AFP: Afghanistan’s parliament voted to sack the war-torn country’s foreign minister Saturday amid an uproar over Iran’s forced return of thousands of refugees.
by Sardar Ahmad
KABUL, May 12, 2007 (AFP) – Afghanistan’s parliament voted to sack the war-torn country’s foreign minister Saturday amid an uproar over Iran’s forced return of thousands of refugees.
Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta lost a no-confidence vote by a large majority in a second round of voting, after the first round on Thursday had hinged on a single spoilt ballot.
Refugees Affairs Minister Akbar Akbar lost his job in Thursday’s vote.
Spanta was accused of not doing enough to persuade Iran to ease its policy of forced repatriation, while Akbar allegedly failed to help accommodate thousands of refugees forced out by Iran.
Nearly two million Afghans are still living as refugees in Iran — more than half of them illegally — despite millions of Afghans having returned from Iran and Pakistan after the toppling of the Taliban in late 2001.
Another two million Afghans are living in Pakistan, according to the UN.
Iran says it wants the illegal Afghans out of its country by March 2008.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 52,000 were forced out between April 21 and May 8, according to government figures.
According to the Afghan constitution, Spanta has lost his job, but President Hamid Karzai could decide to keep him on as acting minister until he chooses a replacement, officials said.
Female member of parliament Shukria Barakzai alleged that a “foreign conspiracy” was behind the parliament’s decision to sack Spanta.
“It was a conspiracy by Pakistan and Iran,” the MP said, without giving details. “Both Pakistan and Iran have their elements in the government and parliament.”
On Thursday, Spanta told parliament that Iran was piling on the pressure because of various issues, including a dispute over water, with dam projects in this country likely to affect Iranian supply.
“We are under direct pressure for signing a direct security partnership (with the United States and NATO),” Spanta added.
A senior government official who asked not to be named also alleged that Iran had a role in the parliament’s decision, chiefly due to Spanta’s resistance to Tehran’s proposal for a peace pact with the US-backed government of Afghanistan.
Under the proposed agreement Afghanistan would not have allowed any military action against Iran from its soil, the official said.
“I’m sure Iran had a role. The Iranians wanted our government to sign an agreement with them under which ‘no military action would be taken against Iran from Afghanistan,'” the official said.
“The foreign minister had resisted this,” he said.
The US and NATO have tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan helping the government of embattled Karzai to fight a strengthening Taliban insurgency.