Lawmakers reject Cabinet nominees

KABUL: Afghanistan's parliament has rejected more than half of President Hamid Karzai's second list of Cabinet nominees — including two of three women — dealing him a fresh political blow as his government struggles to face the growing Taliban threat.

The move complicates U.S.-backed efforts to build a government capable of combating corruption and pursuing reforms considered key to defeating the Taliban and its allies as the U.S. and its international partners send 37,000 reinforcements to intensify the war.

Washington and its allies have been pressing Karzai to get his second-term administration in place ahead of a Jan. 28 international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London. The conference is aimed at streamlining efforts to bolster the Afghan government.

But the 224 lawmakers present Saturday approved only seven of 17 nominees, including Karzai's longtime national security adviser Zalmay Rasoul as foreign minister. The lawmakers also confirmed a new justice minister and a woman as minister of Work and Social Affairs/Martyred and Disabled.

Two weeks ago, parliament rejected 70 percent of Karzai's first Cabinet picks, forcing him to present a second list. The rejections leave Karzai without confirmed leaders for 11 of the 25 Cabinet posts.

Continued political turmoil has distracted Karzai, even as the insurgency grows more virulent. An American and a Canadian service member were killed Saturday in separate attacks, NATO and Canadian officials said.

The American died in a clash in eastern Afghanistan and the Canadian was killed by a roadside bomb in the Panjwaii district, about nine miles (15 kilometers) southwest of Kandahar City, the announcements said.

The international community had hoped last year's August presidential election would usher in a strong government to help keep disenchanted Afghans from siding with Taliban insurgents.

Instead, the fraud-marred election took more than two months to resolve, with Karzai declared the winner only after his last remaining challenger dropped out of a scheduled Nov. 7 runoff.

Lawmakers complained that some of the Cabinet nominees lacked the credentials to serve. Others claimed that some nominees are too closely aligned with warlords and were chosen to pay back political supporters who helped get the president re-elected.

Among those approved Saturday were a new justice minister and a woman as minister of Work and Social Affairs/Martyred and Disabled.

Two other women nominated to the ministries of women's affairs and public health were rejected, along with Karzai's choices for the portfolios of higher education, commerce, transportation, public works, refugee and border and tribal affairs.

"The rejection of the majority of the list shows that the people of Afghanistan are not happy with the work of the government," said Deputy Speaker Mirwais Yasiny. "It will disrupt the work of the government and is not good for the future and the fate of the country."

Kabul resident Mohammad Ershad agreed, saying Karzai's picks "will never win because the government didn't do anything the past eight years and there is no hope from it in the future."

However, lawmaker Mohammad Ali Sitigh said the two women nominees who were rejected were well-qualified.

"Unfortunately we have some lawmakers who, even if they see a woman who is very active, talented and well-educated, still can't vote for a woman," Sitigh said.

Among those approved Saturday was Zarar Ahmad Moqbel, a former Interior Ministry official who takes over the counternarcotics post.

After the first round confirmation vote on Jan. 2, Karzai ordered parliament to suspend its 45-day winter recess until a new Cabinet could be approved. Yasiny said lawmakers would meet again Sunday to decide how to fill the remaining posts.

Karzai's office issued a brief statement saying he had chosen the nominees "based on their talents, expertise and national participation" and regretted the outcome.

The discord stood in sharp contrast to the previous Cabinet vote in 2006 — the first by elected lawmakers to endorse a Cabinet following landmark parliamentary elections. Most of Karzai's choices were easily approved at that time in what was seen as an endorsement for the president's efforts to rebuild Afghanistan after almost three decades marred by Soviet occupation, civil war and Taliban rule.

The approval of at least one woman on the latest roster, Amina Afzali, was a minor victory for the president's efforts to place more women in high government posts in the traditionally male-dominated society, although lawmakers expressed disappointment that the other two candidates were rejected.

The only woman on Karzai's previous team — Minister of Women's Affairs Husn Bano Ghazanfar — was rejected by parliament the first time around.

U.S.-supported incumbents in the key portfolios of defense, interior, finance and agriculture were already approved in the initial Jan. 2 vote.

Karzai has not yet submitted a name to replace Ismail Khan, an infamous warlord who currently is the minister of water and energy and was rejected in the first vote.

NATO said Saturday that 11 insurgents had been killed in an overnight operation by Afghan and NATO forces that also netted a sizable amount of black tar opium and weapons and bomb-making materials in the Nad Ali district of the southern Helmand province.

Also Saturday, a district official was wounded when his vehicle was hit by a remote-controlled bomb in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, said police spokesman Wazir Pacha. Latifullah Babakherkhail, chief administrator of Bak district, was on his way to his office when the blast occurred, damaging his vehicle, Pacha said.