KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — After months of delays and missed deadlines, the Afghan government on Monday finally unveiled its full list of Cabinet nominees, ending an extended period of public uncertainty and anxiety in the war-torn nation.
Abdul Salaam Rahimi, chief of staff for President Ashraf Ghani, announced the list of 25 Cabinet nominees, as well as nominees for director of the Afghan intelligence service and governor of the Central Bank. All nominees must now receive approval from the parliament.
Ghani was inaugurated in late September as part of a unity government with rival Abdullah Abdullah. He quickly fired his entire Cabinet, and the three-month delay in naming their replacements has spawned public disappointment and anger toward his government. Ghani repeatedly appealed to his citizens for patience while at the same time missing numerous deadlines — most self-imposed but also one set by parliament.
The long delay has burned through Ghani's honeymoon period and threatened to destabilize the country as the Taliban intensifies its war against the Afghan state and the international military presence drastically scales down. Without a government, Afghanistan has effectively been run by presidential decree; analysts and critics have expressed concern that the resulting power vacuum enabled the Taliban to gain the upper hand politically while inflicting a toll on the morale of Afghan forces on the battlefield, according to analysts. Once winter on the Hindu Kush mountains thaws and the militants are again on the move, they say, Afghans can expect a brutal fighting season as an emboldened insurgency takes advantage of a young weak government and demoralized military.
"The Taliban have gained momentum," said analyst Haroun Mir. "They are getting ready for what will be a surge in the summer, and I don't think this administration is taking any initiatives for prepare for that."
The economy has stalled, domestic and international investment has plummeted, and some civil servants such as teachers and public health workers are paid only erratically. Ministries have been run for months by former deputy ministers after Ghani sacked all ministers in November, but with a lack of authority little of the business of government is getting done.
Salahuddin Rabbani, the former head of the country's high peace council, was nominated for foreign minister, Sher Mohammad Karimi, the military chief of staff, was nominated for defense minister and a former general Noor-ur-Haq Ulomi was nominated for interior minister. Current intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil is nominated to retain his position. The 25 Cabinet nominees include three women — nominated to head the ministries of information and culture, women's affairs and higher education.
The U.S.-led international military mission that fought the Taliban for 13 years ended on Dec. 31, leaving a residual training operation of around 13,500 troops, most of them American, while Afghan forces take on the Taliban largely without their support. The Taliban have spread their footprint across the country and though they do not appear to be taking any territory, they have killed more than 5,000 Afghan forces, more than 65 percent of them police, and are responsible for the majority of more than 10,000 civilian casualties, NATO and United Nations officials said.
The delay in nominating a Cabinet also spawned a host of rumors — from talk that Ghani and Abdullah simply couldn't work together to speculation that representatives of the Taliban were being offered Cabinet posts as part of ongoing peace negotiations. Ghani's proposed list of Cabinet nominees does not include any Taliban representatives. The Taliban's former foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that contrary to some reports, he had not been approached to take a Cabinet position, or to mediate with Taliban leaders outside the country on either Cabinet posts or peace talks.
Ghani's foreign policy going forward is aimed at pressuring the Taliban to renounce violence and participate in talks aimed at ending the war. Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said Kabul and Islamabad were moving toward closer military and intelligence cooperation — particularly after a December attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a school in Peshawar that killed 150 people, mostly schoolchildren. That attack appears to have galvanized the often contentious neighbors into unified action.
Western diplomats, analysts and commentators say that as long as the Taliban believe themselves to be in a position of strength, they will not negotiate with Ghani's administration.
Elsewhere in the country, a police commander and two officers were killed by a roadside bomb. The explosion killed Khan Mohammad, police chief for the Mizan district, along with his two police bodyguards around 10 a.m. Monday morning, said Ghulam Jilani Farahi, the deputy police chief for Zabul province.
In the southern province of Helmand, a prominent local Islamic cleric was killed Monday afternoon by two gunmen on a motorcycle, said Omar Zwak, spokesman for the Helmand provincial government.
Associated Press writer Amir Shah contributed to this report.