Tension Over Afghan Cabinet Delay

Trouble is brewing as Karzai continues to delay naming his cabinet.

Tension Over Afghan Cabinet Delay

Trouble is brewing as Karzai continues to delay naming his cabinet.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

Tensions are building in Kabul after three days of mounting speculation and international concern over the make-up of Afghanistan's new government.

Even president-elect Hamid Karzai seems to be showing the strain of what was always going to be the assembly's toughest challenge. He had been expected to name his new ministers on Tuesday but instead asked for another 24 hours.

"This is such a difficult question. When I became chairman of the interim administration there wasn't this problem because the Bonn conference had already agreed the cabinet," he joked with delegates.

"I am looking for an efficient government which is representative of all the people. Fortunately we have many professionals in this country but unfortunately there are few posts available to them."

Over the past few days, members of Karzai's entourage had hinted that he may delay the issue until after the Loya Jirga.

But the intervention of American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Tuesday made it clear to all concerned that this was not an option. "Under the Bonn agreement, the structure of the government and its key personnel have to be proposed by the president and must be approved by the Loya Jirga," he said.

"Whoever said approval was not needed is mistaken. The international community will insist on it."

That same night, three rockets were fired in the middle of Kabul's residential district of Microrayan - one going through a row of shops on the ground floor of an apartment block.

None seemed to detonate and there were no casualties, heightening speculation that this was a political message rather than a direct attack. A spokesman for ISAF played down the incident, saying, "We have had similar problems before."

However, the timing was hard to ignore and rumour is rife as to who was responsible. The ISAF has suggested it was remnants of the al-Qaeda network. Others said it was Northern Alliance soldiers warning Karzai not to postpone his cabinet decision any longer, or Pashtun dissidents still angry that ex-king Zahir Shah will play no political role in the new regime.

Meanwhile, the president-elect remains under the spotlight. This is possibly his greatest challenge since he emerged from obscurity last year to chair the interim administration.

"Karzai is under a lot of pressure from the United States and the Northern Alliance and now he is being held responsible for delays in the Loya Jirga," one of the president's relatives told IWPR. "He has to please everybody otherwise there will be a critical situation."

The text of the Bonn agreement simply says the grand assembly must approve proposals relating to "key personalities" in the government. These have generally been interpreted to be the three ministries of defence, interior and foreign affairs. More recently, the minister of finance and the head of the judiciary have also been seen as posts requiring conference approval.

Several delegates have vowed to protest if assembly head Ismaeel Qassimyar tries to end the process without a cabinet in place. "If we don't reach a decision in the Loya Jirga, there will be war," said Abdel Rashid from Heart. "If the matter of key posts is not resolved, the problems will remain. Things will not cool down."

Fellow delegate Mohammad Sharf said, "They are keeping us here and wasting our time. If this continues we will walk out."

Many Kabul delegates no longer attend the Jirga full-time, choosing to return to their everyday business and only showing up to hear Karzai's speeches.

However, the provincial attendees have nowhere else to go and remain largely unwilling guests in a compound that seems devoid of life compared to the eager buzz that surrounded it at the start.

Amid the complaints and confusion, proposals for the shape of the Shura, or parliament, seem to have fallen by the wayside. At least four separate ideas were mooted, but Qassimyar was unable or unwilling to persuade delegates to vote on these over three days of debate.

Even the United Nations seems to be piling on the pressure. With the Loya Jirga costing the organisation 200,000 US dollars for every day it runs over deadline, observers believe it may not be willing to finance the assembly for much longer.

IWPR trainer Jack Redden assembled this report with contributions from journalism students Fazal Qader, Andiwal, Fazal Malik, Elaha Shaheen, Gul Bahar Gharwal, Noor Muhmand, Aminullah and Shams-ur-Rahman.

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