CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that he will respect the Afghan parliament’s decision to remove two key ministers from office, a dramatic change in leadership during a pivotal stage in NATO’s 11-year war.
Afghan lawmakers voted Saturday to impeach Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Besmillah Khan Mohammadi, both of whom have worked on the United States’ most costly — and most delicate — security initiatives. Their impeachment, which comes during a key stage of NATO’s troop and civilian drawdown, marks a sharp articulation of public discontent, but leaves a number of unanswered questions about the fate of Afghanistan’s two most prominent ministries.
Parliamentarians justified the impeachment by lobbing a number of criticisms at Wardak and Mohammadi, including accusations of corruption and their unwillingness to respond to cross-border rockets fired from Pakistan.
Although Karzai vowed Sunday to replace the two ministers, he praised their service and asked both men to remain in their positions until their successors are named. In the past, impeached officials have remained in such “acting” roles for several years at Karzai’s request.
But many of the country’s lawmakers say that Karzai is not responding quickly enough to their demands and that his inaction threatens to stymie the body’s reforms. Wary that Karzai might not act swiftly in response to the parliament’s vote, Afghan lawmakers were outspoken in their insistence that new ministers be named promptly.
“If he really wants to implement the law, he should introduce the two new ministers soon because we are tired of having acting ministers in the government for years,” parliamentarian Sharifullah Kamawal said.
In a statement, Karzai called Wardak and Mohammadi “true sons of Afghanistan who . . . spent many years in helping develop a new system in Afghanistan.”
The statement added that the Afghan government “will not only decorate them with highest state medals of honor, but would ask them to continue as experienced and dedicated persons to serve their nation and their country in other capacities within the government.”
Late last month, Karzai spoke publicly about the need to reduce corruption in the Afghan government — a vaguely worded pledge that lawmakers are hoping will become concrete with the dismissal of Wardak and Mohammadi.
The ministers “were disqualified because they were not able to respond against the cross-border shelling by Pakistan, they failed to bring security in the country and to fight against the corruption in their ministries,” said Mohammad Naeem Lailai Hamidzai, another parliamentarian. “Karzai has to dismiss them because he promised the international community’s leaders at the Tokyo conference to fight against the corruptions and now he has to prove it.”
Wardak has led the Defense Ministry since 2004, presiding over the rapid growth of the Afghan army and negotiating with American officials over sensitive security issues, including the execution of controversial night operations. Wardak, who spent years in the United States and speaks fluent English, has for years been seen as a trusted U.S. ally, even as American officials have grown concerned about their tumultuous relationship with Karzai.
Mohammadi has been another of Afghanistan’s most prominent security officials, serving as the Afghan army’s chief of staff before becoming interior minister and overseeing the growth of the Afghan police, including thousands of locally recruited officers who serve in the Afghan Local Police. Critics say the force amounts to little more than a smattering of local militias, but top U.S. military officials argue that the ALP has been responsible for massive security improvements in some of the country’s most dangerous districts.
Javed Hamdard and Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.