Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced Sunday that he would accept the parliament’s decision to dismiss Defense Minster Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi. Mr. Karzai asked both men to remain in office until their replacements are appointed.
The parliament issued a vote of no confidence in the security ministers Saturday, blaming the two men for failing to stop cross-border rocket and artillery fire from Pakistan, and political assassinations throughout Afghanistan.
US and NATO forces will likely be watching the change closely, as it takes place while they work to transition security responsibility to Afghan forces ahead of the 2014 deadline. Both men were key players in this process, and Western officials maintained a particularly favorable relationship with Mr. Wardak.
Despite much anger toward the two ministers from many of those in parliament – some of whom expressed frustration that Karzai had even allowed the two men to remain in office until their replacements were selected – the president praised the two men for their “hard work and dedication.”
A statement from Karzai’s office said that the “Afghan government will not only decorate them with highest state medals of honor, but would ask them to continue as experienced and dedicated persons to serve their nation and their country in other capacities within the government.”
Artillery fire from Pakistan has been an ongoing problem for eastern Afghanistan, particularly in Kunar Province. Government officials estimate that at least 3,500 Pakistani rocket and artillery rounds have hit Kunar alone over the past two years.
Officials say that accurate statistics are difficult to maintain due to insecurity in Kunar, but they add that in the last 4-1/2 months alone more than 15 people have been killed, and 27 injured, including women and children. Additionally, dozens of homes have been destroyed and more than 1,000 people have been displaced.
With porous borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan, insurgents move freely between both countries, and Pakistani forces are likely firing at insurgents who conduct attacks inside Pakistan and take refuge in eastern Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, assassinations remain a serious problem in Afghanistan. The situation has improved since last summer, when the country saw high-profile assassinations almost weekly, but targeted killings remain a serious problem. Most recently, Ahmad Khan Samangani, a notable member of parliament from Samangan Province was killed in a suicide bombing at a wedding party in his home province last month.
Difficult problems to address
Given the complex nature of these problems, some officials say they worry that replacing the security ministers is unlikely to have a strong effect.
“The cross-border attacks in Kunar and chain of assassinations are out of their control. It’s a regional game,” says Naqibullah, a former Afghan Army general and current member of parliament from Laghman Province. Like many Afghans, he uses only one name. “If any new ministers come, they will not be able to solve these issues on their own, and they’ll need at least one year to learn how to do their general duties.”
US and NATO forces are now down to 130,000 troops in Afghanistan, and those numbers will continue to drop as international troops transition security responsibility to Afghan security forces. Though the loss of two ministers and the institutional memory they represent will likely pose a challenge, Mr. Naqibullah says that the transition process is much bigger than two men and will likely continue without any issues.
Among those in parliament, many see the successful removal of the two ministers as an important expression of their ability to provide a check against inefficient and corrupt members of government.
“If any officials are not able to do the job they are supposed to do, they will face the same fate as these officials who failed in their jobs,” says Wazhma Safi, a member of parliament from Kunar Province who holds a seat in the parliamentary security commission. “I think this will be the beginning of the parliament making strong decisions, not the end.”