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Afghanistan's (Dis)Unity Cabinet Fiasco

Reports have emerged that Jalani Popal, President Ashraf Ghani's nominee to be finance minister, has withdrawn his candidacy, possibly because he has dual citizenship.

It took months to piece together, but Afghanistan's proposed cabinet is at risk of falling apart quickly, as nominees come under scrutiny for dual citizenship, alleged criminal activities, and being underage.

Just a week after President Ashraf Ghani and election rival Abdullah Abdullah proposed their new cabinet, the names of about half the 27 nominees could be thrown out.

Such a result would be a blow to President Ghani, whose efforts to forge a "unity" government with Abdullah took more than three months.

Negotiations with Abdullah, who in his role as government chief executive was given a share of nominees, were reportedly tense. But when the names were announced on January 13, the list appeared to meet Ghani's promises to form a cabinet full of new faces chosen on merit and free of Kabul’s strong patronage system.

Getting those nominees past parliament, which is to vote on the issue on January 20, will be easier said than done, however.

Citizenship An Issue

The lower house's International Relations Committee, which is tasked with vetting the nominees, has revealed that 11 of the 27 nominees have dual citizenship. This is a sticking point for many parliament members, some of whom are reportedly threatening not to give their vote of confidence to those nominees.

Under the Afghan Constitution, only Afghan citizens are eligible to be ministerial nominees. But there is a caveat: in the event a nominee with dual citizenship were proposed, lawmakers could decide whether to make an exception.

Complicating matters further is that parliament in a nonbinding decision in late 2014 voted not to allow any dual citizens into the new cabinet.

Of the nominees under scrutiny, only Ghani appointees have been singled out, although Abdullah's nominees are apparently also affected.

Mohammad Yaqub Haidari, 52, Ghani's nominee to oversee the country's Agriculture Ministry, has been alleged in the Afghan media not only to be a dual citizen, but also to be on an Interpol most-wanted list.

Interpol lists an Afghan man with the same name, and who resembles Haidari, as being wanted in Estonia for "large-scale tax evasion" and "fraudulent conversion," without elaborating.

In a written response to an inquiry by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, the Estonian Prosecutor-General's Office said that a man named Mohammad Yakub Haidari was found guilty by a county court in 2011 of "tax evasion and breach of trust and he was punished by imprisonment for a term of four years as an aggregate punishment." The sentence was "left unchanged" by two higher courts, including the Supreme Court in 2012.

After attending one court session, the Prosecutor-General's Office said, Haidari applied for permission to leave Estonia temporarily. He subsequently failed to appear in court, and "at present, Mr. Haidari is internationally wanted for the service of sentence."

Haidari has maintained his innocence.

Nazifullah Salarzai, a presidential spokesman, said that if Haidari was wanted by Interpol, his nomination would immediately be withdrawn. There have already been reports that he has, in fact, been removed from the list of nominees.

Under Scrutiny

News has also emerged that one of Ghani's two women nominees is being scrutinized for failing to meet age requirements. According to the Afghan Constitution, ministers should be at least 35 years old, and the age of Khatira Afghan, the president's nominee for minister of higher education, has come under question.

Reports allege that Afghan changed her age from 33 to 38 in her national ID card just a week prior to her nomination.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that Jalani Popal, Ghani's nominee to be finance minister, has withdrawn his candidacy. That would be a huge blow for Ghani, who reportedly pushed hard for Popal's inclusion in the cabinet. The reason for his withdrawal is unknown and unconfirmed, but there are suggestions it is because he has dual Afghan-American citizenship.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.