New Afghan Cabinet list draws ire from legislators

AP News
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Posted: Dec 19, 2009 11:03 AM

Afghan legislators complained Saturday that several members of President Hamid Karzai's proposed Cabinet are inexperienced and beholden to warlords _ opposition that threatens to slow the reform Washington believes essential to beating the Taliban.

The U.S. Embassy made only neutral comments after the nomination list was presented to parliament, but gave no assessment of the nominees, some of whom are known to be favored by Washington and its allies. The embassy appeared to want to avoid the appearance of interfering in formation of a new administration. Britain, another major troop contributor and advocate of reform in the government, issued a more positive assessment.

Karzai's list was seen as a litmus test of his commitment to cleaning up corruption in his government, anger over which fuels the Taliban insurgency. The Afghan leader has come under mounting criticism over his stewardship since the fraud-marred August election and the decision by President Barack Obama to send 30,000 more troops to try to break the Taliban momentum.

In response to the pressure, Karzai kept U.S. favorites in several posts critical to the war and reconstruction _ including the ministries of defense, interior and finance _ and jettisoned the heads of two ministries embroiled in corruption probes. About half of the 23 nominees are holdovers.

But many of the new names appeared aimed at satisfying domestic political allies, including warlords, who have kept him in power. Many legislators regarded the new figures suspiciously, concerned they would disregard national interests to do the bidding of those regional power bosses, who are widely reviled for their brutality in the 1990s civil war and who still hold significant power in their regions.

"I think that if this Cabinet gets a confidence vote from the parliament of Afghanistan, it would not be able to put medicine on the injuries of the Afghan people," said Gul Pacha Mujedi, a parliamentarian from Paktia province.

"My fear and that of many MPs is that they maybe are the puppets of those warlords, so that despite that they are considered civilized people and more educated people, they cannot implement their own ideas and initiatives," said Khaled Pashtun, a legislator from Kandahar.

One notorious warlord, Ismail Khan, would retain his position as water and energy minister.

A presidential spokesman said Karzai made his decision in consultation with international officials and Afghan political figures but that he was not beholden to either.

"He has listened to the international community and various political parties, but the final decision was made by the president," spokesman Waheed Omar told reporters. He added that Karzai was confident that the new team would work to implement reforms to root out corruption from the administration.

It was not immediately clear when parliament might vote on the nominees, and the dismay expressed by many legislators could foretell long negotiations and heated argument before approval. That would keep political tensions high and frustrate international allies impatient for demonstrable moves toward reform.

"We look forward to the lower house of parliament carrying out their duty to vet and approve candidates who will contribute to Afghanistan's progress towards institutional reform, security, and prosperity," said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Britain's mission in Kabul "is upbeat about the Cabinet nominations and thinks that this is a government that we will be able to do business with," embassy spokesman Paul Norris said.

Canadian Ambassador William Crosbie, whose country commands international troops in and around Kandahar city in the violent south, said in a statement that his government was pleased with the list.

The list did not include a nominee for foreign minister; Karzai has said he will make that nomination after the international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London in late January.

First Vice President Mohammad Fahim told the parliament that those nominated for the new Cabinet were "ministers who were experts and did a good job."

Mujedi, one of the disappointed parliament members, disagreed: "One of the problems is that those ministers who have not done a good job in the past have been introduced again for the next five-year term."

A U.N. spokesman, however, said the list looked promising.

"The U.N. has made clear that we need to see more reform-oriented ministries and of the names we've seen, we're seeing a step on the right direction," Aleem Siddique said, though he would not discuss specific posts.

Also Saturday, officials reported the deaths of a U.S. serviceman and a British soldier. The American was killed Friday by a roadside explosive in southern Afghanistan, NATO said. Defense officials in London said the British soldier died in an explosion early Saturday while on foot patrol in Helmand province.

A spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor's office, Daud Ahmadi, said joint forces killed nine Taliban near the city of Lashkar Gah in a Friday night ground operation.

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Associated Press Writers Heidi Vogt and Jim Heintz contributed to this report.