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Afghanistan's Proposed Cabinet Runs Into Trouble

A protest against the new cabinet in Kabul on January 14.
A protest against the new cabinet in Kabul on January 14.

It took Afghanistan's national unity government leaders more than three months of haggling to nominate 27 people for the country's top posts.

But less than a week after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah announced the list of names, more than half of the nominees appear to be in hot water overs tax evasion, age requirement, withdrawals and dual citizenship.

In what is being viewed as a major blow to the cabinet, Afghan media reported on January 19 that technocrat Jelani Popal, an ally of Ghani, has withdrawn from being considered for the post of finance minister by Afghan parliament, which is empowered to vote on endorsing government nominees for the cabinet.

Afghan media didn't cite any reasons for his withdrawal. Popal was seen as a competent manager who turned around the Independent Directorate for Local Governance, a large government agency that manages provincial and district administrations.

Popal's withdrawal comes a day after the government began probing its nominee for the agricultural ministry. Mohammad Yaqub Haidari allegedly appears on Interpol's wanted list for tax evasion in Estonia.

"The government of Afghanistan is still collecting information about him. If it is proved that his name is included on the Interpol wanted list, his name will be withdrawn from the cabinet list," Javed Faisal, a government spokesman, told Radio Free Afghanistan on January 19.

Interpol listing for Mohammad Yaqub Haidari
Interpol listing for Mohammad Yaqub Haidari

According to an Interpol listing, Estonia is seeking Haidari, 52, for "large-scale tax evasion [and] fraudulent conversion" in cases dating to 2003.

Haidari acknowledged being on the Interpol list but has denied any wrongdoing.

The Afghan capital was also rife with the possible withdrawal of a third nominee on January 19. Khatera Afghan, Ghani's nominee for the higher education ministry, is reportedly younger than 35 ― the minimum age set by the Afghan Constitution for cabinet posts.

Kabul's independent 1TV station reported that she changed her age from 33 to 38 in her national identity document just a few days before her nomination for the cabinet.

The proposed cabinet's biggest test is expected in the legislature after Ghani formally sends the nominees for a parliamentary vote of approval on January 20.

Sources in Afghan parliament told Radio Free Afghanistan they expect to reject more than 10 nominees because they suspected them of holding dual nationality. Last month Afghan parliament adopted a resolution that called on the administration to refrain from nominating dual-citizenship holders for cabinet posts.

Lawmaker Erfanullah Erfan, a member of the lower house of Afghan parliament, says they won't even consider dual citizens for parliamentary approval.

"If we can establish that someone is holding dual citizenship, then, in accordance with the decision of parliament, they won't be allowed to appear for a parliamentary vote of confidence," he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Afghan political observers say the failure of some of the country's most powerful warlords to reoccupy cabinet posts might be the real reason behind the parliamentary resistance to approving cabinet nominees.

Reuters reported last week that Abdullah's mujahedin allies are unhappy with his cabinet choices. Ghani reportedly vetoed his first two nominees for the powerful post of interior minister because the individuals lacked the necessary education and represented the old guard of anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban guerilla commanders who have shaped the country's recent violent history.

Ismail Khan, a powerful Islamist warlord who once ruled parts of western Afghanistan, has publically expressed his disappointment after being left out of the proposed cabinet announced last week.

The former Herat governor and energy minister accused Abdullah of committing an "unforgivable betrayal" for failing to represent Herat in the new cabinet.

"The fingers of Herati voters were chopped and some were even killed during [last year's presidential election], but now they are bitterly disappointed," Khan told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Khan had backed Abdullah in the second round of the presidential election last year.

"Abdullah has completely betrayed the people of Herat because they gave him more votes than any other candidate," Khan said.

Qasim Solahmal and Shahpur Saber contributed reporting for Kabul and Herat.