KABUL: Afghanistan’s parliament voted on Saturday to dismiss both the interior and defence ministers over continued cross-border shelling which the Afghan government has blamed on neighbouring Pakistan’s army, as well as other issues.
The fractious parliament voted to remove the pair despite their promises to reinforce the border, although President Hamid Karzai has previously opted to keep ministers in their roles in acting capacity after similar votes.
“Both ministers failed to receive votes of confidence and we ask President (Hamid) Karzai to introduce new ministers,” said Abdul Rahoof Ibrahimi, speaker of the house, after a bitter debate that underscores the problems in store for Karzai’s administration ahead of 2014 presidential elections.
Afghanistan has rushed additional troops and long-range artillery to the mountainous Pakistan border as tensions continue to rise over cross-border shelling which Afghan officials blame on the Pakistani military.
Afghanistan has accused Pakistan’s army of firing hundreds of rockets into the two eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, targeting insurgent havens, but also forcing Afghan villagers to flee their homes and angering the parliament.
“The defence ministry has reinforced army corps 201 and 203 and has specially created another division from which two battalions have already been sent there,” Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told lawmakers before the vote to remove him.
“We have also sent long-range artillery and ammunition for use by all army corps,” Wardak said, adding that some artillery was being specially refurbished for the eastern border.
While both sides and Nato-led foreign troops have been holding top-level meetings to improve border security, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry summoned Pakistan’s Kabul ambassador last week and warned that continued shelling would damage already fragile bilateral ties.
Pakistan’s military has rejected the accusation and says it only responds to attacks by militants, including the Pakistan Taliban operating from what it says are havens in Afghan territory.
Shell case evidence
The poorly marked border between the two countries is extremely rugged and remote, running through the foothills of the Hindu Kush and easily crossed in both directions by Taliban fighters and other insurgent groups.
Kabul has regularly accused elements in Islamabad’s government and army of backing militants fighting the Western-backed Kabul government, while Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of not doing enough to eliminate militant bases.
Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi was also summoned with Wardak to explain why the shelling was continuing and to defend the government’s response, which lawmakers say has not been strong enough.
Mohammadi showed several pictures of exploded 155mm rocket casings to MPs and told them they should have “no doubt in your minds” that they were fired by Pakistani soldiers.
“It’s impossible to say that Taliban are involved because these rockets are only in possession of the Pakistan army,” Mohammadi said.
Earlier this week, Afghanistan’s spy chief Rahmatullah Nabil said the Pakistani military had fired over 2,100 rockets in the last four months into several districts, with most landing in Kunar and some in less populated Nuristan.
Foreign troops are now transitioning security responsibility to the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces as Nato-led forces look to withdraw from the unpopular war by the end 2014.