The Afghan President's national security adviser Hanif Atmar resigned this week and is likely to make a stand in the upcoming presidential election. Photo: AFP/ Vitaliy Belousov/ Sputnik
The Afghan President's national security adviser Hanif Atmar resigned this week and is likely to make a stand in the upcoming presidential election. Photo: AFP/ Vitaliy Belousov/ Sputnik

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani confirmed on Sunday that he has accepted the resignation of long-serving National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar. Atmar has been replaced by Hamdullah Mohib, who had been serving as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States.

Atmar resigned on Saturday from the position he has held since the formation of the National Unity Government in 2014, because of “serious differences over national unity, national consensus, peace and security political management, electoral affairs, good governance and regional affairs”.

During Mohib’s appointment on Sunday morning, President Ghani admitted that Atmar’s resignation had been a “difficult decision” to accept. “But this decision should be taken for the benefit of the country,” he said.

Earlier reports in local media suggested that Atmar’s resignation was sought by the president along with other security heads including the Minister of Interior Wais Ahmad Barmak, chief of National Directorate of Security Masoum Stanikzai, and Minister of Defense Tariq Shah Bahrami.

But officials at the Palace confirmed that the President had rejected offers to resign by the other security heads. “The National Defense Minister of Afghanistan, the Interior Minister and the National Security Council, gave their resignations to the President today. However, the president did not approve their resignations and asked them to continue their duties and provide the necessary guidance to improve the security situation,” Haroon Chakansuri, the spokesperson for President Ghani, said.

Atmar ‘to run in presidential election’

Meanwhile, sources privy to Atmar’s resignation told Asia Times that the former National Security Adviser was planning to make a bid in the upcoming presidential election. An Afghan political analyst who did not wish to be identified for security reasons said that Atmar had held meetings in Dubai with members of Jamiat-e-Islami, one of the main opposition parties, to seek their support for his presidential bid.

Sources within Jamiat party confirmed that these meetings did take place but did not clarify if the party would back him as a candidate. “I don’t think he has good chances to win, particularly because of his communist background,” the analyst, who worked in close proximity to Atmar, said.

Indeed, Atmar had a long career working in the Soviet-backed government in the early 1990s. In his early days, he worked with KHAD (Khadamat-e-Aetlat-e-Dawlati), the former spy agency in Afghanistan that operated under the tutelage of Soviet Union’s KGB. He fought against the mujahideen in the Soviet-Afghan war, many of whom are prominent leaders in Afghanistan’s current political scene.

Atmar’s resignation comes amid rising insecurity across Afghanistan, including a five-day long siege at a key provincial capital, and the recent rocket attacks in Kabul, some of which landed very close to the Presidential Palace during Eid.

However, speculation is rife that Atmar’s resignation is an extension of his presidential aspirations. “I don’t think his resignation is in response to the recent attacks but appears to be a pre-planned thing. Personally, I think he was one of the most effective people in the Afghan government and played a crucial role in appointing most of the security ministers,” the analyst said.

“My understanding is that President Ghani can’t tolerate people that have the capacity to establish a strong network in their ministries which makes it difficult for him to have influence over that particular agency or institution. Atmar definitely had greater autonomy and was seen as the second most important person after President Ghani,” he went on. “With Mohib as the National Security Adviser, he would listen to President Ghani on everything.”

Concerns over Mohib

There have been some concerns raised over Mohib’s appointment as the National Security Advisor due to his lack of experience in dealing with security issues. Mohib, holds a degree in computer systems engineering from the UK, and a PhD. He worked extensively on President Ghani’s 2009 and 2014 campaigns, and was appointed as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States in 2015.

“Mohib is well educated, and recently gained some experience in diplomacy. But, is he a good, learned, seasoned warrior?” questioned Ejaz Malikzada, a senior member of Afghanistan Green Trend, a grassroots political movement led by another former spy chief Amrullah Saleh. “I’m using term ‘warrior’ because he has not seen a single day in the battlefield,” Malikzada said, adding that simply filling the position wasn’t enough. “If Atmar is gone and someone has already replaced him, it is important to ask who takes that position,” he said.

Mohib acknowledged the sensitivities of his job while accepting the role this week. “I assume this position at a critical time. Moving forward, I will be listening to and consulting with a diverse range of stakeholders from security leadership, to ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces], to citizens, to ensure accountability and clarity of vision,” he said in a public note.

Despite the criticism, the former Afghan ambassador has developed a close working relationship with several key agencies. His supporters say that these institutions could use a much-needed touch of diplomacy and a fresh perspective towards addressing Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation.

However, as the political environment in Afghanistan remains charged in the wake of upcoming elections, Mohib will face huge skepticism. “Sure, Mohib has some experience in diplomacy, but is that enough to qualify for this position?” Malikzada reiterated.