Afghan leader defies parliament by telling sacked ministers to stay

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani instructed cabinet ministers sacked by parliament to remain in their jobs on Monday, looking to the Supreme Court to resolve an escalating power struggle.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan July 11, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo

Ghani has quickly intervened to halt parliament’s cabinet reshuffle, which he fears could weaken the already fragile Western-backed government and delay state projects.

The deteriorating political and security situation, with Taliban insurgents claiming two deadly suicide bombings in the past week, could become a foreign policy challenge for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who has said little about Afghanistan.

In the last three days, lawmakers dismissed the foreign affairs minister and five others, citing poor performance and budgetary issues. Parliament, which has a constitutional right to sack ministers, is expected to hold votes on eight more.

“Until the ruling of the Supreme Court, all the ministers should remain in their positions,” Ghani said in a statement after holding a special cabinet meeting.

The ministers for finance, urban development and justice have been the only ones so far to have survived confidence votes. “It is our right to decide on the ministers and we expect the government to respect that,” said member of parliament Farhad Sediqi.

Officials say the removal of ministers would all but paralyze government institutions.

“The dismissal of the public works minister is having and will have grave financial implications on our projects,” Mehdi Rohani, the ministry’s spokesman, said before Ghani’s announcement.

“In the absence of the minister, the losses will be in the tens of millions of dollars.”

The power-sharing unity government was brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after a disputed 2014 presidential election, but has been weakened by infighting between rivals.

Kabul was supposed to have overseen fresh parliamentary elections and a constitutional grand council to re-establish political legitimacy. However, a two-year deadline has passed with none of the promised steps taken, leaving question marks over the future of the government at a time when political uncertainty is already being stoked by rising ethnic tensions.

After the latest Taliban bombings at the NATO air base in Bagram and the German consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Ghani asked the United Nations on Monday to add the group’s new leader to its sanctions list, a further blow to efforts to revive a stalled peace process.

Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Mark Trevelyan