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Afghanistan defence minister’s resignation: implications August 31, 2012

Posted by nishankmotwani in : Afghanistan, Future Directions International , trackback

Gustavo Mendiolaza

Background

For the last eight years, Abdul Rahim Wardak has been the Afghan Defence Minister, but a recent Vote of No Confidence by the national parliament has forced his removal and subsequent resignation. The problem associated with these events is two-fold: can President Karzai maintain stability and what will this mean for the coalition countries, particularly the United States, as the 2014 troop drawdown agreed upon in the 2010 Lisbon summit approaches.

Comment

In July 2012 in Kunar Province, Afghan territory came under a high-intensity attack of some 2,000 shells, launched by the Pakistani military (although NATO and Afghan officials state the attack came from insurgents),  according to local Police Chief Ewaz Nazari. The attack was beyond the current capabilities of the insurgent groups, an argument based on caches seized by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the prevalence of improvised explosive devices, rather than artillery, as the weapon of choice for insurgents. The ineffectual response from both Defence Minister Wardak and Interior Minister Mohammadi was a significant contributing factor in their dismissals.

However, border attacks are not new between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The July attacks are merely the latest in a string of violent cross-border violations that have been happening with increased frequency since 2007. Violence pre-dates the creation of Pakistan in 1947, with fighting taking place along the Durand Line, which splits a single ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Since 2003, the border has been utilised by both the Afghan and Pakistani military forces, as well as local insurgent groups.

The departure of Wardak places increased pressure on the Coalition withdrawal, expected by 2014. First, Wardak’s resignation comes as the summer “fighting season” is peaking. This means the Afghan National Army (ANA) will have the increased risk of facing the local insurgency without a captain, or, in this case, a four-star general.

Second, it will complicate NATO-Afghan relations, as Wardak was seen as a key ally of the US. His fluency in English and Western education eased high-level exchanges and made them fruitful. This has been seen in the co-operation on military operations over the Durand Line; one example is the forward operating bases developed and utilised by the US military.

Wardak’s time as Defence Minister has seen major changes to the ANA and its structure. Operating at an initial force strength of 50,000, under Wardak the ANA has grown to 195,000 troops. While plagued with problems, such as corruption and lack of discipline, it is nonetheless an impressive achievement.

Wardak’s resignation, also partly due to allegations of corruption, has been largely ignored by the US. In the build-up to the 2014 drawdown, achieving stability may have taken precedence over the eradication of corruption. As few candidates have a clean political sheet, it may take time for the Afghan Parliament and President Karzai to find a replacement.

As Foschini of the Afghan Analyst Network states: ‘Karzai’s next moves will be watched very closely by many sides, in particular in the context of his recent announcements of a long list of new “reform” and anti-corruption measures.’ Karzai has few options left. His best option would be to keep Wardak, as his years of experience will be valuable leading up to 2014. This scenario does not seem likely, however. His next best option is the Army Chief of Staff, General Sher Mohammad Karimi. With a tough stance on border control, strong nationalism and plenty of combat experience, he could be a suitable successor to Wardak.

In either case Wardak’s dismissal and resignation has created an atmosphere of tension. Any replacement will take time to adjust and any delays could adversely affect Karzai’s authority and the Coalition’s exit strategy.

Gustavo Mendiolaza is a Research Assistant at Future Directions International

This article first appeared on Future Directions International on 22 August 2012.

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