Omar Sobhani/Reuters/File
Afghan rival presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah (L) and Ashraf Ghani exchange signed agreements for the country's unity government in Kabul in this September 21, 2014 file photo. The Afghan cabinet, announced this week after months of haggling, leaves a powerful faction that helped oust the Taliban in 2001 significantly weakened, in a bold but risky break from the past by President Ashraf Ghani.

After vote, Afghanistan still can't form working government. Why?

Parliament today approved only eight of 25 cabinet nominees. After a year of delay, many nominees fell apart under scrutiny or could not satisfy hurdles like age, education, and anti-communism.

The Afghan parliament today rejected the majority of President Ashraf Ghani’s cabinet nominees, a development expected to further delay the formation of an Afghan government that has been in limbo for nearly a year.

The legislature voted on 18 of the 25 government cabinet positions, approving just eight officials and a new intelligence chief. The parliament is now scheduled to begin its winter break, meaning Afghans may wait more than a month before the other positions are filled.

The parliament’s vote is a setback for the unity government of Mr. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive officer. The vote follows a six-month election dispute between the two men, followed by three months of deliberation to appoint cabinet nominees. The struggle to finalize a working government is causing many Afghans to lose faith in their leaders.

“As there are delays, the people of Afghanistan are getting distant from [Ghani and Mr. Abdullah]. This is a matter of great concern to them,” says Kamal Sapai, a parliamentarian from Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan.

Many Afghans had hoped a new cabinet would signal forward progress. But after Ghani and Abdullah took ample time to submit a list of nominees, many of them fell apart under scrutiny.

“I am one of the supporters of this government and have been from the beginning,” says Sayed Ishaq Gailani, who leads the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan, a political party, and is close to Abdullah. “This was a failure of both leaders. They failed after a 100 days of making the people of Afghanistan wait.”

There were problems vetting the nominees from the beginning. Mohammad Yaqub Haidari, nominee for minister of agriculture, was removed from consideration after it was discovered Interpol sought him for “large-scale tax evasion, fraudulent conversion,” according to Interpol’s website.

Additional layers of complication arose when the parliament took issue with seven nominees who held dual citizenship. Previously, parliament passed a resolution stating that ministers could not hold dual nationality. That stance poses a significant challenge for many Afghans, however, who, after more than three decades of war, have spent considerable time overseas. The stricture hits many of those with high-levels of education and strong qualifications.

Age limits of 35 for ministers represent another hurdle. Khatera Afghan, for example, nominee for the minister of higher education, is alleged to be under 35; he was voted down today. 

Members of parliament also took issue with more subjective issues, such as the relevance of formal education and experience, and with questions like ties to communism, which several have. Many worry that communists could become alienating figures, pushing away both the Taliban and former anti-Soviet mujahideen who share Communists as an enemy, and thus complicate reconciliation efforts.

“Most of the people who were introduced, they were not the proper people for the job,” says Moeen Marastial, a former member of parliament from Kunduz Province. “When I heard the list of names, I was disappointed. Most of them have higher education and skills, but they have no skills in the area for which they were appointed.”

With 17 cabinet positions empty, it will still be at least another six weeks before parliament reconvenes. Among Afghans who’ve spent the last year watching their economy crumble and insecurity continue as foreign forces leave the country, the government’s problems shake their faith. Still, a number of Afghan politicians see Ghani and Abdullah as handling things much better than the previous administration.

“I prefer both of them 100 times better than the previous leadership,” says Khalid Pashtoon, a parliamentarian from Kandahar. “The previous leadership was so arrogant and cocky, and they never listened to anyone. These two guys lead and they’re humble, if they make a mistake, they admit their mistake. I don’t see any thing wrong so far for the both of them.” 

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