and minister-equivalent positions (director of NDS and head of the central bank). Nine candidates presented by the leaders of the national unity government received a vote of confidence; ten fell through.

This is how the voting went:

(AA and AG refers to whether the candidate had been put forward by Dr Abdullah or Dr Ghani. The full biographies of the initial cabinet list can be read here. Biographies of the two newly introduced candidates, Hakimi and Salahi, can be read at the end of this dispatch.)

Approved candidates:

1) Rahmatullah Nabil, NDS (intelligence service) (AG) 154 (56 rejected, 22 blank, 9 invalid)

An engineer who worked in NGOs and UNHCR pre-2002, then Palace security, brought in by Engineer Ibrahim Spinzada, seen as close to former president Karzai, his second term as NDS director, a Pashtun from Wardak

2) Nur ul-Haq Ulumi, Interior (AA) 131 (90 rejected, 15 blank, 6 invalid)

Professional officer, pre-war training, Barakzai Pashtun from Kandahar, key Parcham leader, governor-general of Kandahar under President Najibullah, refugee in Netherlands, returned in 2002, significant anti-Karzai Kandahari voice, key Abdullah ally, 2005 MP, resigned as head of his United National Party, surrendered Dutch passport

3) Salahuddin Rabbani, Foreign Affairs (AA) 151 (75 rejected, 12 blank, 9 invalid)

Son of former president and leader of Jamiat, the late Burhanuddin Rabbani, Tajik from Badakhshan, diplomat, former head of High Peace Council, was acting leader of Jamiat (resigned?), UK passport surrendered

4) Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi, Refugees (AA) 134 (87 rejected, 17 blank, 5 invalid)

Shia Sayed from Balkh, religious scholar, founder of one of small jihadi parties which formed Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami in 1989, MP 2005, 2010, resigned to run as vice president to Gul Agha Sherzai in 2014 presidential elections

5) Eklil Hakimi, Finance (AG) 128 (86 rejected, 21 blank, 8 invalid)

Former ambassador to US, Japan and China, worked in government at end of Najib era, sought refuge in the US during the civil war where he worked in private sector.

6) Firuzuddin Firuz, Public Health (AA) 170 (54 rejected, 12 blank, 4 invalid)

Medical doctor from Panjshir, Tajik, worked as deputy at the ministry and World Bank advisor at the Iraqi health ministry

7) Nasir Durrani, Rural Development (AA) 145 (71 rejected, 19 blank, 5 invalid)

Hezb-e Islami, Pashtun from Logar, MA in development, former deputy minister of mines

8) Daud Shah Saba, Mines (AG) 146 (74 rejected, 12 blank, 10 invalid)

Graduate in geology, former governor of Herat, has worked in international development, national resources and environmental management, private sector and government, was refugee in Canada, Popalzai Pashtun

9) Faiz Muhammad Usmani, Haj and Religious Endowments (AG) 160 (61 rejected, 17 blank, 5 invalid)

Turkman from Kunduz, degree in Islamic education, lecturer, presenter of a religious television programme

Rejected candidates:

10) Sher Muhammad Karimi, Defence (AG) 96 (112 rejected, 26 blank, 7 invalid)

Professional officer, pre-war training, currently chief of the army staff, Pashtun (Sayed) from Khost

11) Sardar Muhammad Rahmanoghli, Economy (AA) 104 (103 rejected, 27 blank, 9 invalid)

Uzbek from a well-known Faryab family, worked in media, MP in 2005 parliament

12) Ghulam Abbas Basir, Public Works (AG) 85 (131 rejected, 19 blank, 8 invalid)

Hazara from Ghazni, educated in sharia from Qom and international law from India, worked in mid-ranking positions in government, former chief of staff to former Second Vice President and Hezb-e Wahdat leader, Abdul Karim Khalili

13) Sardar Muhammad Rahimi, Commerce (AA) 111 (102 rejected, 20 blank, 9 invalid)

Hazara from Uruzgan, university lecturer, 2014 Election Abdullah spokesman, close to Current deputy CEO and leader of one of the Hezb-e Wahdat splits, Muhammad Muhaqeq,

14) Barna Karimi, Telecommunications (AG) 115 (97 rejected, 26 blank, 5 invalid)

Hazara from Kabul, MA in Business Administration, former deputy chief of staff for Karzai, former ambassador to Canada

15) Abdul Rahman Salahi, Energy and Water (AA) 106 (109 rejected, 24 blank, 4 invalid)

Tajik from Herat, businessman with experience in (PDPA-era) ministry of public works and private sector construction, one of the founders of the Herat Council of Professionals, strong critic of his predecessor, Ismail Khan

16) Faizullah Zaki, Transport (AG) 81 (133 rejected, 25 blank, 4 invalid)

Uzbek from Jawzjan deputy leader of Jombesh, prominent reformer within the party, 2005 MP, ally of First Vice President General Dostum

17) Khatira Afghan, Higher Education (AG) 71 (146 rejected, 21 blank, 3 invalid)

From prominent Wasefi (Alekozai Pashtun) family from Kandahar, mid-ranking staff member of UNICEF in Kabul

18) Muhammad Gul Zalmay Yunusi,  Education (AA) 90 (123 rejected, 21 blank, 9 invalid)

Tajik Jamiat-e Islami activist from Balkh, strongly supported by Governor Atta, 2005 MP

19) Qamaruddin Shinwari, Borders and Tribal Affairs (AG) 102 (112 rejected, 22 blank, 7 invalid)

Pashtun from Nangrahar, educated at madrassas and Sharia faculty, Kabul University, leader of Eastern Council of Tribes, brother of Taleban (pre-2001) attorney-general and deputy minister.

Those who had already fallen out of the race

The eight of those on the original list who never made it to the vote were (more detail by AAN here):

Yaqub Haidari (Agriculture), a Ghani nominee, close to Ahmad Zia Massud, the High Representative for Reform and Governance, from the Shomali, was dropped after it emerged he was wanted in Estonia for large-scale tax evasion and fraud and was on the Interpol wanted list. AAN also understands that, as director of a security company, TacForce, he may have been given the contract in 2013 to build the headquarters of the now defunct Afghanistan Public Protection Force in Kabul and ten provinces when another ex-PDPA official, Jamil Jombesh, was deputy minister in charge of the APPF. Given his record in Estonia, the contract probably merits investigation. However, the Ministry of Interior was unable to let AAN know how the matter stood.

Jailani Popal (Finance) and Mahmud Saiqal (Water and Power) both resigned before they were put to the vote, Popal, he said, for (unspecified) personal reasons and Saiqal to pave the way for a minister from Herat (there had been protests in the province). Both were key players in the election for Ghani and Abdullah, respectively.

All the candidates had been asked to declare they had no second passport. Those who said they did have dual nationality or who failed to respond to parliament were:

Nur ul-Haq Ulumi (Interior) Dutch

Salahuddin Rabbani (Foreign Affairs) British

Ai Sultan Khairi (Information and Culture) Turkish

Sadat Naderi (Social Affairs) British

Shah Zaman Maiwandi (Urban Development) German

Ahmad Sayer Mahjur (Justice) French

Faizullah Kakar (Counter-Narcotics) American

Ulumi, Rabbani, Khairi and Naderi all informed parliament that they were in the process of rescinding their second nationalities. The house accepted the re-introduction of Ulumi and Rabbani, but not Khairi and Naderi, for reasons that are not clear. They might still be voted on. Maiwandi, Mahjur and Kakar seem just to have disappeared out of the running.

Najiba Ayubi (Women’s Affairs) did not present her credentials to the house because she had yet to formally graduate from university. That was rectified by a confirmation letter from the Ministry of Higher Education that said she had graduated on 20 January of 2015 – last Thursday. However, the MPs decided she has to be re-introduced by the president or one of his deputies.

The prospective head of the central bank, Khalil Sediq, came to parliament on 24 January, but left before he could present his credentials. This was the day two women MPs got into a fight over the issue of ministers and second passports and it seems parliament asked him not to present his credentials. He may well have dual Afghan-US nationality.

Ghani and Abdullah’s new choices for Information and Culture and Justice, Bari Jahani and Najibullah Fahim, have formally been introduced to the house, but not yet presented their credentials. They were also not voted on today (see brief biographies at the end of this dispatch). The Speaker said parliament would need four days to review their documents.

So, we have four, possibly six candidates who could be put to the house for a vote soon – if the MPs decided (or are forced) to come back from their winter break. We also have twelve, possibly fourteen, positions that Ghani and Abdullah now need to come up with fresh names for. All ministries that have not yet received a new head will continue to be run by acting ministers, most of them former deputy ministers appointed by President Karzai.

What to make of the vote and the partially-formed cabinet?

This was a difficult vote to read. The ballot itself was secret and, because Afghanistan has no parliamentary parties, it is always difficult to assess who might do well in this fragmented and individualistic house. The candidates’ presentations were poorly attended (not today’s vote, though, which had 243 MPs in attendance), so it seems likely the votes had little to do with their formal bids to be ministers. Most of the presentations, anyway, were fairly weak with a lot of repetitions of stock phrases – fighting corruption, building capacity, have ethnically diverse ministries and so.

The MPs’ questions and answers were also weak. In a different country, one would have expected more probing, for example, of Hakimi’s background in finance, what qualified Zaki for transport or how Usmani thought being a lecturer and TV presenter had prepared him for power at Haj and Awqaf. Ulumi was asked questions on the national army (he will be in charge of police), but not on this past as a general during the Soviet occupation. AAN spotted only one ‘personal’ question: Ulumi was asked, when as MP he had pushed for security forces to be independent, how he could be an independent minister given he led a political party (he said he had resigned from the party). As well as not learning much more about the candidates from these sessions, they also gave little insight into how the MPs might vote.

In the end, ten candidates were rejected and nine endorsed. Five of the ‘winners’ were put forward by Abdullah, four by Ghani – this sounds even and does not seem to reflect a particular preference towards one of other of the two camps in the national unity government by the MPs. Generally, it seems that candidates who were unknown and untested did badly (although Karimi and Salahi, both with suitable experience for running Defence, and Energy and Power failed – and Karimi, at least, gave one of the better presentations). Perhaps then, the bid to have merit-based appointments is working.

On the other hand, the way the candidate ministers were presented also gave no chance to the MPs to say when they thought some of them – although well-educated and well-respected – had just given wrong slots. This was something which was also criticised by many Afghan commentators in the run-up to the Wolesi Jirga’s vote. The fact that some prospective ministers appeared to have been introduced for the ‘wrong’ ministry was also seen as a sign that party, ethnic or tanzim arithmetics again prevailed over professional merit.

Thus far, then, we have a rump cabinet (with four key portfolios filled: interior, foreign, finance and NDS). It has no women (one was rejected and two failed to get to the voting stage), no Uzbeks (two rejected) and no Hazaras (four rejected). As in the Karzai cabinets, Uzbeks and Hazaras struggled to get majority votes from the MPs. From among the smaller ethnic groups, there is only one Turkman and one Shia Sayed minister.

Forming the rest of the cabinet

The fact that Afghanistan only has a third of a cabinet is a concern. Presidential spokesman, Nazifullah Salarzai, though, told AAN, the president was not too worried because the acting ministers were doing well. However, many ministries have been in limbo for the best part of a year during the two-stage elections, post-electoral turmoil and the long wait for a cabinet.

For now, Ghani and Abdullah will have to negotiate a new list of twelve, possibly fourteen, new candidates. The president is legally allowed to ‘recycle’ failed candidates into new positions and offer them up to parliament again. Some camps – Muhaqeq, Khalili (from two Hazara party factions), Dostum (from the mainly Uzbek Jombesh party) – may have trouble finding fresh candidates with the requisite credentials to put forward to the president and CEO. There are plenty of young educated Hazaras and Uzbeks, but getting people with education plus experience is trickier given their communities’ limited access to higher education and, for Hazaras, their lower social status in earlier decades.

As to the urgency of getting on with forming the rest of the cabinet, Salarzai told AAN, “The president is not worried because the ministries have acting ministers and the work is going on as normal, but we are discussing on preparing the new list and introducing it to the house.” He said they were looking at legal ways to get the MPs back early from their winter recess or get them to stay longer before going, so that another batch of candidates could be introduced to parliament and voted on. If not, we are looking at the start of March before the MPs are back and the job of forming a government can resume, almost a year since the first round of the 2014 elections.

Annex:

Biographies of ministers and candidates who were not part of the initial list of 27

Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, Finance (AG), endorsed

Born in 1968 in Kabul, Hakimi attended the elite Istiqlal French High School and obtained a masters (subject not specified) from Kabul Polytechnic, before joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (date unspecified, but from his education dates, it looks likely to have been during the last years of the Najib presidency). His official biography says that, “Due to the worsening situation in Kabul, Hakimi and his family moved to the United States in 1993/1994.” This would be in the middle of the mujahedin civil war.

In the US, Hakimi worked, he has said, in engineering, banking, management and strategic planning and returned in 2002, working as an advisor in the Finance Ministry of Afghanistan (in what is not specified). He was a founding member of the Civil Service and Administrative Reform Commission and, in his own words, “began working to improve the structures of the Afghan government’s administrative and financial institutions.” He is said to have had the backing of Hedayat Amin Arsala, Afghanistan’s pro-King, former foreign and finance and (under Karzai) ‘senior’ minister.

In 2005, Eklil was posted as Afghanistan’s ambassador to China, in 2009 to Japan and, after a stint as deputy minister for foreign affairs in 2010, he went to the US as ambassador in 2011. He was a key player in the negotiation of the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US.

Abdul Rahman Salahi, Energy and Water (AA) rejected in the house

Salahi is a 59 year old businessman who has run a number of construction companies over the last twenty years and who also has a background in government (the PDPA-era Ministry of Public Works – serving in its departments of planning, statistics and on its technical advisory committee). (1) Salahi has a civil engineering masters from Kabul Polytechnic (1980). Although Urban Planning might have been a better fit for his skills-set, his credentials look reasonable for Energy and Water.

Salahi was an energetic campaigner for Dr Abdullah during the election and had been expected to be offered a ministry. However, he was only brought into the list after Mahmud Saiqal (a close Abdullah aide and Jamiat stalwart) resigned as prospective minister. Saiqal said he wanted to pave the way for a Herati to be in the cabinet, in response, presumably to the vociferous complaints of Herati strongman, Ismail Khan. He had lambasted Ghani and Abdullah over the lack of Heratis, in particular, and mujahedin, in general, among the ministers.

Whether Salahi will satisfy Khan’s discontent seems unlikely. He is from Herat, but was a civil servant during the 1980s war and, more importantly, is a co-founder of the (anti-‘warlord’ (2)) Herat council of Professionals (Shura-ye Mutakhasisan-e Herat). He was an outspoken critic of Khan when he was governor, as he was of the man who replaced Khan as governor, Daud Saba (prospective minister of mining).

Another twist to the plot, Salahi takes over Energy and Water from Ismail Khan who was acting minister for a record five years (after parliament refused to endorse him and Karzai did not replace him).

Two new prospective ministers have been introduced to the house, but have not presented their credentials and were not voted on.

Najibullah Aqa Fahim, Justice (AA)

According to his official introduction in parliament, he is the son of Mir Aqa and was born in Kapisa in 1965. With a bachelor on Law and Political Science from Kabul University and a Masters in International Law, he was a lecturer at the university, becoming a member of the ‘academic cadre’ of senior staff in the Law Faculty in 1994/1995. He first secretary at the Afghan consulate in Mashhad, Iran and then administration and finance manager at the Ministry of Labour,  Social Affairs, Disabled and Martyrs. He has served as a/the legal adviser of the Ministry of Interior and a senior adviser with the Ministry of Counter Narcotics. And finally he worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the head of policy development department. He has two academic papers and his master thesis was on the legal situation of Amu Daria (River Oxus).

Abdul Bari Jahani, Culture and Information (AG)

Jahani was born in Kandahar before the war and went to Mir Wais Nika High School and Kabul University (literature, 1973). He worked as a communication officer with the Ministry of Education. After he went to America as a refugee he served with the Voice of America Radio. A poet, and author of more than 20 books, he also wrote the lyrics of the new national anthem. A Kandahari Pashtun replaces an Uzbek.

 

(1) According to his official biography emailed to AAN by the office of the CEO, he is “fluent in Dari and Pashto, and well-versed in English and Russian.” From 1985 to 1993, he worked for the state in the Ministry of Public Works, in planning, statistics (general manager), and on the ministry’s technical advisory board. Since 1995, he has worked in the private sector, with Hewad Reconstruction Service (eventually as executive director), Engineering and Rehabilitation Services (director) and Kondor Construction and Reconstruction Company (his own company)

(2) On the Herati professionals council, read an interview with its head and close friend of Salahi, Rafiq Shahir, here, in which he describes it as non-political org and open to all, except warlords.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape