With the Taliban spring offensive just over the horizon, the last thing that the fragile government of Afghanistan led by President Karzai needs is political infighting. And yet political infighting is precisely what has been rocking the budding government’s boat over the past few weeks, as evidenced this Thursday with the forced resignation of the Karzai administration’s long-time public face and recent chief of the presidential staff, Mr. Jawed Ludin. According to Ahmed Rashid writing in the Daily Telegraph:
Mr Ludin was forced to resign this morning, senior officials in the Afghan cabinet said. The move has shaken Western diplomats in Kabul and is seen as a sign that Mr Karzai is struggling to control the loyalty of his government.
Mystery surrounds the sudden resignation of Mr Ludin who first served Mr Karzai as press spokesman and then as chief of staff after graduating from a British university.
However the officials said the cause of the shake up was due to political infighting within the president’s staff. (continue)
The fact that this comes as a surprise is hardly surprising itself. In keeping with the historical tradition, the current government of Afghanistan keeps a tight lid on all matters internal and palace-related. Similar bouts of rumor surrounded the resignation in the fall of 2005 of then minister of interior, Mr. Ali Ahmad Jalali. (Mr. Jalali has since moved to the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. and his name of often mentioned -once again in rumors- as one of the likely candidates to succeed Karzai as president.) Similarly, the online magazine Kabul Press reported earlier that the government has been keeping the news of ex-King Zahir Shah’s death from the public, fearing the outfall: The honorary “father of the nation” commands much legitimacy among his fellow Pashtun in the country and to many among them, his standing by the Karzai government is the only attractive feature of the otherwise unpopular regime.
While no government in the world can be expected to disclose the most sensitive of issues to the public, it seems that the government of Afghanistan is still under the spell of the palace mentality of its predecessors and is in particular need of showing greater transparency. The citizens of the country have a right to the truth when it comes to issues of national importance and should not be deprived of it. More importantly, while the government may choose to keep all such news on the low-down, this will only invigorate the country’s proverbial rumor mills. The fact that the government refuses to disclose its own side of the story only worsens the situation as speculation abounds and conspiracy theories blow the story out of proportions.
This is what has been happening once again with Mr. Ludin’s resignation. While in reality the incident could have been prompted by political disagreements or even a regular cabinet reshuffle, rumors of a “coup” attempt have already surfaced. Such news is sure to put the government in a precarious position as its many rivals try to exploit the situation. Until a viable and responsible free press takes root in Afghanistan, the country’s rumor mills will continue to occupy the exalted and powerful position of the Fourth Estate. Afghanistan’s modern history reveals that governments have only neglected rumors at their own detriment. Let’s hope that the current government decides to learn from that history, becomes more transparent, and fights rumors will truth.