Afghanistan: the meaning of parliament’s rejection of President Karzai’s cabinet nominees

Many in the international media have come out with ‘microwaved’ offerings of news and analysis of the Afghan parliament’s rejection of 17 of President Karzai’s cabinet nominees on January 2. This has led to some quick, and bizarre, conclusions.

Times of London, for instance, reported that “the high rate of rejection shows that parliament has risen above internecine considerations that have plagued Afghan politics in the past, such as tribal issues and ethnic divisions.” Is it a ‘goodbye’ to tribal and ethnic divisions?   

Another outlet of the Murdoch media empire, FoxNews, as well as the LA Times, the BBC and others, highlighted the failure of Ismail Khan, the warlord from Herat Province, to get parliamentary approval, citing allegations of corruption and human rights abuses against him. Is he the only one?

The Age of Australia is one of those to assert, “The seven ministerial nominees who won approval included those who had been approved by Karzai’s supporters in the international community as competent and clean technocrats.” Does it mean the United States and its allies have had their way and the 17 rejected were all outside the ‘competent and clean’ category?

In a country without national infrastructure and system of distribution like Afghanistan, self, family, tribe and ethnic group form the basis for daily life, protection and long-term survival. With no effective central government, he who can provide these to a community – a village elder, tribal chief or warlord – will command popular following. To be the provider, he must have means of coercion, taxation and distribution.

This is how Afghans have lived for centuries. Altering this reality requires a massive effort of nation-building, which has been lacking.

My view is that the Afghan parliament’s rejection of two-thirds of Karzai’s cabinet nominees has to do with a complex variety of reasons, including tribal, ethnic, personal. That it is a serious rebuff to President Karzai is stating the obvious. More important is what it will mean for Afghanistan’s future. His position had already been compromised due to a number of reasons: allegations of corruption close to him; election fraud; constant public humiliations of President Karzai by Washington, London, Paris and elsewhere, reinforcing the impression of him being a Western puppet and Afghanistan being an occupied country. As 40,000 or more US and allied troops pour into that country, resulting in an escalation of war, and with a president whose authority and legitimacy are in tatters for which his Western patrons, too, are responsible, the omens are not good for 2010.

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