September 17, 2012

Unpacking Afghanistan’s Ministerial Shake-up: Karzai’s Next Move

On August 4th the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament dismissed the Afghan Defense and Interior ministers, Abdul Rahim Wardak and Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, following successive no-confidence votes in the prosecution of their duties.  In a decree issued last week, President Karzai formalized his nominees for the positions of Defense and Interior minister as well as replaced his national intelligence chief, Rahmatullah Nabil.  The President nominated Ghulam Mujtaba Patang, the Deputy Interior minister, to the post of Interior minister.  He chose a close Karzai affiliate, Asadullah Khalid, the current Minister of Tribal and Border Affairs, to replace the National Directorate of Security (NDS) chief.  In a controversial and blatantly political move, Karzai selected the ousted Mohammadi to replace General Wardak as Minister of Defense. 
It remains uncertain whether all of his nominees will be formally confirmed by the legislature in the coming days. However, Parliamentary lawmakers and political pundits have speculated that the reshuffle represents a political compromise designed to consolidate the President’s power ahead of the upcoming elections, to maintain factional support from key Tajik powerbrokers, and to keep control over the security apparatus of the state (Afghan MPs slam president’s selection of ministers’ Afghan Islamic Press, 4 September 2012.).
A closer examination of each of Karzai’s nominees illustrates the President’s overall calculus to set conditions for the distribution of power post-2014, particularly among the three crucial security ministries.  Mohammadi’s appointment as Minister of Defense reveals the alliance between Karzai and First Vice President Marshall Fahim, reinvigorated in 2009, is alive and well.  Fahim is Mohammadi’s principal patron and if installed, Mohammadi would maintain Tajik control over the Afghan National Army and Air Force. His appointment would also serve to keep Karzai’s political opposition fragmented ahead of the elections by co-opting pivotal Jamiat members.  Karzai is well aware that the empowerment of Fahim’s network alienates other Tajiks, and this recognition formed the basis for his renewal of the alliance ahead of the last presidential election.  Karzai’s elevation of Patang and Khalid may help to counterbalance the influence the President has extended to Fahim via Mohammadi, while further entrenching his own personal influence within the intelligence ministry in the latter case. With the exodus of foreign troops scheduled for 2014, control of the NDS through a powerful political proxy such as Khalid may facilitate a kind of ‘soft power’ strategy to contend with the influence of the Taliban and other opposition groups over the long-term.  Such a strategy would mitigate the risk inherent to Karzai in relinquishing the armed forces to Jamiat. 

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