The Afghan parliament voted on Saturday to dismiss the country’s defense and interior ministers, a move that threatens to throw the country’s security apparatus into confusion as foreign forces withdraw.
The vote demanded the dismissal of two of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s key security lieutenants: Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, one of the top officials most trusted by Washington, and Afghan Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi. The votes of no confidence come at a critical time in the war, when Afghan police and soldiers are increasingly taking over responsibility from departing international troops, who are scheduled to leave Afghanistan or move into support roles by the end of 2014.
Separately, the US-led coalition said two NATO service members were killed Saturday in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan. No other information was released. So far this year, 268 US and NATO troops have died in the war.
Legislators faulted the defense and interior ministers for what they view as the government’s weak response to cross-border attacks that Afghans blame on the Pakistani military, with lawmakers asking why Afghanistan has not launched a military response. The parliamentarians also asked the ministers about allegations of corruption within their ministries and alleged security lapses that led to recent assassinations of top officials.
The parliament then passed a measure to remove Wardak by a vote of 146 to 72. A separate vote of no confidence on Mohammadi passed 126 to 90. Both measures needed 124 votes to pass.
“Both ministers are disqualified from their positions and we request His Excellency President Karzai to introduce new ministers for these positions as soon as possible,” Abdul Raouf Abrahimi, speaker of the lower house of parliament, said after the vote.
It is unclear if the two will immediately leave their posts. Parliament occasionally flexes its muscle to thwart Karzai’s policies or appointments, but the constitution places most power in the president’s hands.
Karzai’s office issued a three-sentence statement acknowledging that Article 92 of the Afghan constitution gives the parliament the authority to disqualify ministers. Karzai’s statement did not express any support or regret for the no confidence votes, saying only that the president would “make decisions about the disqualified ministers” after he met with his national security team yesterday.
In past no-confidence votes, Karzai has simply kept other ministers in their jobs in an acting capacity and dragged out the process of nominating replacements.
The US embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the parliament’s action, referring questions to the Afghan government.
Among the criticisms of the two ministers was the government’s tepid response to allegations that the Pakistani military launched hundreds of shells and rockets into the eastern Afghan provinces of Nuristan and Kunar last month, sometimes hitting homes and killing civilians along frontier areas where insurgents have staged cross-border attacks.
Both countries have accused each other of firing onto their territory along the disputed border, which is not well marked.
Pakistan denies deliberately shelling Afghan territory, saying it only fires in response to attacks against its own troops from across the border.