KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai has begun purging high-ranking officials and powerful security and intelligence chiefs across Afghanistan, accusing them of corruption, drug trafficking and abuse of power.
The dismissals are intended as a clear warning to warlords to shape up, but enforcing the orders could be difficult for Karzai, whose government has limited power beyond the capital, Kabul, where security is bolstered by the presence of 4,800 international peacekeepers.
The campaign began Sunday when officials announced as many as 20 civil and military chiefs would be dismissed. On Monday, government officials said more provincial authorities would be fired if they did not fall in line.
"There's been some cleaning up going on, and it will continue as long as it's needed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said.
He said the dismissals were not political, but a matter of getting rid of "bad apples" and creating a transparent and accountable government.
Stamping out corruption and creating a clean government were key demands of international donors, who in January pledged $4.5 billion to rebuild Afghanistan over the next five years.
About $800 million of the $900 million delivered so far has gone to the United Nations and aid agencies because donors believed the government did not have the ability to use it responsibly. More recently, donors have praised Karzai's government, saying they will route some future aid through his administration.
One of those dismissed was Gen. Sayed Kamel, commander of four northern provinces, whose job was abolished to streamline military administration, presidential spokesman Sayed Fazel Akbar said. Kamel, loyal to warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, is currently receiving medical treatment in Uzbekistan.
In the southern province of Kandahar, provincial intelligence chief Kamaluddin Gulalai also was dismissed — welcome news to one warlord.
"It's a very good move. He was a very corrupt man," said Mullah Naqib, a rival of Gulalai. "It's very good that Karzai is switching around the people. If he didn't, it would mean he was not in control."
A Western diplomat, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the firings would send a warning to warlords to change their behavior and root out corruption. But enforcing the orders will not be easy, the diplomat said.
Powerful warlords, most with big private militias, control most of the country. Many are tenuously allied to Karzai, who is protected by American bodyguards.
As long as the most powerful warlords — like Dostum and Ismail Khan in the western Herat province — keep their jobs, it's doubtful Karzai's government will face any serious problems from the 20 or so officials who were ousted.
"These people are smaller fry. They have some power, but they're not the main culprits," the diplomat said.
Karzai's government had exhibited "a certain amount of muscle flexing, but they're not going after people that can present an existential challenge" to the central government, the diplomat said.
Samad said the dismissals did not target any particular region or group. Some commanders and security chiefs were in the shakeup.