Karzai Seeks to Strike a Balance

The president shuns most of the country’s warlords as he announces his selections for his new cabinet.

Karzai Seeks to Strike a Balance

The president shuns most of the country’s warlords as he announces his selections for his new cabinet.

Wednesday, 16 November, 2005

The new cabinet announced by President Hamed Karzai has been generally well received by most people in Afghanistan, as well as by international observers.

Karzai appears to have heeded calls for him to sideline warlords from top positions - including the defence minister - and created a new post to oversee the fight against opium production.

Members of the new cabinet were sworn in at the presidential palace on December 24, one day after the announcement.

The appointments must still be confirmed by a parliament that is due to be elected sometime next year.

The announcement had been delayed several times since Karzai was sworn in on December 7 as the country's first popularly elected president.

Defence Minister Mohammed Fahim, a prominent Tajik warlord and head of the Northern Alliance that helped the United States drive the Taleban from power in 2001, was replaced by his deputy, Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Wardak is a Pashtun who made a name for himself in the 1980s as a commander fighting Soviet occupation, before fleeing abroad as the country descended into civil war.

Dr Surhab Ali replaced southern warlord Gul Agha Sherzai as public works minister.

However, Karzai later named Sherzai governor of southern Kandahar province, a post he controlled once before.

Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official credited with securing large commitments of foreign aid, has been replaced by central bank governor Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a long-time Karzai ally.

Ghani was named chief of Kabul University in a separate presidential decree.

Foreign Minister Abdullah and Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, both popular in the West, retain their positions.

Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik who was spokesman for the assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Sha Massood, retained his post despite his decision to back Younis Qanuni, Karzai's main rival in the October elections. Like many Afghans, Abdullah uses only one name.

Jalali, who went to the US in 1982 and worked in the Dari and Pashto languages of Voice Of America radio, was given the post of interior minister in 2004.

However, at least one regional strongman will be joining the new cabinet.

General Ismail Khan, the powerful western warlord whom Karzai removed as governor of Herat earlier this year, was given the position of water and energy minister.

The post is not considered a top-tier position, but Khan's selection is likely to prompt criticism from human-rights groups, who want Karzai to crack down on the influence of warlords and build a more professional political class.

Karzai has walked a tightrope in trying to limit the influence of regional commanders, whose large private armies still control large swathes of the countryside.

Khan was accused of torture while governor of Herat, but was also credited with bringing stability and relative prosperity to the region.

He was arrested by the Taleban in 1997 and spent three years in prison in Kandahar before escaping and joining the Northern Alliance.

There will be three women in Karzai’s new government, including Dr Masouda Jalal - the only female candidate in the recent presidential election - as minister of women’s affairs, Amena Afzali, as minister of youth affairs and Sidiqa Balkhi as minister of martyrs and the disabled.

Habibullah Qadari, a relative unknown, was chosen to run the newly created counter-narcotics ministry.

The position will be closely watched to see if Karzai makes good his pledge to wipe out opium production in the country. Karzai has recently called for a "holy war " on the multi-billion-dollar drug trade, and said it is a greater threat to the nation's future than the Taleban or al-Qaeda.

Karzai also created the new post of economics minister, naming Amin Farhang, the former reconstruction chief.

The cabinet selections are seen as crucial to how this war-ravaged nation will deal with its myriad of problems, including a destroyed infrastructure, a stubborn Taleban and al-Qaeda insurgency and a booming opium trade that accounts for three-quarters of the world's market.

Cabinet appointments were complicated by the constitutional requirements that all ministers have at least an undergraduate college degree and that those with dual citizenship renounce their links with foreign countries.

Many of Afghanistan's political elite have acquired US or British citizenship while living abroad during more than two decades of near-constant warfare. Some have been reluctant to give up their status, drawing criticism that they lack faith in the country's future.

Most local observers generally applauded Karzai’s appointments

Habibullah Rafi, a member of the Academy of Science in Kabul, said the appointments may not be exactly what the people wanted but were in line with Karzai had promised.

Fazul Rahman Uria, a political analyst in Kabul, said that Karzai has tried to create a moderate and national cabinet.

But Uria regretted the departure of Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani.

"His departure could result in a drop in the amount of foreign assistance given to Afghanistan," he said. "But on the whole, it probably could not be better than this."

Wahiddullah Amani is an IWPR staff writer in Kabul. John MacLeod, an IWPR editor in London, also contributed to this report.

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