Karzai's new Cabinet: reform but no clean sweep

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2009 5:11 PM

Facing huge pressure to reform, President Hamid Karzai is submitting a Cabinet lineup to Parliament on Saturday that keeps U.S. favorites in several posts critical to the war and reconstruction _ a nod to American demands for trusted hands to help manage the conflict.

The new list also reflects Karzai's need to serve a second master _ political allies, including warlords, that kept him in power.

World leaders have threatened to hold back troops and development aid if Karzai does not cleanse his government of corruption and mismanagement.

But some Afghan lawmakers said the lineup looked too much like the existing one.

They said it signaled more of the same from a government which has been criticized as ineffective and corrupt. These lawmakers also expressed concern that a few of Karzai's new nominees _ they did not say whom _ were chosen because of links to political bosses or warlords.

Several of the new appointments have previous government experience and good educational credentials. It's unclear, though, whether they will clean up the bribery and graft that has become business as usual in the government. As with Karzai's first Cabinet, the new slate of proposed ministers is a collection of Western-educated Afghans and former mujahedeen or their nominees.

"Nothing has changed," said Mirahmad Joyanda, a member of parliament from Kabul.

He and other members of parliament point to Karzai's decision to retain Water and Energy Minister Ismail Khan, a notorious warlord who holds political sway in the Herat region of western Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch has accused Khan of war crimes during Afghanistan's past quarter-century of conflict.

Joyanda was at the presidential palace on Thursday when Karzai spoke to about 100 lawmakers about various issues, including his Cabinet picks. When he heard the names, Joyanda said he became discouraged and walked out of the meeting.

"Nothing is new," he said. "Half of the Cabinet remains. The other half is introduced by warlords."

According to the list, however, Karzai wants to jettison the heads of two ministries embroiled in corruption probes.

Karzai wants to replace Muhammad Ibrahim Adel, the current minister of mines. Earlier this month, two U.S. officials in Washington alleged that Adel took a $20 million bribe to steer a $3 billion copper mining project to a Chinese company. The minister denied taking any bribes, saying the agreement was approved by the Cabinet and that Karzai was also aware of it.

The president also wants to replace Sediq Chakari, who heads the Ministry of Hajj and Mosque. Allegations surfaced recently that money was pocketed at the ministry. Chakari, who has denied involvement, said two of his employees were being investigated in connection with missing money.

Including Khan, Karzai wants to keep 12 of his 25 ministers in their jobs for now, according to three Afghan government officials, who divulged the list to The Associated Press on Friday on condition of anonymity because it had not been formally announced.

They said Karzai wants to retain the minister of foreign affairs and the ministers of defense and interior, which oversee the Afghan army and police. Karzai's proposed Cabinet list also includes the current ministers of finance, public health and agriculture, which receive billions of dollars in international aid.

A senior international official in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the Cabinet, said the diplomatic and aid communities likely would react positively to Karzai's decision to retain these six key members of the Cabinet.

Karzai also wants the ministers of justice, education, women's affairs, communications and counternarcotics to stay on the job, the Afghan government officials said.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul withheld comment.

"We're awaiting an official announcement and want to see that the nominations put forward reflect President Karzai's stated commitment to good governance and integrity and professionalism within his Cabinet," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

That was the promise Karzai made when he was sworn in for a second term last month following a fraud-tainted presidential election.

"The ministers of Afghanistan must possess integrity and be professionals serving the nation," Karzai said.

His image suggested otherwise. Standing at Karzai's side on that day were his two vice presidents _ Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili _ both former warlords widely believed to have looted Afghanistan for years. Karzai likely put them on his ticket to win votes from their minority ethnic communities.

Parwin Durani, a member of parliament, estimated that a third of the lawmakers at the palace meeting were unhappy that Karzai's list did not include more new faces.

She said Karzai told the lawmakers that while they had the power to seat the Cabinet, he would face pressure from the international community if they rejected certain nominees. Durani also said Karzai indicated that he might change some ministers in three months, which would be after an international conference on the way forward in Afghanistan being held Jan. 28 in London.