Ghani appoints new security ministers

KABUL (AFP): Afghan President Ashraf Ghani dismissed two leading ministers charged with the country’s faltering security Friday, in a surprise announcement a day after a major conference in Russia called for a reduction in fighting.
In a statement from the president’s national security council, the palace announced army chief of staff General Mohammad Yasin Zia would double as defence minister, replacing Asadullah Khalid, who is believed to be suffering from serious health issues.

Former Kandahar and Nangarhar governor Hayatullah Hayat, meanwhile, will take over the interior ministry from Masoud Andarabi, with the palace citing the need to improve “the security situation” in the country. The shake-up comes a day after leading world powers at a summit in Moscow urged the Taliban to refrain from launching a spring offensive in the war-weary country, where the insurgents have battered security forces with onslaughts across the country.

Major urban centres in Afghanistan are also in the grip of a worsening terror campaign in the form of deadly attacks targeting politicians, civil servants, academics, rights activists and journalists. Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan said a reduction in violence in Afghanistan was necessary for the warring sides to “create a favourable atmosphere for achieving a politico-diplomatic settlement”.

The summit comes as the US is trying to breathe life back into a faltering peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban just weeks ahead of a May 1 deadline for American forces to exit the country. US President Joe Biden’s administration has called for a review of the deal signed with the Taliban by his predecessor that paved the way for the withdrawal, spurring furious speculation over Washington’s future role in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week Biden said during a televised interview that it would be “tough” to meet the deadline. A complete exit of US troops — given the vital air cover provided to Afghan ground forces — would further loosen Kabul’s tenuous grip on the countryside. Afghanistan has been engulfed by a two-decade insurgency by the Taliban since the Islamist militants were ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001 for harbouring the Al-Qaeda terror network.