Old Becomes New

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Old Becomes New Ashraf Ghani has finally answered the call of the parliament and has appointed Masoom Stanekzai as the new Director for the National Directorate of Intelligence (NDS). He has been replaced by General Abdullah – formerly Chief of Staff at the Ministry – as the acting Defence Minister. Stanekzai will not make the lower house of the Afghan parliament happy though, which is not likely to confirm his appointment, as was the case when President Ghani appointed him as the acting Defence Minister in 2015. On the flip side, Masoom Stanekzai’s appointment as Spy Chief is likely to please Afghanistan’s NATO allies. His dealings with Pakistan however, have been mixed, from expressing the commitment to increase cooperation and communication in the war against the Talban, to claiming that the US airstrikes on the MSF hospital in Kunduz were prompted by suspicions of a Pakistani intelligence officer holed up in the building. But the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) might be able to counter any potential hostility from the new spy chief in Pakistan’s direction. Regardless of his potential reservations against Pakistan, Masoom Stanekzai is a loyalist, one that has stuck with the President while the government was on the receiving end of a verbal bashing because of an improvement of relations with Pakistan. Stanekzai’s appointment then, can go either way for Pakistan, depending on where the President himself chooses to steer it. It is important to remember that not only this appointment, but his replacement at the helm of the Defence Ministry will also have an impact on the country’s foreign policy and internal conflict management in the long run. The current problem with the Afghan government’s set-up is that the President is only shuffling old hands into prominent positions in all matters related to defence, which might prove to be a stumbling block in the ongoing conflict/mediation efforts with the Taliban. There has been no major breakthrough on the security front in Afghanistan since 2014. The Afghan forces have only just managed to keep the militants at bay, and the negotiations process has not yielded any conclusive results. Afghanistan can no longer have ‘acting heads’ or ‘interim chiefs’ in posts that can make or break the Afghan government’s tenuous hold over its territory. Promises have been made to both the people and their representatives of constitutional changes and improvements in institutional structures, but this can never be achieved through temporary solutions. The Afghan government needs to implement lasting changes, and a good start would be to appoint individuals based on their skill-set, and not only to prevent an all-out collapse of the government.

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