The South Asia Channel

Dismiss and shake up

Hours before flying off to Tehran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit on Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai dismissed the country’s intelligence chief and indicated that a slate of three nominees would be submitted soon for parliamentary approval to fill three key vacant security portfolios – defense, interior, and now, intelligence (National Directorate for Security). ...

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

Hours before flying off to Tehran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit on Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai dismissed the country’s intelligence chief and indicated that a slate of three nominees would be submitted soon for parliamentary approval to fill three key vacant security portfolios – defense, interior, and now, intelligence (National Directorate for Security).

A statement released earlier in the day by the President’s press office confirmed rumors that NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil had been removed. It did not specify any reasons for the dismissal. At a special meeting, Karzai thanked Nabil for his accomplishments and pledged to appoint him as ambassador soon.

The statement also stressed that the head of NDS shall not hold the position longer than two years.

Nabil was put in charge of NDS almost two years ago when his predecessor, Amrullah Saleh, and then-minister of interior Hanif Atmar, resigned as part of a politically-motivated shakeup.

Former defense minister, Rahim Wardak, and interior minister, Bismillah Mohammadi, received a no-confidence vote at the Afghan Lower House of Parliament three weeks ago, caused by what parliamentarians termed "security lapses" and outrage at reports of Pakistani cross-border shelling that killed scores and displaced thousands in Kunar province.

However, in addition to Afghan frustration vis-à-vis the shelling incidents, political motivations may also have played a role in the abrupt rejection of the two key ministers.

It is expected that Mohammadi, who is respected by many within army and police ranks for his tenacity and sense of duty, but faces opposition from political foes, will be nominated for the defense portfolio. Many see his re-nomination as a way for Karzai to maintain a semblance of ethnic equity, however, his approval by a temperamental House is not guaranteed.

The slot for the Ministry of Interior is expected to go to Mojtaba Patang, who is now in charge of the Afghan Protection Police Force (APPF), while current Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs, Assadullah Khaled, who is also responsible for security in the South and is seen as a member of the president’s inner-circle, is slated to head the NDS.

Nabil’s unexpected dismissal is thought by some analysts to be tied to the recent surge in green-on-blue attacks that have rattled nerves in Washington and Kabul.

The former head of NDS is also known to have been at odds with top-level government officials who claim to belong to an offshoot of the Hezb-i-Islami group, whose controversial leader, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, is believed to be in hiding in Pakistan’s tribal belt. He is said to have opposed recent efforts by groups such as the Hezb to take credit for or take control of recent local anti-Taliban uprisings.

This latest shakeup in the country’s most important security institutions is not only a reflection of growing unease about the overall security condition in the country, but may also be part of political realignments at play domestically, as well as a prelude to the gradual NATO/U.S. drawdown by 2015.

Not only will Karzai attend the summit in Tehran and meet Iranian leaders to discuss sources of regional tensions, but he is also scheduled to visit Pakistan soon to raise bilateral concerns over stalled reconciliation efforts with Taliban leaders known to reside in sanctuaries across the border.

Relations between Afghanistan and its two neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, have been strained in recent times, over border skirmishes and allegations of collusion with Taliban and other extremist groups.

Political pundits reacting in Kabul’s media consider the shakeups to be politically-motivated, while others attribute them to leadership disarray or even the meddling of neighboring governments.

While rumours circulating about the potential nominees are not confirmed yet, all new names will have to put forward for approval before the Lower House.

Official sources indicate that new appointments are also expected for the ministry of Finance, whose minister is fighting corruption allegations, the directorate in charge of local governance (provincial and district-level appointments), the head of the all-important Independent Election Commission and the Attorney General’s Office among others.

One area, almost out-of-sight, where key nominations are overdue, is the judiciary, where two senior members of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice, need to be replaced. As a constitutionally set appointment, the term limits for the departing justices have not been respected. The judiciary represents an independent branch that can, and ought to, help promote rule-of-law and good governance, and play an effective check-and-balance role. 

Each new appointment will be telling of the aims and trends developing over the next two years as Afghanistan deals with the NATO end-of-mission objectives, the security transition, holding credible presidential elections, and efforts to prevent an economic collapse.

These dynamics are at play at a time when the Taliban are resorting to more violence, while some of their external advocates toy with the notion of immediate negotiations leading to a political deal. Meanwhile, Karzai, mindful of his legacy and future prospects, seems to be setting the course during the last leg of his last term toward security, political and economic transitions that will not only assure stronger political predictability and avoid a security vacuum, but also allow him to shape the post-2014 outcome to the extent possible.

Omar Samad is a Senior Afghanistan Expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington DC, and the former Afghan Ambassador to France and Canada. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the USIP.

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