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The government deckchairs need re-arranging…

August 30, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: Some key reshuffles look likely within the Afghan government.  Karzai’s approach at Defence, Interior and intelligence looks self-serving, with question marks over the likely (not so) new candidates.

not an iceberg in sight…

Following the removal – at the request of Parliament – of Afghanistan’s Defence Minister Wardak and Interior Minister, Bismillah, come snippets of information regarding replacements and even suggestions of a wider series of reshuffles.  It seems that Karzai might reintroduce Bismillah as the Defence Minister to replace Wardak.  A former northern Afghan police chief, Patang, might become the Interior Minister.  It also seems that the head of the National Directorate of Security (the NDS – the Afghan government’s intelligence organisation), Rahtamullah Nabil, might be replaced by Assadullah Khaled.

“Two senior Afghan officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, told AP that Assadullah Khalid, the minister of tribal and border affairs, would replace Rahtamullah Nabil as the head of the National Directorate of Security — the country’s main spy agency. Khalid, a former governor of two provinces, has been criticized for alleged human rights violations and could be a controversial pick.

A statement from Karzai’s office Wednesday said Nabil would step down because he had finished his two-year term. It did not name a replacement.

Karzai also plans to name Bismullah Khan Mohammadi, who was ousted from his post as interior minister earlier this month by parliament, as defense minister, and Mushtaba Patang, an ex-police chief in the country’s north, as the new interior minister, according to Abdul Qadir Qalatwal, a lawmaker from Zabul province.

Analysis and Outlook

Karzai seems often to prefer rewarding or punishing people with appointments, rather than trying to rally capable and effective people to the flag and stressing continuity.   These sorts of reshuffles, replacements and manoeuvres can drag on, particularly as there seem to be some mixed and not particularly encouraging signals from the president.  Proposing Bismillah as Defence Minister when he has just been removed from the Interior Ministry at the behest of Parliament looks to verge on childishness and it is difficult to see Parliament rolling over and accepting this (not without demanding other concessions).   On Patang, little appears to be known, and I sense that might be the point – someone without much profile that Karzai can control without too much difficulty.  I see from the Afghan biogs website (which had been hastily updated yesterday!) that one view is:

“Patang does not have the sort of deep political or ethnic power base that ministers often possess, is seen as a competent, long-serving police official and someone whom President Karzai can control. In an interview on 20120829, Patang seemed certain he had been nominated for the post of interior minister. “I am almost sure that I am proposed by the president,” he said. “It will be done in a week.” Currently, he is a deputy minister in charge of the Afghan Public Protection Force, a government agency that took over most private security jobs from private companies earlier this year under a decree by Mr. Karzai.(201200829) If this decision has been made by the president, this will be the first time a professional police officer has been appointed at the ministry of interior for 30 years.

The NDS slot is a prized one and looks to have been gifted to a loyal Karzai-ite, Assadullah Khaled.  Khaled is a controversial figure, with many question marks overr human rights issues.

I did some research on him last year – interestingly I noted then that he was interested in the NDS slot…

  • Born in 1969, Asadullah Khaled is an ethnic Pushtun from Nawa district in Ghazni province. He completed his primary education at Mahmood Tarzai High School in Kabul and completed intermediate school at Etihad High School in Pakistan in 1986. He got admission at the National University of Tajikistan in 1996 and received a Bachelor degree in Political Science at Kabul University in 2001.  He is believed to have fought with the Northern Alliance against the Taleban during the 1990s and to have strong links to Hamid Karzai and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.
  • Since the fall of the Taleban in late 2001, Khaled has filled the role of provincial governor on two occasions (Ghazni from 2001 – 2005 and Kandahar from 2005 – 2008).  He reportedly survived two assassination attempts, in 2007 and 2008, by the Taleban while Kandahar governor.  The first attempt was by a suicide bomber in which Khaled received minor injuries.  He has also been twice appointed Minister for Border and Tribal Affairs between 2008 and 2009 and now again from 28 June 2010.  He has a reputation for being a persuasive and articulate speaker.  In December 2007, the US government organised a trip for Khaled to NATO headquarters in Brussels and to Berlin in order to lobby for more assistance and funding for more assistance with security and development from European nations.
  • Khaled comes to the position of Minister from a very controversial background, largely (but not entirely) acquired during his tenure as Kandahar provincial governor, where there were strong, serious and public allegations of his corruption, links to narcotics trafficking and, more problematically, human rights abuses.  The Kandahar-related allegations began to surface in 2006 and highlighted the existence of a [rivate militia force of several dozen fighters, known as “Brigade 888”, loyal to, and controlled directly by, Khaled himself, who were reportedly regularly involved in torture of detainees at locations inside the Governor’s palace.[1]  International calls for his removal began in mid-2008.  There were also allegations that he had been involved in corruption and human rights abuses while governor of Ghazni province.
  • When Khaled was finally removed (he was replaced by Rahmatullah Raufi as the Governor of Kandahar Province in August 2008), he was not punished or investigated by the Afghan authorities, but instead appointed Minister of Border and Tribal Areas and, although taken away from his governor’s post, Khaled is alleged to have continued his criminal behaviour.  Kabul Press accuses him of a variety of offences. Quoting unnamed Afghan government sources, Kabul Press (May 3, 2009) alleges that Asadullah Khalid “is involved in widespread misuse and abuse of government funds…maintaining old connections and activities of misappropriation, drug production, and drug smuggling.”
  • The allegations of misconduct followed him to his new position.  Although appointed by President Karzai to the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs in August 2008, Parliament refused to ratify this in February 2009, where he gained only 91 out of the necessary 97 votes to endorse his appointment.  An Afghan Parliamentary legislative newsletter noted that:

“Asadullah Khaled, faced tough questions from MPs on his past governorship of Kandahar. Honorable Farooq Meranai (Nangahar) accused the governor of taking ten thousand Afghanis from each vehicle passing through the province. Honorable Kahled Pashtun (Kandahar) also criticized Mr. Khaled, saying, “The people of Kandahar complained about administrative and moral corruption during the time Asadullah Khaled was governor of Kandahar.”

  • His profile as Minister is now somewhat less controversial.  In September 2010 he accompanied President Karzai on a two-day state visit to Pakistan and he is rumoured to be interested in becoming head of the NDS, the Afghan government’s intelligence agency.  After some setbacks, his star still appears to be in the ascendancy, most likely due to his close ties with the Karzai family.  Tolo TV reported in April 2011 that his name was being mentioned in the context of the Ministry of the Interior.

In the past Karzai has recirculated provincial governors and ministers who he would like to keep but who have proved too problematic for the international community (corruption, human rights abuses, incompetence…).  But no one ever really gets sacked, they just get given a different job generally of an equivalent grade – another province to govern or an ambassadorial post.  We need to wait and see how this plays out – and these things rarely happen quickly and cleanly.  But the approach Karzai appears to be taking – working around Parliament and maintaining loyal supporters in key positions – is not an ideal way of running a country, particularly when the clock is ticking on some pretty important issues.  I would recommend that the President spends more time travelling his country attempting to rally and energise the entire population – ethnic groups, civil society, parliament, his own government.  He needs to get them all to understand that this is serious – the international support is winding down and this is the time for Afghanistan to take responsibility for itself and make a go of things on its own.

metaphor alert…metaphor alert…

Is it fair to say that Karzai is probably rearranging the deckchairs on the Titantic when he should be driving everyone down into the hold to stop the water coming in…?


[1] Smith, G. ‘House of pain: Canada’s connection with Kandahar’s ruthless palace guard’, Globe and Mail, 10 Apr. 2010, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/house-of-pain-canadas-connection-with-kandahars-ruthless-palace-guard/article1529596/

[2] Hazar, K and Maier, R, ‘Asadullah Khalid’s Mafia’, Kabul Press, 3 May 2009, http://kabulpress.org/my/spip.php?article3417

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2012 1:46 pm

    Based on my limited experience with a local government-run institution in a province, not Kabul, look for a guy two levels below the nominal leader/chief executive to see who gets the real work done. The top guy is for show and public events.

    • August 30, 2012 1:50 pm

      Agreed! Although sometimes they don’t even bother with the guy two levels below…

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