Prima facie, Afghan parliament over reacted by dismissing Defence Minister Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi holding them responsible for the Pakistani attacks on Afghan territory and for the security lapses that resulted in the assassination of top officials, apart from their failure to check rampant corruption in the defence and security establishment. True, the security situation in Afghanistan remains alarming, and corruption is a major issue in governance. But holding Wardak and Mohammadi personally responsible for Afghanistan’s plight raises eyebrows.
What is striking is that unlike on a few similar occasions in the past, President Hamid Karzai has not challenged the parliament’s prerogative
to ask for the dismissal of the two cabinet ministers, but has instead decided to “respect the Parliament’s decision to disqualify Ministers in accordance with article 92 of the Constitution.” Of course, he will decorate the two outgoing ministers with the “highest state medal honors” and may still have use for them “in other capacities within the government.”
The two ministers may continue up to a month while Karzai nominates their successors. Already, Kabul bazaar is teeming with rumors regrading possible replacements.
Wardak served for 8 years continuously and enjoyed great chemistry with the Americans. His removal comes at an awkward time for the US when the NATO’s “transition” is switching gear through the coming months. Mohammadi, on the other hand, held his job for just about 2 years, prior to which he had served as Chief of Army Staff. He too was regarded highly by the US as a purposive and dedicated minister who was systematically tightening up the security establishment and acquitting himself well on the job.
Wardak has been vaguely mentioned as one possible successor to Karzai in 2014 and the latter may, conceivably, heave a sigh of relief that he may now need some rest and recuperation. Typically, Karzai will keep Wardak in another job which keeps him safely away.
Mohammadi, on the other hand, is a ‘Panjshiri’ and an enormously experienced military hand. Karzai may find it expedient to accommodate him, given his closeness to Vice President Mohammad Fahim, whose trust and support is indeed vital for Karzai — not only politically but also in military terms. No surprises, in fact, if Mohammadi shows up as the next defence minister.
Evidently, the development focuses attention on Afghan-Pakistan relations as well. After all, the cabinet crisis came up on account of alleged Pakistani hostile acts. Pakistan will feel embarrassed and is turning the tables on the propaganda front by counter-alleging that “maybe state actors, maybe non-state actors” in Afghanistan are fostering cross-border terrorism against Pakistan
. This would be a familiar Pakistani ploy to deflect attention.
In diplomatic terms, the removal of the two key Afghan ministers coincides with the promise of “thaw” in the frosty ties between the US’ CIA and Pakistan’s ISI. What actually transpired last week between the ISI chief Zaheerul Islam and CIA boss David Petraeus at Langley — and even more important, between the US commander in Afghanistan John Allen and Pakistani army chief Parvez Kayani in Rawalpindi — is yet to trickle down to the chatty media in Islamabad, but the topic of “joint operations” at the Afghan-Pakistani border
was apparently discussed.
Things may not be as upbeat as the WSJ report suggested
, but a beginning has been made in resuming the CIA - ISI dalliance. Kabul will feel concerned, because the US has a rather consistent record of being erratic in its dealings with the Pakistani military and the latter is au fait
with the rules of the game. Thus, the changing of guard at the Afghan defence and interior ministries could mean that Kabul is “hardening” its line in anticipation of the Pakistani shenanigans in the crucial period ahead when President Barack Obama would have other thoughts on his mind.