Karzai defends new cabinet

KABUL: Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai on Sunday defended his nominees for ministerial posts and promised that all members of his cabinet will be accountable as he fights to eradicate corruption.

Karzai is facing extreme pressure from his Western backers to tackle graft, which observers say fuels a Taliban-led insurgency and is a major reason for the government's unpopularity.

Amid threats from backers, including the United States and NATO allies with more than 100,000 troops deployed to fight the insurgency, Karzai used the cabinet list as evidence of his commitment to fighting corruption.

The 23 out of a total of 25 ministerial nominees who presented themselves to parliament on Saturday face an arduous approval process.

"Of the new cabinet we presented to the parliament, almost 50 percent of them are new," he told a press conference with visiting Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme.

"I can say with confidence that the new ministers, as well as those from the last cabinet, will be accountable for anything relating to corruption," he said, adding: "I will be accountable."

The nominees are individuals "who can work, serve the people and achieve goals we have for the people of Afghanistan," Karzai said.

The new government was representative of all ethnic groups in the country, he said.

"We have tried to ensure the cabinet is a mirror of Afghanistan's people, a cabinet that all Afghan people can see themselves in," he said.

The cabinet list includes many old faces who have won approval from the international community, two warlords, some former ministers making a return to public office, and a few new faces.

Only one woman -- minister for women's affairs Husn Banu Ghazanfar -- was named, sparking criticism from women's groups. Karzai promised to bring in more women although he did not say to what portfolios.

Each nominee must receive a vote of confidence from parliament before being confirmed.

Leterme said the cabinet list had been "very much awaited by the international community" as Afghanistan continued to strive for good governance.

"Tackling corruption is a very important issue for us and so we want to support President Karzai (and hope) that the cabinet functions in the right way and shows good governance in the country," he said.

Belgium has 500 troops among 113,000 NATO and US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has ordered 30,000 extra US troops into the war, which will bring the overall foreign deployment to around 150,000.