KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan parliament passed votes of no confidence Saturday to remove the country's defense and interior ministers, a move that threatens to throw the country's security apparatus into confusion as foreign forces withdraw.
The vote demanded the dismissal of two of President Hamid Karzai's key security lieutenants: Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, one of the top Afghan officials most trusted by Washington, and Interior Minister Bismullah Mohammadi.
Legislators faulted the two for what they view as the government's weak response to cross-border attacks from Pakistan that they blamed on that country's military. The parliamentarians also asked the ministers about allegations of corruption within their ministries and alleged security lapses that led to recent assassinations of top officials.
The parliament then passed a measure to remove Wardak by a vote of 146 to 72. A separate vote of no confidence on Mohammadi passed 126 to 90. Both measures need 124 votes to pass.
"Both ministers are disqualified from their positions and we request His Excellency President Karzai to introduce new ministers for these positions as soon as possible," Abdul Raouf Abrahimi, speaker of the lower house of parliament, said after the vote.
It is unclear if the two will immediately leave their posts. Parliament occasionally flexes its muscle to thwart Karzai's policies or appointments, but the constitution places most power in the president's hands.
Karzai's office issued a three-sentence statement acknowledging that Article 92 of the Afghan constitution gives the parliament the authority to disqualify ministers. Karzai's statement did not express any support or regret for the no confidence votes, saying only that the president would "make decisions about the disqualified ministers" after he meets with his national security team on Sunday.
In past no-confidence votes, Karzai has simply kept other ministers in their jobs in an acting capacity and dragged out the process of nominating replacements.
Among the criticisms of the two ministers was the government's tepid response to allegations that the Pakistani military launched hundreds of shells and rockets into Afghanistan last month, sometimes hitting homes along frontier areas where insurgents have staged cross-border attacks.
Karzai has been careful not to openly blame the Pakistani military for the artillery barrage, which reportedly hit districts in the eastern provinces of Nuristan and Kunar. Interior Minister Mohammedi and other top-ranking administration officials, however, have explicitly blamed Pakistan for the shelling.
Afghan military analyst Abdul Hadi Khalid, a former deputy interior minister, said he thinks the dismissal vote was less about the controversy over the cross-border attacks than a power play by parliament.
He suspects that the lawmakers were reacting to citizen allegations that they were a "useless parliament" that could not make decisions.
"So suddenly, the parliament made a decision to gain dignity from the nation and show that they can oust top security ministers," Khalid said. "These two ministers became the victims of the weakness of this government."
Wardak, who studied in the U.S. and speaks English fluently, has been long backed by Washington and the NATO military coalition. He has been defense minister since late 2004, and was deputy defense minister before that. In the 1980s, he was a well-known leader of mujahideen fighting against the Soviet and Afghan communists.
Wardak has overseen massive growth of the army — now 185,125-strong. In recent years, tens of thousands of soldiers have been recruited, given literacy and military training and sent to fight alongside foreign forces.
The votes of no confidence come at a critical time in the war when Afghan police and soldiers are increasingly taking responsibility from exiting international troops, who are scheduled to leave Afghanistan or move into support roles by the end of 2014.
Afghan forces now take lead in areas of the country that are home to 75 percent of the population.