Afghan lawmakers order Karzai to replace key ministers

By By Alex Rodriguez And Hashmat Baktash

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Published: Saturday, Aug. 4 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

FILE: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, claps after presenting a certification and sword to a police officer during a graduation ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, July 17, 2012.

Ahmad Jamshid, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Enlarge photo»

KABUL — Parliament on Saturday ordered Afghan President Hamid Karzai to replace the country’s defense and interior ministers, dealing his administration a harsh blow as it struggles to show its readiness to take over security responsibilities ahead of the planned U.S. troop withdrawal in 2014.

By handing down no-confidence votes against Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi, lawmakers signaled their deep dissatisfaction with the Karzai administration’s weak response to recent cross-border attacks from Pakistan, as well as its inability to halt a wave of assassinations of top Afghan officials or clamp down on corruption within Afghan security forces.

The lawmakers directed Karzai to immediately appoint the two men’s replacements. Karzai issued a short statement acknowledging parliament’s authority to disqualify the ministers, adding that he would meet with his security team Sunday to discuss the issue.

Recent barrages of artillery shelling and rocket fire from Pakistan into Afghanistan’s eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan have followed incursions into Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas by Pakistani Taliban insurgents sheltering in Afghanistan.

Afghan officials have accused Pakistan’s military of carrying out the shelling attacks. In turn, Pakistani officials blame Karzai’s administration and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan for failing to uproot pockets of Pakistani Taliban insurgents on the Afghan side of the border, but they deny carrying out any retaliatory strikes.

Lawmakers have criticized Karzai’s administration, and his 185,000-strong army, as weak for failing to adequately respond to the shelling from Pakistan.

“Since last year, shelling from Pakistan has continued and still continues, causing civilian casualties and damage,” said Zalmai Mujadadi, a lawmaker from the northeastern province of Badakhshan. Directing his remarks at Wardak, he asked, “Why haven’t you responded to Pakistan’s shelling?”

A surge in assassinations of leading local and national officials this summer also has raised doubts about the country’s ability to defend itself against a Taliban insurgency that appears able to strike at will.

In July, victims included a provincial women’s affairs chief in eastern Afghanistan, a national lawmaker, the mayor of a town in a western province, a district police chief in Kandahar and a prominent imam in Oruzgan province.

During Saturday’s legislative session, lawmakers also cited rampant corruption within Afghan security forces as a reason for their actions.

In testimony last week before a U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Congressional Research Service analyst Kenneth Katzman said police routinely solicit bribes from Afghan citizens at checkpoints or to call off searches of homes.

Katzman added that Afghan army and police officers have at times demanded bribes from U.S.-led coalition forces to help guard incoming military equipment shipments.

“These practices and patterns of behavior,” Katzman said at the hearing, “have had a significantly corrosive effect on the public perception and overall effectiveness of the ANSF (Afghan security forces), raising questions about how well the ANSF can secure the country after the 2014 security transition.”

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(Times staff writer Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul.)

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©2012 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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