Afghan President risks deeper row with MPs over appointments

KABUL Wed Aug 29, 2012 4:21pm IST

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai (C) gestures as he poses with a case containing a pen which belonged to the country's former King Shah Amanullah Khan during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Kabul August 27, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmad Massoud/Pool

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai (C) gestures as he poses with a case containing a pen which belonged to the country's former King Shah Amanullah Khan during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Kabul August 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ahmad Massoud/Pool

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai filled gaps in two top security ministries on Wednesday as part of a reshuffle forced on him by a fractious parliament, but risked a destabilising row with lawmakers by reappointing a sacked minister.

Parliament, in a rebuff to Karzai, earlier this month voted to remove Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi over deteriorating security, corruption accusations clouding the government and cross-border attacks blamed on Pakistan.

But Karzai appointed Mohammadi, an ethnic Tajik with a strong powerbase in northern Afghanistan, as Defence Minister, while removing spy agency chief Rahmatullah Nabil, charged with countering the Taliban and cutting insider attacks by Afghan police and soldiers on foreign troops.

"Intelligence chiefs cannot serve more than two years. President Karzai called Nabil today and thanked him for his services," Karzai's chief spokesman Aimal Faizi told Reuters ahead of the announcement.

Karzai said he would appoint current interior ministry deputy Mushtaba Patang as minister, and influential former Kandahar governor Asadullah Khalid is expected to become head of the intelligence agency, known as the NDS.

But all three positions would need parliamentary approval and MPs said they wanted fresh appointments, rather than members of Karzai's increasingly unpopular inner circle.

"We hope that we get new faces rather faces which have already been examined and which the people are not happy with," said Parwan province MP Hajji Almaas Zahed.

Karzai's powerful finance minister, Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, is also under a cloud over accusations aired on Afghan television that he stashed away more than $1 million in overseas banks and property. He has denied the accusations.

The political turmoil in the government has been hampering decision making on several crucial pieces of legislation, including a revised mining law being closely watched by Western donors and foreign mining companies.

The laws, which aim to bring Afghan tender procedures into line with international norms, are in limbo after several cabinet members last month asked for them to be re-drafted to give Afghans a higher return on natural resource projects.

Any fresh argument between Karzai and the parliament could also complicate the timetable for transition of security to Afghan forces and a withdrawal by most foreign combat troops by 2014.

Spokesman Faizi said Nabil would soon be appointed as an ambassador, while ex army chief of staff Mohammadi's appointment to the defence ministry was aimed at reinforcing stability.

Khalid, who will head up the powerful National Directorate of Security, is an ethnic Pashtun with strong connections in Afghanistan's south, from where the Taliban draw most support.

Khalid escaped an assassination attempt in 2007, but a string of law and order controversies surrounding him may worry western backers of the government who have tied $16 billion in aid pledges to a crackdown on corruption.

"Nabil was a strong man in foiling many insurgent attacks. His removal for Khalid could deal a major blow to the security of this country," said Naheed Fareed, a lawmaker from western Herat province.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi; Writing by Rob Taylor Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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