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New Cabinet remains in old hands

Farhad Peikar
The Afghan government finally introduced its new Cabinet on Jan. 12, kicking off a season of complex political wrangling and graft.
15.01.2015  |  New York
President Ashraf Ghani
President Ashraf Ghani

Making good on the campaign promises of both President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, the Cabinet has representatives from all ethnic groups in the country. Its 25 members comprise ten Pashtuns, six Tajiks, three Uzbeks, three Hazaras, two Sadaats, and one Turkmen. Three of them are women. Several of the new members hold doctorate degrees and many others hold master degrees from universities around the world.  Thirteen of the appointees come from Ghani’s political bloc, while Abdullah, as nearly an equal partner in the unity administration, introduced the remaining twelve.

As Ghani promised, none of the newly introduced appointees served in the previous Cabinet of former President Hamid Karzai. The new leadership has also moved away from appointing former militia and mujahideen commanders, who once fought against Soviet troops, to ministerial positions. The disappearance of militia commanders from top-ranking positions in the government provides clear indication that Afghanistan is bidding farewell to erstwhile power brokers.

 Although there are new faces, some of the appointees are the children of mujahideen leaders or have been hand-picked by them.  They include Salahuddin Rabbani, the nominee for foreign affairs minister, whose father, Borhanuddin Rabbani, is a former president and one of the country’s most influential jihadi leaders.

 More importantly, not only are Ismail Khan and Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf— two prominent jihadi leaders— absent from the list; they also apparently lack emissaries among the current appointees.  Both men supported Abdullah during the election run-off last June.

Not without a fight

 For many people, the Cabinet announcement marks the end of political uncertainty surrounding the formation of the new Afghan government. Others still doubt the turmoil is over. Though the Cabinet’s nomination brings a sigh of relief to many Afghans, negotiations over monetary incentives have just begun.  It is now up to Abdullah and Ghani to end the political uncertainty and finally begin governing the country. They must deal with members of Parliament whose terms will expire before June of this year, and who may not be so willing to surrender their last chance to exert pressure on the new government.

MPs have also voiced concerns about a perceived imbalance of the Cabinet’s ethnic composition. While much the country’s ethnic mosaic is represented, some citizens are angry that members from their own provinces are not on the list.  Afghan social media users have expressed irritation with Ghani and Abdullah for not fulfilling their campaign promises, although it is impossible to include representatives from all 34 provinces in a cabinet comprising only 25 members. Moreover, at least four provinces have more than one delegate.

Amid the public criticism, members of Parliament have made TV appearances vowing to reject the proposed Cabinet when it comes to the legislative floor for a vote of confidence. Another criticism launched against some appointees is their lack of political experience. Many of the proposed members are unknown to the public, and some have limited experience in running large organizations.

But the list of appointees is by no means final.  Gaining parliamentary approval has proven tricky in the past, and nominees lacking political clout have often been rejected. When Karzai introduced his list of ministers for his second term in January 2010, the lower house rejected 70 per cent of the nominees, creating a political crisis.

That year, a number of the rejected nominees and even some lawmakers alleged that certain appointees bribed members of Parliament in exchange for their approval. Media reports claimed that votes were bought for as much as $5,000. Lawmakers also reportedly approved nominees who promised to secure senior ministerial positions for their relatives.

Two weeks later, Karzai introduced alternate nominees, but lawmakers approved only seven out of seventeen of them. MPs claimed that the nominees  were either controlled by warlords or lacked the necessary credentials.  It took Karzai months to push his Cabinet appointments past Parliament.