The South Asia Channel

A first look at Karzai’s second choices

With surprising speed, President Karzai has submitted the second set of his ministerial candidates to the Afghan parliament for approval. Contrary to what had been expected by some in Kabul, the President refrained from re-introducing some of the candidates that were rejected by the Wolesi Jirga on January 2. That still can change, though, if ...

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

With surprising speed, President Karzai has submitted the second set of his ministerial candidates to the Afghan parliament for approval. Contrary to what had been expected by some in Kabul, the President refrained from re-introducing some of the candidates that were rejected by the Wolesi Jirga on January 2.

That still can change, though, if the Ministry of Water and Power vacancy is filled again by incumbent Ismail Khan. That cannot be fully discarded due to indications that the Herati was amongst four rejected candidates the President was considering to stick with.

There are four features that spring into the eye with this new list.

With surprising speed, President Karzai has submitted the second set of his ministerial candidates to the Afghan parliament for approval. Contrary to what had been expected by some in Kabul, the President refrained from re-introducing some of the candidates that were rejected by the Wolesi Jirga on January 2.

That still can change, though, if the Ministry of Water and Power vacancy is filled again by incumbent Ismail Khan. That cannot be fully discarded due to indications that the Herati was amongst four rejected candidates the President was considering to stick with.

There are four features that spring into the eye with this new list.

The most positive one first: The list now includes three female candidates — in contrast to only one in the first one. The lobbying of prominent women’s rights activists — who also met the President directly — seems to have worked out. With Amena Afzali, there is a former minister (she already served as Minister for Youth affairs under Karzai, a short-lived portfolio though) who comes from an influential Herati family that became prominent in the anti-Soviet resistance. Her husband was killed by the Soviets. The Women’s Affairs Minister candidate, Palwasha Hassan, a co-founder of the Afghan Women’s Network, is relatively well-known activist from this field. Soraya Dalil, for Public Health, has a background of working with NGOs and UN agencies active in this field. In those cases, expertise seems to have been used as the criteria.

Secondly, it looks as if Hezb-e Islami and Jamiat-e Islami (the latter party closer to the opposition than to the Karzai camp) are more prominently present.

Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal (for Economy, a key post) is the head of the registered wing of Hezb-e Islami another wing of which — led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — is still involved in the armed insurgency. Although Arghandiwal’s group has distanced itself from Hekmatyar, many Afghans do not trust these statements. While there already is a number of ministers and other influential figures in the President’s inner circle who previously have been Hezb members, Arghandiwal is the first official leader of this party who has been nominated to become a minister. (He also had served as Minister of Finance in one of the pre-1992 mujahedin governments-in-exile.) Arsala Jamal, nominee for Tribal Affairs and former governor of Khost, also has been a Hezb member in the past.

With Eng. Rahim (Refugee Affairs), who was Minister for Communcation in the first post-2001 cabinet and is a confidant of former President Prof. Rabbani, and Zarar Moqbel, for counter-narcotics, Jamiat-e Islami is also prominently represented. Like Hezb, however, the party is split into various parallel tendencies that sometimes cooperate and sometimes join different political camps.

In contrast, two warlord-led parties — Jombesh and Hezb-e Wahdat (Mohaqqeq) — that had supported Karzai during the election campaign apparently have lost the strong presence they had in the first cabinet list.

Jombesh’s reaction was contradictory, though. According to the New York Times,  Jombesh deputy head Seyyed Nurullah Sadat said that the party was ‘satisfied with the new list and hoped that it would be approved. "All the tribes living in Afghanistan can see their presence in this list and we are happy with the ethnic distribution of posts." Reuters, though, quoted MP Sa’i who is a member of the party as saying: ‘"Karzai deceived us […]. We collected 700,000 votes for him and in return he promised us several cabinet posts."

Thirdly, with the nominee for the Foreign Ministry, Dr Zalmay Rassul, the chairman of the National Security Council, the President presented an experienced politician who cooperates well with the international community. On the other hand, Moqbel’s nomination will raise some eyebrows. He wasn’t considered to be an effective Interior Minister till 2006 during the initial phase of MoI and police reform and there were strong rumours about irregularities in the ministry. Several donor countries were everything but unhappy when he departed. Nominee Jamal, during his governorship in Khost, enjoyed very close relations with the local US PRT that promoted the province to become a prime example for development — only with the security situation deteriorating fast in 2008/09. After his departure, accusations of corruption increased. Jamal later returned from abroad to work in Karzai’s election campaign — as did Moqbel.

(The Guardian in London quotes ‘a British former law and order official who worked in Afghanistan during Moqbel’s time at the interior ministry’ calling his nomination as the country’s top anti-drugs official ‘an absolute travesty… Under his rule the [ministry] became a byword for corruption and incompetence, and the idea that Karzai now thinks it’s appropriate that he would take the lead at the ministry of counter-narcotics is just ridiculous’.)

Fourth, many of the nominees are rather unknown entities but — according to some MPs — professionally qualified. That they are not well known does not necessarily mean that they are bad choices as some other MPs assume. (One was quoted as snidely saying that Karzai must have ‘picked them up from the street’.) It even answers to the often-heard opinion that ‘there must be qualified people’ to be included in the cabinet, instead of Karzai ‘rotating the same group of ministers’ all the time. But is had to be assumed that no candidate will have entered on the list without some political protection and that they, in a society dominated by patronage, will have difficulties in acting consistently independent and professional. (Possibly, there are Jombesh and Wahdat nominees amongst these lesser known candidates.)

All in all, the swiftness with which the new list was introduced, the fact that many nominees are unknown entities and the strange recent practice of a very lukewarm lobby on behalf of candidates (as if it wasn’t a big loss if they were rejected), seems to suggest that Karzai sees the incoming cabinet as serving only in the short-term. Possibly, he is aiming at securing a majority in the new parliament to which he could present his real choices. The way the presidential elections were conducted and with ‘Afghanisation’ of the ECC looming, this might be a realistic calculation. In the meantime, Karzai uses a salami tactics vis-à-vis the international community, presenting some professional technocrats and women while also including highly controversial personalities.

Thomas Ruttig is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, where this was originally published. He speaks Dari and Pashtu.

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