Afghan lawmakers again reject president’s nominee to head defense ministry
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s parliament on Saturday again rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s nominee for defense minister, leaving the nation’s military without a confirmed civilian head 10 months after the new administration took office.
Masum Stanekzai, was the second candidate for defense minister to be turned down by the legislature’s lower house. He previously headed the influential High Peace Council – a body charged with seeking to end Afghanistan’s 14-year war through negotiations with Taliban insurgents.
Stanekzai received just 84 votes of the 213 lawmakers present during a televised session of parliament on Saturday morning. The rejection highlighted continuing tensions between Ghani and various factions within his national unity government.
Analysts said Stanekzai's nomination was opposed by former members of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of warlords who fought against the Taliban with Russian assistance in the late 1990s. After the 9/11 attacks in the United States, alliance forces ousted the Taliban regime with the help of the U.S.. Their leaders remain influential in both the administration and the parliament.
Mohammad Hasan Hagyar, an Afghan political analyst, said Northern Alliance members opposed Ghani’s policy of trying to reach out to the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table. “They don’t want a defense minister (who would) support this policy,” he said.
On June 22, when parliament had originally met to consider Stanekzai’s nomination, the Taliban mounded a surprise attack on the building just as the session got underway. The insurgents detonated a car bomb near the entrance to the heavily guarded compound and then assaulted it with rocket and automatic fire, but they were beaten off by the legislature’s security contingent.
Ghani named Stanekzai as acting defense minister in May. He has led the ministry through much of this year’s summer fighting season, during which the army and police have for the first time faced a nationwide Taliban offensive without the help of U.S. and NATO combat forces.
U.S. and NATO diplomats have been urging the government and parliament to quickly confirm a new defense minister.
Ghani’s first nominee for the post was rejected by parliament in January, and a second nominee withdrew his nomination in March. All other senior cabinet posts have since been filled.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.