Afghan president's senior aide quits

Waheed Omer, communications director, joins a growing list of aides being eased out of Hamid Karzai's inner circle.

    Waheed Omer was considered one of Hamid Karzai's closest advisers [GALLO/GETTY]

    The Afghanistan president's communications director and spokesman has resigned.

    Waheed Omer, who had been in the post for nearly two years, had the tough job of managing President Hamid Karzai's relations with Afghan and international media amid increasing violence in the country and tense ties between the president and his Western allies.

    "My decision to leave at this point is informed by a deep conviction that under the current situation, I cannot serve the president and Afghanistan effectively. I have shared it with the president," Omer said in a statement on Monday without giving further details.

    But analysts and palace insiders say a conservative circle of advisers who are growing in their influence on Karzai had made it difficult for Omer.

    His resignation comes months after two senior security ministers, both reputed for their effectiveness, were also forced to resign. Several other of the president's close confidants including Ahmad Wali Karzai, his brother and linchpin to his authority in the troubled south, have been killed recently for which the Taliban have taken responsibility. 

    A government official, aware of the debate in the palace, confirmed to Al Jazeera that rifts between Omer and a "Hizb-e-Islami circle that has progressively tightened influence over president" emerged months ago and it had exacerbated in the past two weeks.

    "Hizb-e-Islami is gearing up for elections in 2013 and they want control of the government media enterprise," the official said. 

    "Omer wasn't one they could have co-opted or controlled, so their design was to gradually undermine and frustrate him."

    Once an influential, conservative Islamic party in the 1980s and 1990s, Hizb-e-Islami's leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is on the wanted list of the United States and its allies for waging war and siding with the Taliban.

    Despite him being on the run in the past decade, his former associates have revived a wing of the party in Kabul and are becoming increasingly influential over the president, analysts say.

    'Circle of influence'

    "Unfortunately, there are a lot of circles inside president's office that are moving in a specific direction close to Hizb-e-Islami and Pakistan and it could be involved in Mr Omer's resignation," Mir Ahmad Joyenda, a former MP, told ToloNews.

    Omer's period of discontent reportedly began with the appointment of Karim Khuram as the president's chief of staff several months ago.

    Khurram, upon arrival, had dismissed a large number of Omer's staff at the Government Media and Information Center (GMIC), the communications wing that Omer had founded in 2009, and eventually brought GMIC directly under the chief of staff's office.

    "Omer was left merely as the government's mouthpiece and he no longer had much control over the messages that were going out," the official said.

    He first quit his post in January, then citing "personal reasons," but the president urged him to stay on. This time around, Karzai accepted his resignation, according to AFP, and praised Omer as an "honest and patriotic man."

    "As I decide to leave my post, I want to express gratitude for the fact that under President Karzai's leadership many young Afghans like myself have had numerous opportunities to grow and serve Afghanistan," Omer said in his statement, a sign that his close relationship with the president had persevered.

    With a civil society and social-work background, Omer has served in different posts in Karzai's government for over the past five years.

    Before being appointed as the communications director, he served as the campaign spokesman for Karzai during the presidential elections two years ago.

    Omer's management of the media was seen as one of the Karzai campaign's strongest factors.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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