Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Speculation Around Karzai's New Cabinet

Analysts and observers say the newly elected president needs to ensure all ethnic groups are represented in his next government.
By Mohammad Jawad

With interim president Hamed Karzai's election victory confirmed, speculation now centres on whom he will appoint to his new cabinet.


A possible list, allegedly leaked to the media by a source close to Ahmad Zia Massoud, one of the two vice presidents elected with Karzai last month, suggests the president plans to clean up his cabinet. But if the list is accurate, it indicates that there will be more people from the Pashtun ethnic group – like the president himself – in the new government.


Karzai has offered few clues as to who he is going to have in his cabinet. Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace on November 4, he said, “those who have the same ideas as me can join me in the government”.


And in an interview with CNN on November 8, Karzai said members of his cabinet would have to be “educated”, “qualified”, “productive” “honest” and “looking to the future”.


Although the appointments won’t be announced until December, three members of Karzai’s current cabinet are expected to be part of his new government, according to a list published in the local Arman-e-Milli daily newspaper on November 2, based on a list that originally ran on the Pashtu web site, Benawa.com.


They include current finance minister Ashraf Ghani, expected to be named minister of economics; planning minister Ramazan Bashar Dost, who would become minister of education; and interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali who would take over the national intelligence ministry.


Hedayat Amin Arsala, who served as one of Karzai’s vice presidents in the interim administration, is named as foreign minister, replacing Dr Abdullah Abdullah.


According to the list, the head of Afghanistan’s central bank, Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, who also heads the Pashtun-based Afghan Millat Party, would replace Ghani at the finance ministry.


Two of Karzai’s 17 opponents in the presidential race are also expected to get ministerial posts. They are Sayed Ishaq Gailani, an ex-mujahedin and political moderate, and Abdul Hasib Aryan, an independent candidate and former policeman. Both withdrew from the presidential race two days before the elections and declared their support for Karzai.


Gailani was listed for minister of public works, and Aryan for minister of refugees and returnees.


Mohammed Qasim Akhgar, an independent political analyst in Kabul, said he believed the widely circulated list was actually a trial balloon put up by the government.


"With the release of this list, the government was trying to test people's reactions," he said. "If it is a real cabinet list, then it would prove the existence of an ethnic divide. The majority of names mentioned in this list are Pashtun."


Sebghatullah Sanjar, head of the Republican Party, is critical of the way Karzai’s previous interim cabinets were forged out of the wheeling and dealing between factions at the Bonn conference in December 2001.


The Republican Party, a recently established pro-democratic party with a small membership, announced its support for Karzai in the presidential contest before the elections.


“According to the Bonn agreement, the government was required to have members of all ethnicities and factions represented in the cabinet, but each of them preferred his own personal and party interest over everything else,” said Sanjar. “As an example, one minister assigned all his team - from his deputy down to the lowest ranks - from his own ethnicity or his faction.”


Shukria Barakzai, a political analyst based in Kabul who sat on the country’s constitution commission, told IWPR that she believes the upcoming cabinet should involve all groups.


However, she said individuals who have won the support of their ethnic groups only by force should be excluded. Every ethnic group contains are enough patriotic and qualified people with unsullied backgrounds to go into the cabinet she said, adding, "There is no need to hire individuals who have the shadow of the gun on their back."


She advised the president not to choose cabinet members based on promises that they will ensure security, “The government tried that approach last time.”


Akhgar agreed, noting that, "The transitional administration was created at the Bonn conference based on how many guns everyone had, and their guns determined their positions.


“If someone is in power because of the gun he holds, then of course he will strive to remain.”


Meanwhile, none of Karzai’s three main challengers in the presidential race appear on the Arman-e-Milli list of likely cabinet members.


Mohammad Younis Qanuni, the presidential candidate who came in second with over 16 per cent of the vote and who has close ties to defence minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, hadn’t closed the door to a cabinet position when questioned by IWPR recently.


“I was invited a few times unofficially, but my involvement with the cabinet depends on the opinion of those who voted for me, ” he said.


General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek commander who came fourth in the presidential contest and garnered more than 10 per cent of the vote, said in the closing days of his campaign that he would consider any cabinet that excluded him “illegal.”


Dostum resigned as deputy defence minister to run for president, but is said to still have control over militias in the north.


Haji Muhammad Muhaqiq, a former Northern Alliance commander who was dismissed as planning minister in March and who came in third place with more than 11 per cent of the vote, said, “If I’m invited, I will strive to ensure security and stability in addition to fixing other deficiencies in the administration.” But, he added, “I have not yet been invited. I will see whether they invite me or not.”


Qanuni told IWPR he believes maintaining ethnic balance is important.


"We can appoint experts and good administrators from different tribes, so that every tribe feels that they are involved in the government,” he said. “If a cabinet is not established in which ethnic balance is valued, then that will create a crisis.


"The best way for Afghanistan's future is to bear in mind the realities on the ground and the ethnic pluralism of Afghan society," he said.


Muhaqiq expressed his views on what the president’s priority should be in selecting cabinet members, "First, we need stability – and stability can only be ensured with the help of individuals who have community support.”


Barakzai said the presidential also-rans would do better to run for seats in parliament instead of looking for positions in the new cabinet. “Once they were out of the transitional government, they always criticised the government, so how can they all now sit together around one table?” she asked.


Sanjar said he believes that Karzai will announce a cabinet that will resolve people’s concerns about the presence of warlords and those with questionable backgrounds.


Mohammad Nasim Faqiri, spokesman for the Jamiat-e-Islami party, a long-established mujahedin party, agreed with Barakzai that in order to achieve ethnic pluralism, well-qualified, intelligent and educated people from different ethnic groups need to be brought into the cabinet.


"If people want to work specifically for one tribe or ethnic group, it will move the country backwards, and we would not be able to call it pluralism," he said.


Karzai’s appointments will have to be approved by the new national assembly that is formed by the spring election.


Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada and Shahabuddin Tarakhil are staff reporters with IWPR in Kabul.