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Resignations Of Top Afghan Security Officials Have Broad Implications

Afghanistan's former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar (left) and former intelligence chief Amrullah Salih (composite photo)
Afghanistan's former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar (left) and former intelligence chief Amrullah Salih (composite photo)
Kabul is rife with speculations and rumors one day after two top security resigned from their posts after apparently losing the confidence of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Salih and Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar resigned on June 6 after a three-hour meeting with Karzai. The move deprives the Karzai administration of capable managers familiar with Afghanistan's complicated security affairs at a time when the insurgency appears to be strengthening.

Speaking to RFE/RL, lawmaker Kabir Ranjbar cast doubt on international media reports that the two resigned because of key differences with Karzai over his peace overtures to the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

Ranjbar says their resignations could be linked to pressure from Pakistan and Iran, which he suggests were unhappy with the public pronouncements of Salih and Atmar. The two often publically accused Islamabad and Tehran of interfering in Afghan affairs by supporting insurgent networks.

Ranjbar participated in the peace jirga last week, an event that some have said triggered the officials' resignations after it was targeted by rocket fire and suicide bombing attacks. He praised the performance of Afghan security forces in the aftermath of the attacks, noting that in the end two potential suicide bombers were killed and that another was arrested. At least three other similar attacks were prevented, he claims, with the arrest of planners and their associates.

'Among The Best Managers'

Now, Ranjbar predicts, the Karzai cabinet will struggle to repeat such a performance without two key members.

"It is a fact that they were among the best managers in the [Karzai] administration," Ranjbar says. "We are lacking 13 ministers in the cabinet now and the president says he cannot find suitable candidates for these posts. So this will have negative consequences. It will also have negative implications for our police force and national intelligence officials [who will be demoralized]."

Delegates listen to a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the concluding day of the three-day peace jirga in Kabul on June 4.
Thomas Ruttig, a former UN and European diplomat and the director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, tells RFE/RL that the resignation of key Afghan officials with close ties to Western donors suggest that Karzai is reasserting his independence.

"[Karzai] is probably tired about being told who to keep as a minister and who not to keep as a minister, which has happened quite often," Ruttig says. "On the other hand, Karzai showing independence from his donors does not necessarily mean that it is for the good of Afghanistan when the result is only strengthening his own patronage networks and relations. Still, we are waiting for criteria about why ministers are appointed and sacked."

Sensitive Peace Negotiations

Sensitive Saleh, in his late 30s, has been director of Afghanistan's premier intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate, since 2004. He was a close associate of the anti-Taliban Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Massud and served as his liaison with the CIA in the late 1990s.

Afghan observers suggest that Saleh's past association with anti-Taliban factions made it difficult for the Taliban to trust him in sensitive peace negotiations. In his opening speech to the peace jirga, Karzai noted that many Taliban were pushed into fighting by the past excesses of Afghan security forces who harassed them even after they had dropped their weapons after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Atmar, a British-educated former aid worker, served as Karazi's development and education minister before being appointed interior minister in October 2008. Seen as a tough reformer, Atmar brough discipline to the rank-and-file of the fledgling Afghan bureaucracy. Western officials see his removal as a setback to their plans to train Afghan police -- a main objective of the ongoing U.S. troop surge.

Munir Mangal, the interim interior minister
Karzai has temporality appointed General Munir Mangal and Ibrahim Spinzada as interior minister and intelligence chief. Both were deputies to Atmar and Salih.

'Not A Good Start'

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Kabul University Professor Najib Mahmud emphasized that sacking key security officials will not resolve Afghanistan's complex security challenges.

"In my opinion, this will not be a good start [for seriously reforming the security institutions] because both the men who stepped down tried hard to get acquainted with the current security situation in the country. They went after terrorist groups and networks," Mahmud says. "It will take time for the new people to get acquainted with the situation."

In their press conferences on June 6, both Atmar and Salih said that they were voluntarily resigning after losing the trust of the president.

"[The] president of Afghanistan has lost trust in our capability to protect national events," Salih told journalists. Without elaborating, he said that there were "tens of other reasons" for his resignation.

But their resignations have so far given little reason to Afghans and the international community to expect improved security. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that Washington favored Atmar as the interior minister. "Both the ministers of interior and intelligence are people we admire and whose services we appreciate," he said.

In a statement, Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, expressed confidence in Karzai's "ability to appoint credible replacements to lead these critical organizations."

RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Mustafa Sarwar contributed to this report
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He also writes the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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