Afghan president dismisses most of his ministers
KABUL — Unable to form a new government, the new president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, said Sunday he had decided to fire most of the ministers held over from the administration of former president Hamid Karzai.
As Ghani dismissed the ministers, another key Afghan official was on the verge of being ousted. General Mohammed Zahir, the police chief of Kabul, offered his resignation amid a wave of Taliban suicide attacks in the capital.
The most recent attack in the capital occurred Saturday, when three insurgents with bombs and guns stormed the guesthouse of a small aid organization, killing an Afghan as well as a South African pastor and his two teenage children, according to The Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper, which identified the victims.
Police did not identify the aid group, but a California-based group called Partnership in Academics and Development said on its website that several members of its staff died in an attack Saturday in Kabul, the Associated Press reported.
Kabul has seen eight deadly suicide attacks against high-profile targets in the past 16 days, one of the most violent periods in the capital in years. In recent days, four foreigners — including an employee of the British embassy — have been killed and dozens of Afghan civilians have been killed and wounded.
As the security situation in Kabul has deteriorated, Afghanistan’s recently inaugurated leaders — a president, a chief executive, and two vice presidents — have struggled to make basic decisions.
The underlying problem is the power-sharing agreement that followed this year’s disputed presidential election. It makes Ghani president and his election rival, Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive.
Since the deal was struck in September, Ghani and Abdullah have been unable to pick a new Cabinet, leaving the government in the lurch and raising questions about the long-term chances of the power-sharing deal.
Lately, optimistic reports in the local news media have suggested that the two sides were close to a breakthrough in selecting a Cabinet. That optimism was dispelled Sunday night, when Ghani said in a televised address that the selection of a new Cabinet was still a number of weeks away.
In the meantime, he said, he was dismissing most of the current ministers. Their deputy ministers would take charge, he said, pending new appointments.
As news circulated that Zahir was about to resign as police chief, the Taliban claimed credit for ousting him through its wave of suicide bombings in the capital.
The spate of bombings began three weeks ago with an assassination attempt against Zahir, who has been Kabul’s police chief since last year. A suicide bomber infiltrated police headquarters and blew himself up as he tried to reach Zahir’s office.
Since then, the targets of the insurgent attacks have been varied: a female lawmaker, a British Embassy vehicle, and the foreign development group, among others.
The explosions have left Afghans on edge, and several Kabul institutions are reconsidering their security measures. C. Michael Smith, the president of the American University of Afghanistan, said that classes were canceled Sunday, a school day here, and would be canceled Monday, as well.
The decision was made, he said, because some of the faculty housing is near the site of the attack Saturday.
At a news conference earlier Sunday, in which the police urged the public to report suspicious behavior to the authorities, Zahir played down the significance of the attacks, saying his police force had a good track record of protecting civilians against insurgents.
Not long after the news conference, reports began circulating about Zahir’s resignation. A senior government official said that the new administration had sought the general’s resignation for some time and that it was not directly related to the most recent attacks.
However, a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, posted a message on Twitter saying that Taliban attacks had “forced [Zahir] to resign and flee.”
But Zahir’s job status was not entirely clear Sunday night. A spokesman for the Kabul police, Hashmatullah Stanikzai, said Zahir had offered his resignation but had not yet heard whether his offer would be accepted. For the moment, Zahir still held his job, Stanikzai said.
“We are waiting to hear,” he said.
The attacks in Kabul have raised concerns about whether Afghan security forces can protect the country after the United States and NATO officially conclude their 13-year combat mission Dec. 31.