KABUL — The Afghan Parliament voted to dismiss the two most powerful members of the government’s security team Saturday, a surprise move that could create new turmoil in an already troubled handover of control as the US-led coalition prepares to leave the country.
Lawmakers said they wanted to oust the defense minister, a longtime friend of the United States, and the interior minister, who oversees the nation’s police force, in part because of endemic corruption in their ministries and because they failed to adequately protect the nation against recent cross-border shelling from Pakistan.
President Hamid Karzai could try to delay the men’s departure, but early indications were that he might accede to Parliament’s wishes.
Shifting power now would inevitably roil both ministries, which are filled with political appointees tied to their leaders, and pull their focus away from the urgent task of fighting the insurgency and controlling criminal elements in the country. The change would come as Afghan soldiers and police are assuming more responsibility for security in much of the country.
Defense Minister Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammedi shoulder most of the responsibility for helping the country build a strong enough army and police force to fight the Taliban without the coalition forces who have led the fight for more than a decade.
Wardak has focused on building up the Afghan army’s equipment and forging relations with foreign allies — having served in his post since 2004. Mohammedi has worked in security posts since the fall of the Taliban, including as chief of staff of the army.
“Even if this is only a political gesture and current ministers stay, this is a warning about the weakness of the Karzai government, a reflection of the deep divisions in the Afghan Legislature, and an indication of the kind of far deeper ethnic and sectarian splits that may come as the transition proceeds,’’ said Anthony Cordesman, an expert on the war at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
At worst, he added, it could ‘‘have a major impact on morale’’ and ‘‘create at least several months of turmoil at the top at a time when there are only about 30 months before’’ most US and coalition forces are gone by 2014. ‘‘Transition is already a high risk effort, and this kind of additional risk is scarcely likely to make things better,’’ Cordesman said.
The US Embassy and the NATO command appeared to be caught by surprise by the parliamentary vote and did not comment other than to say they were aware of the developments.
Karzai’s press office Saturday issued a statement saying, ‘‘The disqualification of ministers is the Parliament’s right.’’
The vote came as many leaders, and Afghans, are increasingly frustrated with corruption that undermines attempts to rebuild after years of war. But it also follows weeks of anger about recent cross-border shelling from Pakistan, which has a strong interest in maintaining influence in Afghanistan when coalition forces leave.
Analysts say it would have been hard for Afghanistan to respond to the attacks without a diplomatic breakdown with Pakistan, which denies involvement and blames the strikes on militants. Still, the shelling symbolizes Afghanistan’s helplessness in a tug-of-war over its fate among powerful outside forces.
Wardak, a Pashtun, and Mohammedi have been high-profile figures in the Afghan government since the early days of the government’s formation after the collapse of the Taliban.
A number of Karzai’s supporters in Parliament, as well as some who oppose him, backed the decision on the two ministers and said they saw the move as a demonstration of Parliament doing its job. They strongly rejected the idea that it will hamper the security transition.
‘‘Their disqualification will not have any impact on the transition process because the government of Afghanistan has agreed that security responsibilities should be handed over to Afghans and whether Bismillah Khan and Wardak are part of it or not this process will proceed,’’ said Gul Pacha Majidi, a lawmaker from Paktia Province in the country’s southeastern Pashtun belt.
He agreed with several other lawmakers that an important element in Parliament’s decision was widespread corruption and cronyism as well as longstanding questions about the two ministries’ ability to protect the country. One point of frustration were attacks in Kabul by insurgents and their infiltration of both ministries, said lawmakers.
Lawmakers insisted that, on balance, a change in leadership would improve things.