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Afghanistan Fires 7 From Cabinet in Intensifying Political Crisis


President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan in Kabul in June. He has challenged Parliament’s decision to dismiss several cabinet ministers. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s Parliament has dismissed seven government ministers over the past four days, adding to the woes of a fragile coalition that for months had bickered over filling the cabinet positions in the first place.

The suddenly vacated cabinet positions, adding to two ministries already vacant because of resignations, will further bog down the work of a government that has struggled to get its house in order while also facing emboldened Taliban offensives and decreasing support across the country.

The Afghan Parliament began hearings last week over what lawmakers said was the ministers’ inability to spend the national development budget. The dismissal of one minister on Tuesday brought the total to seven ministers dismissed out of 12 who had been called for hearings, including the ministers of foreign affairs, public works, information technology, labor and social work, education, higher education and transportation.

Publicly, President Ashraf Ghani has challenged the legality of the hearings and asked the dismissed ministers to continue with their jobs until the country’s Supreme Court makes a final ruling. He also told ministers not to show up for the hearings, more of which are scheduled in the coming days.

Parliament, which itself has been in a legal limbo since its term officially expired more than a year ago with no date set for elections, has refused the government’s pleas to stop the hearings. And Hajji Zahir Qadir, the deputy speaker of the Parliament, said on Tuesday that despite President Ghani’s claims, the ministers’ dismissal could not be reversed by the Supreme Court.

“If the government is just fooling itself, that’s a separate issue,” Mr. Qadir said.

But that is far from the only issue. Some analysts believe that a byzantine political intrigue may be underway: that the cabinet purge might have some degree of support from Mr. Ghani, despite his public protestations.

Supporting that argument is that some of the dismissed ministers were already under scrutiny by Mr. Ghani on accusations of incompetence or corruption, but had such powerful political patrons that few observers thought the president was politically strong enough to fire them.

“The palace is using Parliament like chess,” said Intizar Khadim, a political analyst in Kabul. “Two years ago, ministers were selected in a hurry, so now the palace is possibly trying to select professional people as ministers and they are doing it through the Parliament.”

But a senior political adviser to Mr. Ghani, Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, flatly rejected the idea that Parliament’s dismissals had been coordinated with the president’s office. He acknowledged that the performance of some of the government ministers had been under review, but characterized that as a sign of accountability to the Afghan people and international donors who had demanded more anticorruption measures.

“If the president doesn’t want a minister on the job, he will take action – but we will surely not take action through the Parliament,” Mr. Khpalwak said.

More broadly, though, the renewed fighting over government positions may take a toll on the government’s stability.

In particular, it could exacerbate tensions between Mr. Ghani and his nominal governing partner, Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive. Mr. Abdullah, in public outbursts, has accused Mr. Ghani of centralizing authority and not respecting the American-brokered deal that settled the disputed presidential election and created the unity government.

The vacancies come at a time when some in the government are trying to broaden its base by bringing in more political factions who have been critical of the government’s missing deadline after deadline for elections and constitutional revisions — including one to create the position of prime minister for Mr. Abdullah.

Mr. Ghani recently agreed to a deal with a political rival, Atta Muhammad Noor, the powerful governor of northern Balkh Province. Mr. Noor was once an influential ally of Mr. Abdullah, who ran for president with the support of Mr. Noor’s Jamiat-i-Islami political party. But Mr. Noor has signaled disappointment with Mr. Abdullah for failing to secure a bigger share of the coalition government for the Jamiat bloc. A cabinet shake-up could provide an opportunity to redistribute government posts.

But aides to Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani denied that there was an effort to sideline Mr. Abdullah from the government. Sayed Fazel Sancharaki, an adviser to Mr. Abdullah, said that there was “no deal behind the curtains,” and that the two leaders were united in disapproving of the parliamentary dismissals.

Source: NYT > World

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