To rein in Afghan intelligence service, Karzai removes its leader

Posted in Broader Middle East , Asia | 05-Feb-04 | Author: Carlotta Gall| Source: The New York Times

Karzai greeting supporters
KABUL - President Hamid Karzai removed the head of the Afghan intelligence service on Wednesday in a move to reform one of the most uncontrolled organizations in the country.

The removal of Mohammad Arif Sarwari from the National Security Directorate, announced by the official Bakhtar news agency, came amid a flurry of new appointments in the last week.

Four provincial governors and several police chiefs in the regions were named as part of the government's agenda to improve efficiency in its departments, aides said. But coming soon after a new constitution was approved, the appointments are also a sign of Karzai's growing confidence.

The National Security Directorate, designed on the lines of the KGB, is a leftover of the Soviet era and has been criticized in the last two years for abusing human rights, repressing citizens, and serving factional interests rather than those of the president and Afghanistan. Some Western diplomats have cast aspersions on the directorate's performance on intelligence matters.

Sarwari is a Panjshiri, a member of the powerful clique from the Panjshir valley that still dominates the foreign and defense ministries and the National Security Directorate in Karzai's government. He was removed by presidential decree and appointed as an adviser to the president without portfolio, the Bakhtar news agency reported.

The presidential chief of staff, Umar Daudzai, said that Sarwari had asked to step down, complaining of the heavy workload, but military, United Nations and human rights officials as well as foreign diplomats have long called for his removal.

His replacement has not yet been announced, but officials said it was likely to be Amrullah Saleh, a former assistant to the intelligence chief and also a Panjshiri.

Saleh, however, is a younger, well-educated, English speaker, and has served until now as the chief liaison officer with the foreign military and diplomatic presence in Kabul.

Replacing Sarwari would open the way for the modernization of the intelligence service and reduce its size and make it more effective, a presidential aide said.

"He was removed because of the need to reform the intelligence service, and we think this area is an extremely important one to focus on," said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Sarwari had served as the head of intelligence for the Northern Alliance during its resistance to the Taliban and was in charge when the Northern Alliance leader, Ahmed Shah Masud, was assassinated by suspected Al Qaeda operatives on Sept. 9, 2001.

Although blamed by some for that security lapse, Sarwari became head of the National Security Directorate when the Taliban fell and the Northern Alliance took control of Kabul in December 2001.

His deputy was among three men accused by other ministers of murdering the minister for civil aviation, Abdul Rahman, at Kabul airport on Feb. 14, 2002. None of the men have ever been charged. A young man also died while being interrogated in custody of the directorate in 2002. Sarwari was not implicated in either event.

Karzai spoke passionately about the need to abolish a service that spies on its own people in a speech to the constitutional loya jirga a month ago.