INTERNATIONAL NEWS
August 05, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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The Afghan parliament Saturday voted to dismiss two top security ministers at a critical time amid tensions with Pakistan and increasing insurgent attacks as NATO prepares to withdraw its troops.

The move obliges President Hamid Karzai to replace Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, who has strong support among Afghanistan's Western allies, and Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi.

The lawmakers charged that they had failed in their handling of cross-border shelling barrages blamed on neighbouring Pakistan and other security issues in a country facing an insurgency by hardline Taliban Islamists.

In a brief statement after the vote, Karzai's office acknowledged that parliament had the right to disqualify ministers and said he would react after a national security council meeting on Sunday.

The men are expected to continue serving in an acting capacity until the president introduces replacements.

"General Abdul Rahim Wardak will continue serving in the ministry as the acting defence minister until a new minster is introduced by the president," Defence Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi told AFP.

The two ministers were summoned to appear Saturday before the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament, to defend their handling of the cross-border shelling and the overall security situation in the country.

Late last month more than 300 heavy artillery shells and rockets were fired from Pakistan into Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province, killing at least four people, Afghan officials said.

It was the latest in a series of barrages and led Karzai's government to warn Pakistan that any further cross-border shelling could significantly harm relations between the two strife-torn neighbours.

Pakistan denied the accusation, calling it "incorrect".

"Pakistani troops only respond to and engage militants from where they are attacked/fired upon," said a senior military official in Islamabad.

Afghanistan and Pakistan typically blame each other for violence by Taliban Islamic militants plaguing both sides of their porous border.

NATO's military force in Afghanistan also condemned the cross-border shelling from Pakistan after Kabul issued its warning.

The International Security Assistance Force "condemns the indirect fire attacks from across the Durand Line", ISAF said in a statement.

"We continue to work with the Afghan ministry of defence, and the Pakistan government to ensure an end of these attacks," ISAF said.

NATO has some 130,000 US-led troops in Afghanistan helping Karzai's government fight the insurgency, but they will pull out by the end of 2014, handing responsibility for security to Afghan forces.

In his defence, Wardak told parliament his ministry had sent reinforcements and long-range artillery to the border and "we won't spare any effort to defend our land".

But member of parliament Gul Pacha Majidi said: "The minsters of defence and interior had failed to take any appropriate actions in response to cross-border shellings of eastern regions of the country.

"The MPs were also unhappy with widespread corruption in these two ministries, as well as growing insecurity in some provinces and their failure to bring to justice those who have assassinated a number of our lawmakers."

AFP

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