Afghanistan eases Karzai row by voting in new spy chief, ministers

KABUL Sat Sep 15, 2012 8:10am EDT

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's parliament voted in the country's new head of the intelligence agency and two top security ministry positions on Saturday, stepping closer to settling a row with President Hamid Karzai over ministerial appointments.

The political turmoil in the government has hampered decision making on several crucial pieces of legislation, including a revised mining law being closely watched by Western donors and foreign mining companies.

Any fresh dispute between Karzai and parliament could also complicate the timetable for transition of security to Afghan forces and a withdrawal by most foreign combat troops by 2014.

The nomination of the influential former Kandahar governor, Asadullah Khalid, as the new spy chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), has alarmed human rights groups who say the NDS has a long and well-documented history of torturing its detainees.

Khalid has been linked to abuse at a prison in Kandahar.

Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, previously interior minister, was voted in as defense minister, and former interior ministry deputy Mushtaba Patang became minister.

Karzai had sacked previous defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak over deteriorating security in the country, eleven years since the NATO-led war started against Taliban insurgents.

Parliament members had said they wanted fresh appointments, and not members of Karzai's increasingly unpopular inner circle.

Mohammadi is an ethnic Tajik with a strong power base in the country's north, while NDS chief Khalid is an ethnic Pashtun with strong connections in Afghanistan's south, from where the Taliban draw most support.

An MP from northern Kunduz province, Shukria Paikan, dismissed the human rights abuse allegations against Khalid.

"Until I see human right violations by my eye, I never trust any report or claim," she told Reuters. "Whenever we find enough and accurate evidence, we will decide whether to keep him as a chief of intelligence service or not."

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Nick Macfie)

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