Will Karzai's Afghan Cabinet Shakeup Make Taliban Reintegration Easier?

Karzai replaces two top security officials unpopular with the Taliban.

ByABC News
June 6, 2010, 2:49 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 6, 2010 — -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai fired two senior members of his government today, replacing officials particularly unpopular with the Taliban less than a week after insurgents launched a failed attack against a national peace assembly.

Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Afghanistan's chief spy, Amrullah Saleh, both lost Karzai's confidence after those attacks, according to Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omer.

"The president asked for an explanation about the attacks," Omer told ABC News. "Explanations were given and the president did not find the explanations satisfactory. He decided they had not done enough."

Insurgents attacked the assembly, or jirga, with three suicide bombers and rockets, one of which landed within 200 feet of the jirga tent as Karzai spoke. Atmar's spokesman said today an additional 15 insurgents had been arrested and 700 rockets confiscated, preventing even larger attacks.

But Saleh and Atmar, who were popular among American officials, were not necessarily on the same page as Karzai when it came to reintegrating Taliban into Afghan society, analysts pointed out.

Today, Karzai began to enact plans endorsed by the assembly's 1,600 delegates on measures designed to earn the Taliban's trust and, therefore, reconcile with insurgents. Both of their replacements, named today as caretaker leaders, will likely be more palatable to the Taliban, who call Karzai untrustworthy and weak.

Saleh, who was from the only province the Taliban never conquered, will be replaced by longtime Karzai aide Engineer Ibrahim Speenzada, whose ethnicity is the same as the vast majority of the Taliban. Speenzada has been close to the Taliban leadership in the past, meeting with them in Kandahar, their spiritual home, where he once lived. Speenzada was trusted enough by senior leaders to meet with one of them in Guantanamo Bay, hand-delivering a letter from Mullah Mohammad Fazel back to his family in Afghanistan, according to former commanders.

Atmar's replacement is his deputy, Gen. Muneer Mangal. In the 1980s, both Atmar and Mangal fought against mujahedeen fighters, many of whom would later become Taliban leaders. But after the mujahedeen took control of Kandahar, Mangal handed over government weapons to their commander, earning at least a small level of trust with future Taliban leaders, according to former senior officials in Kandahar.