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Key Afghan leaders face ouster

- House votes to dismiss ministers over failure to stop Pak shelling

Kabul, Aug. 4: The Afghan parliament voted to dismiss the two most powerful members of the government’s security team today, a surprise move that could create new turmoil in an already troubled handover of control as the US-led coalition prepares to leave the country.

Lawmakers said they wanted to oust the defence minister, a longtime friend of the US, and the interior minister, who oversees the nation’s police force, in part because of corruption in their ministries and because they failed to adequately protect the country against recent cross-border shelling from Pakistan.

The vote came as many leaders, and Afghans, are increasingly frustrated with corruption that undermines attempts to rebuild after years of war. But it also follows weeks of anger over recent cross-border shelling from Pakistan, which has a strong interest in maintaining influence in Afghanistan when coalition forces leave. Analysts say it would have been hard for Afghanistan to respond to the attacks without a diplomatic breakdown with Pakistan, which denies involvement and blames the strikes on militants.

President Hamid Karzai could try to delay the men’s departure, but early indications were that he might accede to parliament’s wishes. Shifting power now would inevitably roil both ministries, which are filled with political appointees tied to their leaders, and pull their focus away from the urgent task of fighting the insurgency and controlling criminal elements in the country.

The change would come as Afghan soldiers and police are taking over more responsibility for security in much of the country.

Defence minister Rahim Wardak and interior minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi shoulder most of the responsibility for helping the country build a strong enough army and police force to fight the Taliban without the coalition forces who have led the fight for more than a decade.

Wardak has focused on building up the Afghan Army’s equipment and forging relations with foreign allies — having served in his post since 2004. Mohammedi has worked in security posts since the fall of the Taliban including as chief of staff of the army.

“Even if this is only a political gesture and current ministers stay, this is a warning about the weakness of the Karzai government, a reflection of the deep divisions in the Afghan legislature and an indication of the kind of far deeper ethnic and sectarian splits that may come as the transition proceeds,” said Anthony Cordesman, an expert on the war at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The American embassy and the Nato command here appeared to be caught by surprise by the parliamentary vote and did not comment other than to say they were aware of the developments.

Karzai’s press office today issued a statement saying: “The disqualification of ministers is the parliament’s right.” Still, the shelling symbolises Afghanistan’s helplessness in a tug-of-war over its fate among powerful outside forces.

 
 
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