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.


Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”