Afghan spy chief fired in Karzai cabinet reshuffle

Fri, Aug 31, 2012, 01:00

PRESIDENT HAMID Karzai of Afghanistan has broadened a cabinet shake-up in the most important security and intelligence ministries, firing the country’s spy chief on Wednesday and, according to western officials, lining up replacements for that post and the vacant defence and interior ministries, at least one of which seemed likely to heighten tensions between the parliament and the presidential palace.

According to two western officials, top aides to Mr Karzai recently told western officials that he intended to nominate a politically influential Tajik commander, Bismillah Khan Mohammedi, to take over the defence ministry – a move likely to provoke members of the Afghan parliament who voted just three weeks ago to dismiss Mr Mohammedi from his post as interior minister.

The officials said Karzai aides had informed western officials that a powerful Karzai loyalist who has faced accusations of corruption and human rights abuses, Asadullah Khalid, was in line to take over the country’s main intelligence agency, and that a long-serving police official, Ghulam Mujtaba Patang, would lead the interior ministry.

One western official, however, cautioned that there was still some chance that the names could be a trial balloon designed to elicit a reaction from US and Nato officials who still are in charge of providing most of the country’s security, or from Afghan deputies who must ratify the choices.

Nothing is set in stone until Mr Karzai makes a formal announcement, which could come as soon as tomorrow, the official said. There were also signs on Wednesday that Mr Mohammedi could face a tough vote in parliament.

The changes would complete a sweep of the country’s most powerful security posts, in what many officials saw as an effort by Mr Karzai to maximise his influence ahead of the planned 2014 elections, when he will not be able to run again because of term limits.

“With this cabinet reshuffling, President Karzai is trying to consolidate his grip on power,” said Jawid Kohistani, a security analyst based in Kabul. “He is not thinking only about his remaining two years in office. He has long-term plans and this reshuffling is just the first step.

“Indeed, he wants to have full control over all government apparatuses to make sure that whoever from his team runs for president in the upcoming elections wins.”

Mr Karzai’s aides confirmed that the current head of the spy agency, Rahmatullah Nabil, would leave that job and become an ambassador abroad.

Karzai aides declined to speak about any new cabinet appointments. The men identified as the probable appointments were unlikely to raise objections from the government’s western supporters, some officials said.

Mr Khalid, the likely new spy chief, is an influential confidant of Mr Karzai, who delegated to him significant power over security in southern Afghanistan after Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother, was assassinated last year.

Mr Khalid, who also serves as minister of tribal and border affairs, has been leading the government’s efforts to support uprisings against the Taliban in Ghazni province, where the head of the provincial council, Qazi Sahim Shah, was fatally shot on Wednesday. – (New York Times service)