Afghan govt hobbled by delays, Cabinet picks deadlock

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, right, and chief rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah sign a power-sharing agreement at the presidential palace in Kabul on May 17. (Files/AP)
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Updated 22 July 2020

Afghan govt hobbled by delays, Cabinet picks deadlock

  • Experts say Ghani’s maneuvers classic case of ‘power play’ with Abdullah

KABUL: Afghanistan’s new government was caught in political deadlock on Tuesday amid infighting over Cabinet choices between President Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, with whom the president shares power under a deal struck in May.

The stalemate occurred after the Afghan parliament urged the government to replace caretaker ministers who had been in office for years.

“Nowhere in the world can you find a caretaker Cabinet that has lasted for years, except in Afghanistan. It is a mockery here; it has created mistrust among people,” Ali Akbar Qasimi, a lawmaker from Ghazni province, told Arab News on Tuesday.

 He added that prolonged delays would have a negative impact on people.

“Insecurity has increased, crime has soared, the economy is getting worse, and there is the coronavirus disease. The situation generally is very worrying,” he said.

Both Ghani and Abdullah were arch-rivals during the presidential elections in 2014 and in September last year, which saw a record low turnout amid complaints of election fraud.

Ghani was declared the winner in March this year, leading Abdullah to protest and announce a parallel government, further deepening months of political dispute and throwing the future of the country into more doubt.

The tension prompted the US to intervene and mediate, following the agreement of a deal with the Taliban in late February to withdraw US troops by spring 2021, but after Washington failed reach a consensu between the two leaders, Afghan figures stepped in.

They finally struck a deal in May based on which Ghani would retain the presidency and Abdullah would lead the High Council for National Reconciliation, which includes facilitating talks with the Taliban.

However, both would share power, albeit in a slightly different format to the previous national unity government which was formed in 2014 under a US-brokered deal, when Ghani became president and Abdullah assumed the role of the country’s chief executive.

Experts say the current debacle has shattered hopes that the current administration would fare better than the previous one, whose routine squabbles enabled the Taliban to gain ground.

Freshta Karim, a civil society activist, wrote that a lack of progress on the formation of a fully functioning government had “reduced to a minimum the expectation of people  … about the peace process.”

Abdullah has argued that since he had the backing of some factional and ethnic leaders during the elections, he had to take into consideration their choices for the Cabinet, in addition to pushing for his own nominees.

One of the most controversial figures, rejected by Ghani, is the current economy minister, Mustafa Mastoor, who is Abdullah’s nephew and who he picked to lead the State Ministry of Peace Affairs, an anonymous presidential palace source told Arab News.

The source also rejected the perception that Abdullah would “have the power to also introduce governors, deputy heads of some key ministries and departments.”

Meanwhile, Sediq Seddiqi, Ghani’s chief spokesman, said one of the reasons for the delay in sending a full list of Cabinet members to parliament for approval was because Abdullah’s nominees were not fit for ministerial positions.

“The president is keen that individuals introduced by Dr. Abdullah be ones who have political weight and can ensure political stability and be acceptable to the people,” he told Arab News.

Hamidullah Tokhi, a pro-Abdullah MP, accused Ghani of violating the deal. 

“He is not letting Abdullah’s choices for governors take over. The problem has been created by the palace,” he told Arab News, adding that with parliament in recession from July 20 for a month and a half, having a new Cabinet in place would be further delayed even if the two leaders agree on candidates.

Experts say Ghani has been caught in a “power play,” and is seeking to avoid repeating past mistakes.

“Ghani was seeking to show his current administration is not like the last one, and is downplaying Abdullah’s role. It is a classic power play of Afghan politics. However, the power play hinders and diverts the attention from real priorities of insecurity, crimes,” Zabihullah Pakteen, an analyst, told Arab News.

He added that the priority, for both leaders, should be to address the pressing issue of the peace process and the US troop departure in 2021.

“The aim on both sides is grabbing a bigger chunk of government. This overshadows the peace process to a great extent, as the clock for the US withdrawal is ticking,” he said.


Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

Updated 5 min 12 sec ago

Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

  • Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails
  • The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police

MINSK, Belarus: Belarusian authorities have released dozens of people detained amid demonstrations contesting the results of the presidential election, in an attempt to assuage public anger against a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests.
Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails. In the early morning, volunteers also saw at least 119 detainees being released in the сity of Zhodino just northeast of the Belarusian capital. Ambulances arrived to carry those who apparently were unable to walk on their own.
The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police. “I take responsibility for what they say was violence against those people, who happened to be nearby and failed to back off quickly enough,” Interior Minister Yuri Karayev said late Thursday.
The apologies and the release of detainees follow five days of massive protests, in which crowds of demonstrators swarmed the streets to contest the vote results and demand an end to the 26-year rule of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. On Thursday, thousands of workers rallied outside industrial plants to denounce the police crackdown and push for a recount of Sunday’s vote.
Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in the clampdown on demonstrators protesting the official results that said Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and his top opposition challenger only 10%. Police have broken up protests with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings.
On Thursday, hundreds of women formed long “lines of solidarity” in several areas of the capital, Minsk. Many were dressed in white and carried flowers and portraits of detained loved ones.
The human chains grew throughout the day, filling Minsk’s main central squares and avenues and spreading to numerous other cities as motorists honked in support. In Minsk and several other cities, thousands of factory workers also rallied against the police violence, raising the prospect of strikes in a new challenge to the government. Protesters were shouting “Go away!” to demand Lukashenko’s resignation.
Amid growing public dismay, dozens of military and police veterans posted videos in which they dumped their uniforms and insignia in the trash. Several popular anchors at Belarus’ state TV stations have quit.
The demonstrations have spread even though the protest lacks leaders. The top opposition challenger in the vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, suddenly emerged Tuesday in neighboring Lithuania and called on her supporters to stop protests in a video that her associates said was recorded under pressure from law enforcement officials before she left. The 37-year-old former teacher had joined the race to replace her husband, an opposition blogger, who has been jailed since May.
The massive protests against election results and police brutality have been an unprecedented challenge to Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and earned the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator” for his relentless crackdown on dissent. The scope and ferocity of the police clampdown were remarkable even for Lukashenko’s iron-fisted rule, triggering widespread anger.
After dismissing protesters as mostly ex-convicts and unemployed, the authoritarian leader kept silent Thursday as the demonstrations spread quickly. Some reports said he was preparing an address to the nation.
A protester died Monday in Minsk when, according to the Interior Ministry, an explosive device he tried to throw at police blew up in his hand. Media reports challenged the ministry’s claim, alleging that he was killed by police. The place where he died quickly turned into a pilgrimage site, with hundreds of people, including European ambassadors, laying flowers there.
The authorities said that a detainee died in the southeastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances of his death weren’t immediately clear.
The brutal suppression of protests drew harsh criticism in the West.
European Union foreign ministers are set to meet Friday to discuss a response, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the 27-nation bloc would “increase the pressure” on Belarus.