KABUL

AFP/Reuters

Probable presidential candidate Omar Daudzai was appointed as Afghanistan’s acting interior minister on Sunday, putting him in a high-profile public role seven months before the country’s first democratic transfer of power.

“In order to improve the managing of our security affairs, the appointment of Umer Daudzai as caretaker Minister of Interior has been approved by a presidential decree,” said a statement from the Afghan Cabinet Secretariat. Daudzai will move back to Kabul from Islamabad, where he has been ambassador to Pakistan since 2011 during a time of fractious ties between the two rivals and neighbours.

Last month Daudzai, a former chief of staff to President Hamid Karzai, set up an office in Kabul and announced that he would be a “probable” candidate in the elections due on April 5.

Karzai, who is barred from standing for a third term, has said he will not back any runner in the wide-open race, but Daudzai is seen as one of his closest associates and loyalists. Daudzai, 55, from Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic group the Pashtuns, was a member of the Hezb-e-Islami faction during the Soviet occupation and later went on to work for the United Nations.

Presidential spokesman Rafi Ferdous confirmed the appointment, which came after interior minister Mujtaba Patang was ousted by parliament last month over accusations that he had failed to thwart the threat from Taliban rebels.

Patang was dismissed soon after the Afghan government formally took responsibility for nationwide security from US-led NATO troops, but he remained as the “acting” interior minister until Sunday.

Afghanistan’s 350,000-strong security forces are suffering a steep rise in attacks as the NATO combat mission winds down, with police and army casualties said to have increased by 15-20 percent since 2011.

Daudzai will be the acting interior minister pending the approval of his appointment by parliament.

In 2010, Karzai confirmed press reports that Daudzai, a former ambassador to Tehran, received bags packed full of cash from Iran. Karzai said they were transparent payments and the money was used to run the presidential office.

In the second major security appointment in as many days, the reshuffle could unsettle Western governments keen for stability as they prepare to withdraw most international combat troops by the end of 2014.

Daudzai’s appointment will be viewed through the prism of April’s presidential election, given he is interested in running but is not allowed to hold a ministerial position if he does so.

The announcement comes a day after Karzai appointed senior security official Rahmatullah Nabil as the acting head of the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

The previous NDS head, Assadullah Khalid, was forced to step down for health reasons after being wounded in a failed assassination attack in December.

Both Daudzai and Nabil will have two months in the job and will require parliamentary approval to stay on longer, according to the Afghan constitution.

Daudzai, who until Sunday’s appointment was the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, replaces former policeman Ghulam Mujtaba Patang. The statement made no reference to Patang, and he could not be reached for comment.

In late July parliament voted to dismiss Patang, saying he had been unable to tackle a worsening security environment. Karzai challenged the decision and said Patang would stay as acting minister while he sought legal advice from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court.

Patang, a majority Pashtun and former police officer, had risen swiftly in Karzai’s government, leading efforts to train police and volunteer militias, and forging close ties with Western donors as a liaison with NATO reconstruction teams.

Last August parliament voted to remove then Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and then Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi over a series of assassinations of top officials and incidents of cross-border fire with neighboring Pakistan.