KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan’s parliament Saturday ordered 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 Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismullah Mohammadi, lawmakers signaled to Karzai their deep dissatisfaction with his administration’s inability to blunt the Taliban insurgency, halt a wave of assassinations of top Afghan officials and clamp down on corruption within Afghan security forces.
In disqualifying Wardak and Mohammadi from holding office, parliament directed Karzai to immediately appoint their replacements.
A recent rise in cross-border attacks from Pakistan that many in Afghanistan blame on the Pakistani military has renewed questions about the capabilities of Afghanistan’s army, which now numbers roughly 185,000 troops. A surge in assassinations of leading local and national officials this summer has also raised doubts about the country’s ability to defend itself against a Taliban insurgency that appears able to strike at will.
Recent barrages of artillery shelling and rocket fire from Pakistan into Afghanistan’s eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan have followed incursions by Pakistani Taliban militants into Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas along the border. 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.
During Saturday’s legislative session, lawmakers also cited rampant corruption within Afghan security forces, known as the ANSF, as a reason for their actions. In testimony this 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 have had a significantly corrosive effect on the public perception and overall effectiveness of the ANSF,” Katzman told lawmakers at the hearing, “raising questions about how well the ANSF can secure the country after the 2014 security transition.”
--Alex Rodriguez and Hashmat Baktash. Staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and special correspondent Hashmat Baktash reported from Kabul.
Photo: Interior Minister Bismullah Mohammadi, left, and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak. Credit: Musadeq Sadeq, Ahmad Jamshid / AP Photo