Opposition group pressures Ghani on security crisis

It is a complaint echoed by many local politicians, who say the patronage system has undermined the fight against the Taliban as it has overrun much of Helmand.

Afghanistans President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan December 7, 2015.

Political horsetrading over appointments to Afghan police and army commands has created chaos for security forces fighting the Taliban in strategic areas such as Helmand province, a leading opposition politician said.

Umer Daudzai, a former interior minister, now part of a new opposition group, said the power-sharing arrangement at the heart of President Ashraf Ghani's National Unity Government was crippling the fight against the Taliban insurgency.

"It was a great mistake to include security forces in the 50/50 formula," he told Reuters in an interview, referring to the power-sharing arrangement under which Ghani has divided key appointments with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

Under the arrangement, worked out following last year's inconclusive election, appointments are shared out between each side, with key commands often awarded for political loyalty rather than competence.

Even when strong commanders are appointed, the system leaves commanders often answering to different political masters, with conflicting priorities, Daudzai said.

"It creates chaos in the chain of command. Nobody knows who's in charge of what or who's responsible, the system should be depoliticised immediately," he said.

The new opposition body, dubbed the Council for Safeguard and Stability, is a disparate group of former ministers and officials in the previous government of Hamid Karzai as well as veterans of the anti-Soviet Mujahideen.

It says it wants the government to hold parliamentary elections and a constitutional council or Loya Jirga next year as well as change in areas including security policy.

Critics say the body is just a platform for former politicians, some accused of corruption, now shut out of power. But Daudzai pointed to last month's rally against the killing of seven members of the Hazara minority as evidence of mounting frustration with the government.

PROTEST IN KABUL

The demonstration, the largest in Kabul for years, was generally peaceful but security forces opened fire at one point as angry protesters scaled the presidential palace walls.

"That day was a wakeup call for all of us," he said. "We want to use these kinds of pressure but it has to be coordinated, otherwise it can become dangerous."

The council denies its aim is to bring down the government but Daudzai, widely believed to have leadership ambitions of his own, said he favoured early presidential elections.

A former ambassador to Pakistan, he opposes Ghani's strategy of including Pakistan in peace talks with the Taliban, saying Islamabad wants to control the insurgency, a common view in Afghanistan that Pakistan denies.

"For 10 years we went through Islamabad and it didn't work. Pakistan will never give up its asset, which is most of the Taliban," Daudzi said. "They are playing games."

Instead he says, a small group of Afghans, acceptable to both sides, could start contacts leading ultimately to face-to-face meetings. "But it would be Afghan-brokered," he said.

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