Afghanistan Struggles Over Cabinet Logjam
Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah
NEW DELHI: When bitter rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah agreed to form a “national unity government” in Afghanistan, the country and much of the world breathed a sigh of relief. After months of political bickering and a long drawn out election that was characterised by allegations and counter-allegations of fraud, an agreement was reached whereby Ghani was sworn in as the new President and Abdullah as Chief Executive Officer.
Last week, with close to four months having passed since Ghani and Abdullah decided to work together, the country and the world breathed another sigh of relief when Ghani finally nominated 25 ministers to form Afghanistan’s new cabinet. The names were finalised after tortuous negotiations and concerns that the new government, already on shaky foundations, may fall apart over the issue.
This week, those two big sighs of relief were again thrown into question, when the Afghan parliament rejected all but eight of Ghani’s cabinet nominees. The reasons for the rejections varied. Some nominees had dual citizenship problems and others lacked the necessary education documents. One nominees name even surfaced on Interpol’s wanted list.
The shaky Afghan government continues to remain shaky, with no permanent minister in several key posts, including defence. Parliament’s winter break means that status quo will remain for at least another two months, with Ghani having to wait till end March before he can introduce new names.
Add to the fray a dwindling economy, decreased presence of foreign troops (a majority of US-led foreign troops were withdrawn at the end of last year) and a Taliban-led militant insurgency that has stepped up its offensive -- and you have a shaky government presiding over an increasingly shaky country.
In the last week, Taliban insurgents have killed seven police personnel in separate incidents on a single day (February 3), attacked a checkpost in Ghazni province that killed eleven police officers, killed three US contractors in Kabul and within a span of 48 hours, killed more than 30 people, including a suicide attack on a funeral in that killed 16.
Other recent attacks include a suicide car bomb attack that killed four Afghan security personnel and injured more than a dozen others when a convoy was attacked in southern Helmand province. The attack followed a bomb explosion that wounded two civilians in neighbouring Kandahar.
A day before, the UN condemned the killing of of a family, as well as the driver of the taxi they were travelling in when the vehicle hit a pressure-plate improvised explosive device planted on a road in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
In fact, 2014 was the worst year yet in terms of civilian casualties, as corroborated by a recent UN report that said that at least 3,188 Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict in Afghanistan in 2014, making the year the deadliest yet in terms of non-combatant casualties.
Compared to the same period last year, civilian deaths were up 19 percent and had already surpassed the previous high set in 2011, when 3,133 civilians were killed. Further, for the first time ground battles between the Taliban and Afghan forces became the main cause of civilian deaths, opposed to planted bombs -- the leading cause of civilian casualties in previous years.
Further, the economy, not surprisingly, is suffering. According to Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry data, income in 2014 fell short of predictions by around 25 per cent, owing partly to the the disruption caused by the long-drawn out election process and ensuing political instability -- which continues. Former finance minister Mohammad Omar Zakhilwal, in an interview to the BBC, estimated that the deadlock cost the Afghan economy around $5 billion.
This dismal economic scenario is corroborated by the World Bank, that pits Afghanistan’s GDP growth at a mere 1.5 percent in 2014, compared to 4.9 percent in 2013.
A political logjam is a problem in any country, but given Afghanistan’s context of a brutal insurgency, economic shortfalls, petty corruption and nepotism, and a security forces that are for the first time in thirteen years in charge of the security of their country -- it is a textbook setting for disaster.