Thursday, 15 January 2015

Ghani Nominates Cabinet: The End of a Deadlock?

After three month of intense negotiations, the national unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah nominated its cabinet on Monday. The delay was caused by Ghani’s attempt to avoid assignment based on patronage networks, but instead based on meritocracy or intellectual talent in the field of responsibility. A further result of his approach is that a majority of the candidates are hardly known to the wider public. Critique is thus growing as to whether the appointed candidates have enough expertise and experience to rule the country and ensure lasting stability and security in the conflict-ridden country.

Ethnically, the cabinet is very diverse with Pashtuns comprising the largest number of representatives (36%) followed by Tajiks (28%), Hazaras (20%), Uzbeks (12%), and Turkmens (4%). Three women are nominated for ministerial posts in the fields of women’s affairs, culture and higher education. Before commencing their work, however, all ministries will need to be approved by parliament. The following list comprises of short biographies of those individuals nominated for the ministries of defense, interior, foreign affairs, finance as well as the Head of National Directorate of Security.

Minstry of Defense – Lieutenant General Sher Mohammad Karimi

Sher Mohammad Karimi is a Pashtun, born in Khost province. He currently serves as the Afghan Army Chief of Staff after he was employed as a director of the ministry of defense during Dr. Mohammad Najibullah’s government. He received training and education in Afghanistan, the UK, the US, Egypt and India. Karimi worked closely with President Ghani during the transferring of responsibility for security from NATO-forces to Afghan troops.

Ministry of Interior – Nur ul-Haq Ulumi

Nur ul-Haq Ulumi is a Pashtun from the Barakzai tribe, born in Kandhahar province. During the Afghan civil war, he served in the Afghan army as Lieutenant General. After the fall of the Taliban, he chaired the Defense Committee as a member of parliament. He is seen as endorsed by Abdullah.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Salahuddin Rabbani

Salahuddin Rabbani is a Tajik from Badakhshan province. He served as a diplomat for Afghanistan and had been ambassador to Turkey since 2011. In early 2012, he was formally appointed chair of the Afghan High Peace Council, a body of the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program that leads negotiations with elements of the Taliban. Salahuddin Rabbani is the son of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011. He is known as a supporter of Abdullah.

Ministry of Finance – Ghulam Jilani Popal

Ghulam Jilani Popal is a Pashtun from Kabul. He studied law and was appointed as the first director general of the Independent Directorate Local Governance in Afghanistan. Popal is known for his strong support of former President Harmid Karzai, who appointed him as a governance advisor. Between 2003 and 2005, he served as Deputy Minister for Customs and Revenue under the Afghan Ministry of Finance. He campaigned for Ghani and is now a close ally of the new President.

Head of National Directorate of Security – Rahmatullah Nabil Nabil

Rahmatullah Nabil Nabil is a Pashtun. He is the current acting director of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security. He studied in Pakistan and worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He is close to Ghani.


Tolo News posted an interesting article on Tuesday, 13.01.2015, raising the question whether a primacy of power sharing prevented structural reform in cabinet.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

First Lady Leads Aid Distributions

Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, supports families in Afghanistan, who live in remote areas inaccessible for international aid agencies due to geography, climate or infrastructure. Her recent efforts have been financially supported by the government of Saudi Arabia. According to Ghani, the aid distribution constituted an important example of the government’s ability to serve its people beyond the realm of politics.

Click here to read a recent article on the issue in the Los Angeles Times.

Unlike her predecessors, Rula Ghani aims at enhancing her public image and gaining a stronger role in Afghanistan. She uses her position to fight for women’s empowerment: “My aim is not to revolutionise the situation but to improve the situation for women within the existing structures [...] I am here to help women establish their own importance within the family.“ Due to her Lebanese, Christinian-Maronite identity, some critical voices accuse the First Lady of being out of touch with Afghanistan’s predominantly Muslim community. However, she shrugs off her critics and continues to engage with the humanitarian situation in the country.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Surrender rather than Retreat

Channel 4 released an interesting documentary on the dismantlement of the largest British military camp since World War II – “The Billion-Pound Base: Dismantling Camp Bastion”. It illustrates not only the obscene sums of money spent on the British mission in Afghanistan, but also the absurdity of the handover of responsibility to the Afghans. In an attempt to avoid the unintentional equipping of the Taliban and other militias with vital weapons, construction workers responsible for the dismantlement of Camp Bastion received the order to destroy everything of value. The distrust and fear remaining after the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan shows that it is not a sign of victory but rather one of surrender.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Afghanistan’s Failed Transformation

For a GLOOMY perspective on Afghanistan read this piece from someone who thinks US troops should stay even longer. Surely it is past time to let Afghanistan stand on its own two feet? Do they really still need more Western meddling?

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Hooray for Ashraf

The Presidential inauguration is with us in a day or two. Karzai is going around trying to be independent by saying how much better off Afghanistan would be if the USA and Pakistan simply did not exist.

But the point is that Ashraf Ghani, the new President, is such an intellect. He is one of the world's great thinkers. He's given to bouts of anger. But what a star. Can we but hope he may be Afghanistan's redeemer. We certainly need some better way. Ashraf is the future whereas Abdullah Abdullah is the representative of the warlords of the past.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Afghan Election Chief Resigns

IEC Chief Election Coordinator - Zia Al Haq Amerkhel

What was initially perceived as a remarkable achievement of democracy, the Afghan elections have since been on a downward spiral threatening the stability of Afghanistan. Following the elections on 5th April, Dr Abdullah secured 45% of the votes and Dr Ashraf Ghani gaining 31%. Having failed to secure an overall majority of 51%, a runoff was decided. The runoff was held on 14th June 2014 and was marred by complaints. On Election Day more than 2000 complaints were recorded by the Independent Elections Complaints Commission (IECC). 

Preliminary reports showed that Ghani was leading by 1.4 million votes. According to his supporters this was expected, asserting that in the first round the candidacy of other Pashtuns figures had divided Ghani’s vote. As early reports of Ghani’s victory quickly spread across the country, Abdullah convened a press conference, in which chief coordinator of the Afghan electoral process Zia Al-Haq Amerkhel was accused of fraud in favour of Ghani, thus casting doubt on the entirety of the election process. Unless the current government took action, Abdullah threatened to contest the results published by the Independent Elections Commission (IEC).

Meanwhile, protests erupted throughout Kabul and the Northern provinces under the red banner of “Movement against Fraud”.  Abdullah called on supporters to stage peaceful rallies. Protestors held signs condemning the IEC and many camped outside Parliament with some members of Parliament even joining in. Addressing the protestors, former Director of Intelligence Amarullah Saleh declared “we must remain peaceful in our path to justice if we want to maintain our integrity”.

Questions were raised as to how Abdullah was able to obtain such confidential information before the release of any results. It is widely known that Abdullah has little confidence in the IEC and his call for peaceful protests would have been validated if it was done so after the election results were announced. Ghani’s supporters further claim that Abdullah’s position is untenable as he would declare results in his favour not to be fraudulent, while he would automatically invalidate any result favouring Ashraf Ghani.

 Ghani supporters emphasis that Abdullah plays the role of a bad loser because if the vote is in his favour there is no discrepancy involved but if the vote is against him he has a tendency to whine and accuse others of fraud. On June 20th, the UN prevented the IEC from broadcasting the election results for fear of igniting further unrest in the country given the current political climate in the country.

Abdullah’s team also released audio tapes which purportedly include recordings of Amerkhel asking several IEC officials in different provinces to "take sheep to the mountains, stuff them and bring them back." Amerkhel is also accused of ordering other IEC officials in the Faryab province to replace Tajik and Hazara elections staff with Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Ismailis, tribes traditionally more supportive of Ghani’s candidacy. With more and more evidence mounting against him, Amerkhel was stopped by Kabul police on Election Day transporting dozens of boxes filled with ballot papers to an unknown location without police escort. 

Amerkhel resigned as chief election coordinator despite denying that the voice heard on the audio tapes was his. He declared “I resigned for the sake of national unity and to bring confidence back to the Election Commission. I take pride in resigning at this critical moment of history”. Individuals from Amerkhel’s inner circle have confirmed that the voice on the recordings was indeed that of Amerkhel, casting even more doubt and suspicion. 

In such fast-paced and hectic developments, it is surprising to see President Karzai has remained overall very passive and has failed to comment on the current situation. President Karzai’s silence looks like an attempt to distance himself from the growing scandal and as a way of postponing the handing over of power. Karzai has been subject to such accusations in the past. Many of Ghani’s Pashtun supporters have hinted at a possible Tajik conspiracy to disturb the course of the elections. 

The Afghan people’s faith in the electoral system seems to have been shaken, the reputation of the Election Commission tarnished and the future of the country in tatters. After 13 years of trying to install democracy, Afghanistan continues to remain deeply divided on ethnic lines. Despite failing to defeat the Taliban, the US will start to withdraw from Afghanistan leaving 9,800 troops after 2014, that number will halve in 2015 and by 2016 only a vestigial force will remain to protect the embassy. With the heavy cost of human lives, a mediocre election and allegations of corruption, all hopes for democracy, meritocracy and national unity seems lost.