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Afghanistan: Foreign Minister Loses Post

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah (file photo) (AFP) Afghan President Hamid Karzai today approved a list of names for his new cabinet. The list still requires the approval of Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga. But analysts already note one name that is conspicuously absent from the proposed cabinet -- Abdullah Abdullah -- the man who has been the foreign minister for the past four years.

PRAGUE, March 22, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to present his final list for a cabinet reshuffle to the Afghan parliament on March 23. The parliament will conduct a separate confirmation vote for each of the 25 proposed ministers.

According to a copy of the list obtained from Karzai's office by Radio Free Afghanistan, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah has been dropped from the cabinet. Karzai has named his adviser on international affairs -- Rangin Dadfar Spanta -- as his next foreign minister.

Ismail Khan, the powerful former governor of Herat, is the only former warlord keeping his seat in the cabinet.

Awaiting Parliament Approval

Reports from Kabul say Abdullah was offered several lesser posts but refused them.

Jean McKenzie is the Afghanistan country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. She tells RFE/RL that it is too early to discuss the impact of the proposed cabinet reshuffle.

"It's a little soon to tell what it is going to mean for Afghanistan's foreign policy," McKenzie says. "Certainly, Abdullah Abdullah has been quite a figure in Afghanistan's foreign policy for the past several years. [But] we don't know yet exactly what this means or how the [Afghan] parliament is going to react to the list -- to the cabinet reshuffle -- in general."

Abdullah was one of three members of the former Northern Alliance's Shura-e Nazar faction, who obtained a powerful cabinet post through the Bonn accords of late 2001. The others -- former Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni and former Defense Minister Qasim Fahim -- also used their de facto control of Kabul at the time of the Bonn meeting to negotiate for ministry posts.

Last Of The Triumvirate

"The triumvirate of Fahim as defense minister, Qanuni as interior minister, and Abdullah as the foreign minister was -- in the beginning -- [representive of] the three main factions of Shura-e Nazar," RFE/RL's Afghanistan analyst Amin Tarzi says. "So one faction within the so-called Northern Alliance had the power. And now the last one of them is gone. On face value, this looks like a purging or a defeat of the Shura-e Nazar faction that began with all power concentrated in their hands in 2002."

Tarzi notes that much of Abdullah's power base was a result of his association with the late Ahmad Shah Mas'ud -- the iconic leader of Shura-e Nazar who had fought against both the Soviets and the Taliban until he was assassinated by suspected Al-Qaeda operatives two days before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

"His [real] power base is very weak. He was not considered as one of the most powerful members of that group -- of the Shura-e Nazar," he says. "It doesn't seem that he personally can do much unless he is supported by other colleagues. Maybe there is an agreement between Mr. Karzai and Mr. Karzai's first deputy -- which we shouldn't forget is Mas'ud's own brother. So there may be a split within this [Shura-e Nazar] faction. But Mr. Abdullah, by himself, doesn't have any power base -- either military or political -- to do anything on his own."

McKenzie says there have been rumors in Kabul for the past year that Abdullah would be replaced as foreign minister. But she says there are no signs that Abdullah's replacement would bring an angry response from the faction's militia fighters.

Voting Questions

"I haven't heard murmurings that they are angry," she says. "It may be just a shifting of alliances -- that the former power ministers [from Shura-e Nazar] are now transferring out of the government and [some of them are moving] into the legislature, where they will have a different type of power base. But I think that it will all become clear in the coming days when we have confirmation hearings -- which I think will be quite revealing, provided they make a decision on how the parliament is going to vote on the cabinet. They are still discussing whether the vote is going to be secret or open."

Qanuni, now the speaker of the lower chamber of parliament, has been arguing for an open vote on Karzai's proposed ministers. But McKenzie says some parliamentarians have expressed fears of being attacked if their votes are made public. They are arguing for a secret ballot on Karzai's proposed cabinet list.

Ismail Khan, the powerful former governor of Herat, is the only former warlord keeping his seat in the cabinet.

There is only one woman in the proposed list -- Suraya Rahim Subrang, who has been proposed as the new women's affairs minister. If approved by parliament, she would replace Mas'uda Jala, who stood against Karzai as a candidate in the presidential election of 2004. Two other women in the current cabinet also did not make Karzai's new list.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report.)

Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah

Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah

Abdullah Abdullah (epa)

Afghan Foreign Minister ABDULLAH ABDULLAH on January 21 spoke by telephone with RFE/RL Afghan Service correspondent Zarif Nazar. Abdullah discussed the most recent videotaped message from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the current state of the Taliban, terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and the upcoming London conference on the Afghanistan Compact.

To read the complete interview,click here.