April 9, 2015 / 1:28 PM / in 2 years

Afghan defense minister nominee drops out after two days

KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan cabinet's latest choice for defense minister dropped out on Wednesday, just two days after being nominated for the job, underlining tensions between the president and rival parties within the national unity government.

General Mohammad Afzal Ludin was to have taken charge of the country's army at a time when most foreign troops have withdrawn and Afghan forces are battling the resilient Taliban insurgency largely alone.

Ludin explained that the nomination had caused internal turmoil and he feared it could be divisive.

"I feel that some may use my candidacy as an excuse to create problems for my country, so I am withdrawing," he said in a statement.

The former Soviet-era commander was the second to be nominated for the job after the cabinet rejected the first in January.

The partnership between the President Ashraf Ghani and his former rival, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, has been showing signs of strain and the defense nominee's reversal is the latest indication of widening division.

"It was a one-sided selection, made by the president," said a spokesman for Abdullah, explaining the team's objections to the nomination and Ludin's decision to withdraw.

Abdullah and Ghani have struggled to form a cabinet and over six months into their government, have only eight ministerial appointments. The delay is demoralizing the country's security forces and stifling the economy as investment and development projects have been left in limbo over the lack of leadership in ministries.

Commenting on the episode, some Afghan lawmakers said Abdullah's team, many of whom are Tajiks, were angered by the decision to nominate Ludin because he is a Pashtun like the president.

Afghanistan's government of national unity was formed in September 2014 after months of tension over who won the presidential election.

Additional reportin and writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Jeremy Laurence

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