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You're reading: Afghan parliament votes to remove key ministers

 

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan parliament passed votes of no confidence Saturday to remove the country's defense and interior ministers, a move that threatens to throw the country's security apparatus into confusion as foreign forces withdraw.

The vote demanded the dismissal of two of
President Hamid Karzai’s key security lieutenants: Defense Minister
Abdul Rahim Wardak, one of the top Afghan officials most trusted by
Washington, and Interior Minister Bismullah Mohammadi.

Legislators
faulted the two for what they view as the government’s weak response to
cross-border attacks from Pakistan that they blamed on that country’s
military. The parliamentarians also asked the ministers about
allegations of corruption within their ministries and alleged security
lapses that led to recent assassinations of top officials.

The
parliament then passed a measure to remove Wardak by a vote of 146 to
72. A separate vote of no confidence on Mohammadi passed 126 to 90. Both
measures need 124 votes to pass.

“Both ministers are disqualified
from their positions and we request His Excellency President Karzai to
introduce new ministers for these positions as soon as possible,” Abdul
Raouf Abrahimi, speaker of the lower house of parliament, said after the
vote.

It is unclear if the two will immediately leave their
posts. Parliament occasionally flexes its muscle to thwart Karzai’s
policies or appointments, but the constitution places most power in the
president’s hands.

Karzai’s office issued a three-sentence
statement acknowledging that Article 92 of the Afghan constitution gives
the parliament the authority to disqualify ministers. Karzai’s
statement did not express any support or regret for the no confidence
votes, saying only that the president would “make decisions about the
disqualified ministers” after he meets with his national security team
on Sunday.

In past no-confidence votes, Karzai has simply kept
other ministers in their jobs in an acting capacity and dragged out the
process of nominating replacements.

Among the criticisms of the
two ministers was the government’s tepid response to allegations that
the Pakistani military launched hundreds of shells and rockets into
Afghanistan last month, sometimes hitting homes along frontier areas
where insurgents have staged cross-border attacks.

Karzai has been
careful not to openly blame the Pakistani military for the artillery
barrage, which reportedly hit districts in the eastern provinces of
Nuristan and Kunar. Interior Minister Mohammedi and other top-ranking
administration officials, however, have explicitly blamed Pakistan for
the shelling.

Afghan military analyst Abdul Hadi Khalid, a former
deputy interior minister, said he thinks the dismissal vote was less
about the controversy over the cross-border attacks than a power play by
parliament.

He suspects that the lawmakers were reacting to
citizen allegations that they were a “useless parliament” that could not
make decisions.

“So suddenly, the parliament made a decision to
gain dignity from the nation and show that they can oust top security
ministers,” Khalid said. “These two ministers became the victims of the
weakness of this government.”

Wardak, who studied in the U.S. and
speaks English fluently, has been long backed by Washington and the NATO
military coalition. He has been defense minister since late 2004, and
was deputy defense minister before that. In the 1980s, he was a
well-known leader of mujahideen fighting against the Soviet and Afghan
communists.

Wardak has overseen massive growth of the army — now
185,125-strong. In recent years, tens of thousands of soldiers have been
recruited, given literacy and military training and sent to fight
alongside foreign forces.

The votes of no confidence come at a
critical time in the war when Afghan police and soldiers are
increasingly taking responsibility from exiting international troops,
who are scheduled to leave Afghanistan or move into support roles by the
end of 2014.

Afghan forces now take lead in areas of the country that are home to 75 percent of the population.

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