Afghan Parliament Pressures Karzai To Fill Posts

U.S. and Afghan officials say the particularly stormy relations between the two countries over the past several weeks are over. Washington was both confused and worried when Afghan President Hamid Karzai launched several verbal assaults against the U.S. and its allies.

Karzai may be back in the good books — for the moment — with the international community, but he is facing increasing trouble within his own government.

Trouble has been brewing between Karzai and the Afghan Parliament since the presidential election last August. Masood Farivar, the head of Afghanistan's national radio network, says many members of Parliament campaigned for Karzai. "But they did not get anything in return when Karzai was selected," Farivar says. "There was an expectation that some influential MPs would get senior jobs in the new administration. That did not happen, so that might have alienated some of the MPs."

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September. Farivar says in this politically charged environment, many of the MPs are distancing themselves from an increasingly unpopular president — and they're pushing back against his decisions.

That became apparent earlier this month when Karzai issued a decree giving him the power to appoint members of a commission that investigates election irregularities — such as fraud. The move was widely viewed as a power grab. And Parliament delivered Karzai a stinging political defeat by overwhelmingly rejecting the decree. Although the upper house of Parliament has yet to endorse the rebuke, the president was furious.

A day later, Karzai delivered an angry speech — denouncing the international community and the Afghan Parliament. He said its decision to throw out his decree was only serving foreign interests. Two days later, Karzai met with about 60 MPs — most of them his stalwart supporters — and again harangued them and Afghanistan's Western allies.

"The reaction was that Karzai's comments were irresponsible and could potentially damage relations with the West at a time that Afghanistan is dependent on foreign military aid and economic aid," Farivar said. "Even his supporters said that Karzai should have kept his comments to himself, private."

Zukria Barakzai is one of those long-time supporters, but she voted against the president's decree. She says it's wrong for Karzai to make unilateral decisions about important issues. Barakzai says Karzai's recent erratic behavior — including the barrage of assaults against strategic partners such as the U.S., has taken a toll on Parliament's confidence in the Afghan president.

"We are worried. It's not only the Afghan Parliament; I think in general the Afghan people are really worried about what President Karzai is saying," Barakzai adds.

Karzai's office says the president's comments are being misconstrued and is downplaying the feud with Parliament. But Barakzai, like many other MPs, believes there will be other confrontations with Karzai in the near future.

Haroun Mir, the director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies, says it's clear Karzai is trying to consolidate his power. Instead, Mir says, the president is losing his power base.

"President Karzai feels very isolated right now, politically, because I haven't seen any minister coming into the local media and standing behind President Karzai," Mir adds. "There is total silence from the Cabinet. And there is more criticism coming from MPs."

Ramazan Bashardost, an opposition MP, says Karzai thinks more like a tribal chief than a president, and that he puts his own interests ahead of the country.

"He would like to stay in power; he's ready to accept the destruction of Afghanistan but he refuses to leave his job," Bashardost adds.

But fellow MP Barakzai says now is not the time to try to oust Karzai from power.

"Impeachment is not at all an option," she says. "We are enough in a crisis situation as well. We need to make stable Afghanistan, rather than disable."

But Parliament will keep up the pressure on Karzai. Last week, members issued Karzai sharp deadlines on several issues, including submitting his final Cabinet nominees.