MIDDLE EAST

Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani presents Cabinet picks amid controversy

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani presented his Cabinet nominations to parliament -- but not without controversy

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani officially presented his Cabinet nominations to parliament on Tuesday amid a series of shakeups and questions surrounding the long-delayed list of 25 proposed ministers.

The list has already seen major changes in the week since Ghani presented his original list of ministerial candidates, with many lawmakers saying they would not consider any individuals who held dual citizenship. The parliament is expected to vote on the nominations next week, with a simple majority required for approval.

Many Afghan elites hold more than one passport, a result of three decades of conflict that have seen millions of people flee the country. The Afghan constitution approved in 2004 says lawmakers can reject ministerial nominees who hold citizenship of another country, and many lawmakers have said they would only consider candidates who had begun the process of renouncing their non-Afghan citizenship.

However, during the previous government of President Hamid Karzai, several Cabinet ministers and provincial governors held dual citizenships, leading some to charge that nominees are being rejected for political reasons. At least 11 of Ghani’s nominees possess dual citizenship.

Only hours before Ghani was to address the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament, the list saw another shakeup as Mahmoud Saiqal, the nominee to lead the Ministry of Water and Energy, was replaced with Abdul Rahman Salahi, who had faced questions about his dual Australian-Afghan citizenship.

Salahi, originally from the western province of Herat, is believed to have been appointed in a bid to appease Ismail Khan, a powerful former minister and militia commander who also hails from Herat. Khan had criticized Ghani’s list for lacking veterans of the 1980s war against Soviet occupation as well as leaders from western Afghanistan.

Schahzaman Maiwandi, the nominee for the Ministry of Urban Development, said he has started the process of renouncing his German citizenship.

Maiwandi, 38, said he has full faith in lawmakers and hopes they “do the right thing and recognize the fresh, young faces in this new Cabinet.”

Some lawmakers who vowed not to approve dual nationals invoked the case of Abdul Qadir Fitrat, the Afghan American former governor of the Afghan central bank who is now living in Virginia despite being wanted by the Afghan government.

Fitrat fled to the United States in 2011 after claiming that his life was in danger for launching an investigation into the $900-million collapse of Kabul Bank, the nation's largest savings and loan. A 2013 tribunal sentenced Fitrat to 4 1/2 years in prison for mishandling the investigation but he has vowed not to return to Afghanistan.

Gilani Popal, who had been nominated to head the Finance Ministry, withdrew from consideration on Monday for personal reasons, according to officials with knowledge of the matter who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The most controversial dropout was Agriculture Ministry nominee Mohammad Yaqoob Haidari, who asked that his nomination be “suspended” pending an Interpol investigation into a 2003 tax evasion case in Estonia. The 52-year-old was placed on the international police organization’s most-wanted list on charges of “large-scale tax evasion.”

Another pick who has come under scrutiny has so far survived allegations of falsifying information. According to Afghan media reports, Khatera Afghan, the nominee to head the Ministry of Higher Education and one of only three women on Ghani’s list, changed her date of birth to meet the age requirement of 35.

Candidates from the security-related ministries will begin making presentations to lawmakers on Wednesday.

Latifi is a special correspondent. Staff writer Shashank Bengali contributed to this report from Mumbai, India.

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