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Ministers Under Attack in Afghan Parliament

President Karzai’s cabinet nominees defend their records in a mudslinging battle that some say is the work of once-powerful political forces who feel excluded from government.
By Amanullah Nasrat
The cabinet confirmation hearings currently under way in the Afghan parliament have - given the normally tumultuous political scene – proved a fairly smooth and orderly process.



But while most legislators maintained a semblance of decorum as they began questioning cabinet nominees in a series of sessions broadcast live over most of the major television stations, critics both inside and outside the parliament began a vigorous campaign to discredit the candidates submitted by President Hamed Karzai.



Now the ministerial nominees, in addition to defending their records and qualifications for the job, are being forced to fight off accusations ranging from suggestions that they are poorly educated, insufficiently pious, or have dual citizenship, to claims that they have Jewish relatives.



When the president first sent his list to parliament on March 25, more than two months behind schedule, lawmakers replied that they needed more information on his choices. Karzai then supplied extended biographies, complete with educational certificates, on the 25 proposed cabinet ministers.



This was done, in part, to reassure parliament that all the candidates met the requirements set forth in Article 72 of the Afghan constitution, which states that a nominee for a ministerial post must have a higher education, relevant experience and a good reputation. He or she must also have a clean record, no criminal convictions, and only one citizenship – that of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.



But even before the first nominee was summoned to parliament, a disgruntled outsider had begun his assault on the proposed cabinet.



Abdul Hafiz Mansoor, a staunch oppositionist who narrowly missed being elected to parliament, published his own list in his weekly paper, Payam-e-Mujahed, questioning the records and qualifications of the president’s candidates.



Mansoor, the former head of Radio Television Afghanistan, who was fired when he refused to allow women to sing on air, is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami faction, which encompasses most of the Northern Alliance, a loose collection of warlords and commanders who battled the Taleban.



Initially the strongest faction in the post-Taleban government, Jamiat has been losing ground of late. Some observers say Mansoor’s show of bad grace over the president’s nominees reflects his anger at the weakening grip of Jamiat.



Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is on his way out - the last in a trio of Northern Alliance strongmen who once held the most powerful positions in government. His proposed replacement, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, has publicly criticised the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, the top Jamiat military leader who has attained near-cult status among his followers.



For many observing from the sidelines, Abdullah’s departure and other proposed changes represent a tectonic shift in the power structure of Afghanistan. The former mujahedin, they say, will not relinquish their formerly dominant position lightly.



Shukria Barakzai, a parliamentarian and political analyst, thinks Mansoor’s list is just the beginning of Jamiat’s campaign.



“Four years ago, Jamiat had half of the government posts,” she said. “Now they have far fewer. Insulting proposed cabinet ministers in the Payam-e-Mujahed weekly is the handiwork of those who have lost power in the current line-up of nominees.”



Mansoor’s list is full of scandalous, colourful and - according to those targeted - largely unsubstantiated allegations.



Among other things, Mansoor claims that foreign minister-designate Spanta has dual citizenship and a Jewish daughter-in-law.



Current defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, who is slated to keep his post, is accused of links with Pakistan’s InterServices Intelligence, ISI, and once again of holding dual citizenship.



The charges go on, ranging from the serious to the absurd.



According to Mansoor, the candidate to head the interior ministry, Zarar Ahmad Muqbel, has had no education; incumbent finance minister Anwar ul Haq Ahadi has embezzled millions of dollars; proposed education minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar was a member of the former communist regime’s intelligence agency who lost a leg fighting against the mujahedin.



Minister of Information and Culture Sayed Makhdum Raheen is accused of immorality for applauding and seeming to enjoy himself at a concert given by a female singer from Tajikistan – an offence reportedly compounded by the fact that he was holding prayer beads at the time. The nominee for the Ministry of Communications, Amirzai Sangin, who is widely acknowledged to be among the foremost specialists in communications in the country, is said by Mansoor to have been a janitor who was elevated to government by late-Seventies communist ruler Hafizullah Amin.



The ministers concerned have defended themselves, in vehemently denying the bulk of Mansoor’s claims.



“I am not Jewish, nor do I have any links with the Jewish people,” said Spanta. “I am a Muslim and my daughter is presently engaged in Islamic studies. I do hold dual citizenship, and if the Wolesi Jirga does not accept my other citizenship, which is German, I will renounce it.”



The candidate for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Suraya Rahim Sobhrang, says Mansoor is wildly off base in his description of her qualifications.



“The list in Payam-e-Mujahed said that I am from Ghazni, whereas I am from Herat, and that my education is incomplete, yet I have a master’s degree in medicine. The list says I am Hazara, but I’m Tajik. The list also says that I am a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan – with which I have no links,” she said.



Defence Minister Wardak denies having dual citizenship, and says he was linked to the ISI no more than anyone else in the mujahedin resistance movement.



“All leaders and commanders were receiving arms from Pakistan’s ISI during the Soviet invasion,” he said. “I was the military commander in charge of Mahaz-e Melli-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan [National Islamic Front of Afghanistan] led by Sayed Ahmad Gailani. If people call this links with the ISI, then all mujahedin leaders had links with the ISI.”



Abdul Karim Khuram, a press adviser at President Karzai’s office, insists that the charges were politically motivated, saying, “The main reason for this action is clear: these people are used to having power in government; they consider it their right. They don’t realise that democracy and the Afghan constitution will not allow them to hold on to their power.”



Khurnam criticised Mansoor’s publication, calling it “immoral and in violation of journalistic standards”.



Waqif Hakimi, a spokesman for Jamiat-e-Islami, denied that the faction was behind the list, but acknowledged that Mansoor was a member.



“Mansoor is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami but Payam-e-Mujahed is his private publication,” he said. “Everyone has the right to express their views. Mansoor has to show what evidence he based his allegations on.”



Mansoor says he is ready to provide proof.



“I have written these things based on reliable sources, and I am confident that the ministers do have these shortcomings. If they bring charges against me, I am ready to go to the prosecutor and defend my list,” he said.



Some lawmakers support Mansoor’s claims.



Sabrina Saqib, one of the youngest members of parliament, maintains that documents presented by some of the nominees are fake.



“I do not believe the education records of 40 per cent of the proposed ministers,” she said. “They created these documents illegally when they were in power.”



Ramazan Bashar Dost, the former planning minister who has been a consistent and outspoken critic of the government, also pokes holes in the records of many of the nominees.



“I have studied the files of the 25 proposed cabinet ministers and I haven’t yet found even one document for a single candidate that is in accordance with Afghan law,” he said. “The documents of the candidates who have completed their educations in the West have not been certified by the Ministry of Higher Education. And some candidates who hold Afghan educational documents acquired them while they were ministers or deputy ministers.”



According to Bashar Dost, the president flouted the law when selecting his cabinet. “The conditions laid down by the constitution were not taken into consideration at all in this process,” he said.



But other parliamentarians such as Moen Marastial put little stock in Mansoor’s allegations.



“The members of the Wolesi Jirga will not take these charges into consideration,” he said. “They are investigating and ruling on everyone by themselves. Allegations cannot derail the vote.”



Amanullah Nasrat is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.