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An Afghan Minister Fires Back At Impeachment Attempt

Ghulam Mujtaba Patang speaks at a news conference Monday after being dismissed from his post as Afghanistan's interior minister. He will stay in the post until the country's Supreme Court rules on the legality of his dismissal.
Mohammad Ismail
Reuters /Landov
Ghulam Mujtaba Patang speaks at a news conference Monday after being dismissed from his post as Afghanistan's interior minister. He will stay in the post until the country's Supreme Court rules on the legality of his dismissal.

If you think it's tough being a Cabinet secretary in the U.S., having to deal with the demands of a fiercely partisan Congress and testify a few times a year, try being the Afghan interior minister.

"I have been summoned by the lower house 93 times, and 79 times by the upper house," says Ghulam Mujtaba Patang, who for the past 10 months has been in charge of the ministry that oversees the Afghan National Police.

"Based on this calculation, I have had one day in a week to work for the people," he says.

In addition to answering calls to appear before Parliament, he's had to answer 15,000 request letters from parliamentarians. "Some of them legal and some of them are illegal," he continues. "Most of the requests are personal demands."

A List Of Headaches

Not unlike officials in Western governments, Patang says he gets patronage requests to hire relatives of parliamentarians, to fire people they don't like, or in seven specific cases, to promote uneducated and/or illiterate officers to the rank of general. But, he says, his headaches don't end there.

Patang says lawmakers are illegally cruising around in 46 Ford Ranger police trucks belonging to his ministry. In addition, 254 of the ministry's rifles and 51 pistols are also illegally in their hands. He has received demands for 84 permits for armored vehicles, despite the fact that, he says, Parliament has more than enough. And, he has received 232 requests for taxi permits, which he says lawmakers turn around and sell.

Now, the reason he happened to be rattling all this off is because he was in the process of being impeached by Parliament. Lawmakers say the vote to dismiss him was because of his failure to fight corruption in the ministry, and because he wasn't doing enough to combat deteriorating security in parts of the country.

'Immature Act'

But one of those who supported him says that's a cover story.

"Unfortunately, today's voting was not about security in Afghanistan," says Shukria Barakzai, a member of Parliament. She argues that MPs didn't like the fact Patang would not cave to all their demands. The straw that broke the camel's back, she says, was the fact that he declined to appear before Parliament over the weekend.

Barakzai says Patang was legitimately too busy doing his job tending to the ongoing security transition in Afghanistan, and the vote to impeach him was an "immature act" that will undermine security in the country.

Patang argues that part of the reason he's been sacked is because he's independent – he's not a member of any political party or beholden to any tribe, warlord, or mafia. As a result, he doesn't have strong patrons in Parliament to prevent this.

"This is plot against educated and elite people," he says.

But he's not going down without a fight. He threatened that in his next news conference he will disclose the names of 72 land-grabbers in Parliament, MPs who are spies for Pakistan's intelligence service and those affiliated with drug mafias.

Turning The Tables

Parliament has impeached several ministers over the years, and in most cases, President Hamid Karzai kept them on as "acting" ministers.

A few months ago, Parliament initiated impeachment proceedings against Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal. But he fended off the vote by going on the offensive. He accused one lawmaker of illegally importing nearly 2,000 cars and of smuggling alcohol into the country. Zakhilwal accused another parliamentarian of smuggling fuel and yet another of smuggling millions of dollars worth of flour. Parliament was too busy howling at that point to continue his impeachment.

The Presidential Palace issued a statement saying that the Supreme Court must evaluate the legality of Patang's sacking, and until then he will remain the acting minister of interior.

And one footnote: During the proceedings, Patang revealed another profound statistic: In the past four months, 2,748 police officers, roughly 2 percent of the police force, were killed fighting militants. That's more than the number of U.S. troops who have been killed during the entire war.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sean Carberry is NPR's international correspondent based in Kabul. His work can be heard on all of NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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