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Karzai Sidelines Warlords, Elevates Opium Fight in Choosing Afghan Cabinet

By Paul Haven
Associated Press
Friday, December 24, 2004; Page A10

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 23 -- President Hamid Karzai chose a new cabinet on Thursday, heeding calls to sideline warlords from top positions and creating a new post to spearhead the fight against opium production.

Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, an ethnic Tajik militia leader and the head of an alliance that helped the United States drive the Taliban militia from power in 2001, was replaced by his deputy, Rahim Wardak, an ethnic Pashtun and former anti-Soviet fighter who fled into exile in the 1990s.

The cabinet was announced by Karzai on state television, six weeks after his election and two weeks after his inauguration. Repeated delays in naming the ministers led to concern that Karzai would not be able to deliver on campaign promises to keep militia bosses out of powerful posts.

Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official, was replaced by Central Bank Governor Anwar Ahadi, a longtime Karzai ally. Ghani was likely to take over as head of Kabul University, officials said.

Foreign Minister Abdullah, who uses one name, and Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, both popular in the West, were kept on. Jalali, a longtime exile in Washington, will have to give up his American passport under a provision in the new constitution barring ministers from holding dual citizenship.

In addition to Fahim, Gul Agha Sherzai, a warlord from the south, was removed from the cabinet as public works minister. However, Ismail Khan, the powerful western warlord whom Karzai removed as governor of Herat this year, was given the position of water and energy minister.

Khan's selection is likely to prompt criticism from human rights groups because he was accused of torture while governor. Karzai has walked a tightrope in trying to limit the influence of the warlords, whose large, private armies are still in control of large swaths of the countryside.

A Counternarcotics Ministry was created, with Habibullah Qadari, a relative unknown, chosen to run it. The position will be closely watched to see whether Karzai makes good on a pledge to wipe out opium production. He has recently called for a "holy war" against the multibillion-dollar drug trade.

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