KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday replaced his ministers of defense and interior affairs with two of his staunchest critics, also known as strong anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan figures.
The appointments of Assadullah Khalid as defense chief and Amrullah Saleh as interior minister come amid a deteriorating security situation and ahead of a presidential election in April in which Ghani plans to run for office again.
The appointments also coincide with Washington stepping up its efforts to hold talks with the Taliban and explore a negotiated settlement to a 17 year-long war. It also comes at a time when President Donald Trump is considering reducing by half U.S. troops in Afghanistan in the coming weeks.
Both Khalid and Saleh, who are in their mid forties, have served as the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence wing, The National Directorate of Security (NDS).
Khalid was severely wounded by a Taliban suicide bomber at his residence in December 2012 and was sent to the US for medical treatment.
Human rights groups accuse him of mistreating prisoners and corruption when he served as governor of Kandahar province.
“Khalid stands accused of war crimes and serious human rights abuses under possible investigation by the ICC,” Particia Gossman, a senior member of Human Rights Group said.
She said the palace was making a grave mistake with his appointment.
Khalid planned to run for office and like Saleh has criticised Ghani for mismanagement and opposes the Taliban and neighbouring Pakistan.
Ghani’s office in a statement officially announced the pair’s appointment. Officials refused to discuss the reasons for the new designations.
The Taliban have gained ground in recent years, inflicting heavy casualties on security forces despite a surge of U.S. troops and an increase in the number of aerial attacks. The Afghan parliament has on several occasions demanded the shakeup of security chiefs.