U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, meets with Afghan Interior Minister… (Jason Reed / AFP/Getty Images )
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan parliament voted to sack the nation’s interior minister Monday, blaming him for growing security problems as local forces take greater responsibility for the country's security.
But the official, Ghulam Mujtaba Patang, fought back in a news conference a few hours later. He is expected to remain in office on an interim basis after President Hamid Karzai referred the matter to the nation’s Supreme Court.
Karzai said in a statement that parliament had the right under the Afghan Constitution to vote no confidence in the interior minister. But such a step should be “reasonable and law-based,” he said, adding that Patang would remain in place in a caretaker role until the top court ruled on parliament’s move.
Lawmakers in the 250-member parliament voted 163 to 60 to dismiss Patang, who oversees approximately 160,000 Afghan police and security forces. About 3,000 local security officers have been killed in recent months as Afghans take over the fight against the Taliban and its allies from NATO-led troops.
Patang was accused of allowing violence to increase along the main Kabul-Kandahar highway.
A few hours later, Patang gave his own version of events, saying his nine months in office have been marked by interference from government officials, drug mafia groups, private security thugs and those trying to grab land illegally.
Since he was named, Patang said, he’s been called 93 times to address the Afghan lower house of parliament and 79 times to the senate. He also criticized lawmakers for using more than 1,500 police officers as personal guards. Those officers no longer answer to the ministry.
“I am here to tell the Afghan nation what’s really happening and to let people know how it is that a minister gets sacked,” he said.
Analysts said security along the Kabul-Kandahar highway isn’t significantly worse now than it had been and that parliament’s impeachment vote is related to political rivalries. In particular, they said, some lawmakers are angry that Patang has largely ignored thousands of their petitions, including some asking for jobs for their friends.
“I think the interior minister failed to convince lawmakers behind closed doors and was a bit weak in dealing with them, which is why they summoned and sacked him,” said Mir Ahmad Joyenda, a Kabul-based political analyst. “Yesterday, the interior minister said, ‘We’re surrounded by wolves and need to fight them.’ I believe some of these wolves exist inside parliament as well.”
The combined Afghan police, army and paramilitary are strong enough to defend the nation and fight insurgency leading into 2014 and beyond, analysts said. A bigger problem, they said, is a lack of effective leadership or capable administration in the country, as well as the endless jockeying for power and influence.
“If they keep hiring and firing the country’s top security officials, then security will remain a huge challenge,” Joyenda said.
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Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi.