Karzai unveils please-all Afghan cabinet

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai unveiled his choice of cabinet today, reflecting a need to please all his backers from warlords to Washington and commit to clean government.

The names of 23 Karzai nominees for ministerial posts were presented to parliament for approval and will be debated in the coming days in a bid to end months of political paralysis following a controversial August election.

As the minister of parliamentary affairs, Anwar Khan Jigdalik, read out the list, each nominee strode to the front of the chamber to present himself, some waving and bowing. Karzai’s choices are seen as the first test of his commitment to building a clean and accountable government, and eradicating the corruption infesting every level of life in Afghanistan and helping to fuel a Taliban insurgency.

Political analyst Waheed Mujda said the list appeared to represent a desire for continuity, as well as an effort to ensure he has delivered on demands from the Western countries that help keep him in power.

“Karzai has been under two sorts of pressure forming this cabinet, in fact two sorts of opposition — domestic and foreign,” he told AFP. But, he added: “We do not see new figures or faces in this cabinet to give us any expectation for a major change for the country’s future.”

The president is under enormous pressure from the United States and NATO countries, which have 113,000 troops countering an anti-Karzai Taliban insurgency, to clean up corruption in return for continued support.

Leaders of these countries have made it clear that the billions of dollars in military and development assistance that pour into Afghanistan will depend on concrete action against corruption. Karzai’s cabinet choices appear to reflect the need to please his backers, while at the same time giving a nod to a sector of his domestic supporters regarded as odious to Washington, London and other NATO capitals.

Karzai has long relied on the support of warlords to prop up his fragile government, but according to people close to him has recognised the need to appease the West in order to stay in power and bring some momentum to the development of the poverty-stricken country.

Warlord Ismail Khan has been nominated energy minister, a powerful post likely to be seen as a reward for delivering substantial votes to him in the August ballot.

A list released to AFP included a second warlord, Gul Agha Shairzai, nominated for the development portfolio, but he did not appear on the list read to parliament today.

The most notorious warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum and Mohammad Mohaqiq — leaders of two minority ethnic groups who supported Karzai in the election and were expected to be rewarded with high office — have not been nominated.

Nevertheless, a Western military source said they were likely to receive lower profile but still influential rewards for aiding Karzai’s re-election, possibly with positions at provincial level for their own nominees.

The nominees represented 25 ministries — although only 23 names were presented.

Karzai has nominated 11 current ministers to remain in their jobs, including Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar and Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, both of whom are well regarded by the international community.

Also staying put are Public Health Minister Sayed Mohammad Amin Fatimi and Farooq Wardak, the education minister, who have also won plaudits from British, US and other officials as competent and clean technocrats.