Afghan lawmakers reject most of Karzai's cabinet picks
KABUL -- Afghanistan's parliament dealt a stinging rebuke to President Hamid Karzai on Saturday by rejecting 70 percent of his nominees for a new cabinet, including a regionally powerful warlord and the country's only female minister.
The laborious voting, which took much of Saturday, ended with the rejection of 17 of 24 nominees. The nominations, announced in mid-December, aimed to keep 12 current ministers in their posts for a second term -- in part, apparently, to satisfy U.S. and Western demands that trusted hands be kept in place.
The lawmakers approved a handful of incumbent ministers favored by the West and instrumental to the war effort, including Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, defense; Hanif Atmar, interior; Omar Zakhilwal, finance; Muhammad Asif Rahimi, agriculture; and Ghulam Farooq Wardak, education.
Among those Karzai did not succeed in keeping was the water and power minister, Ismail Khan, who had been a warlord in Herat province during the civil war of the 1990s and retains considerable local power. Critics said the bid to keep Khan indicated the extent to which Karzai appears to be beholden to regional power brokers at the expense of the whole country's interests.
Many of the president's new nominees were also criticized as having been picked for reasons other than their competence.
"I think, unfortunately, that the criteria were either ethnicity or bribery or money," lawmaker Fawzia Kofi said before the voting.
The rejection of the women's affairs minister was an awkward development for Karzai, who has pledged to place more women in high government posts in the traditionally male-dominated society.
Karzai has said he will put forward new nominees for the unfilled posts, but it is unclear when those names will be announced or another parliamentary vote held.
Karzai did not propose a nominee for foreign minister. He has asked incumbent Rangin Dadfar Spanta to stay in the post until after the Jan. 28 international conference in London that is scheduled to discuss the way forward for Afghanistan.
In another high-stakes political issue, the chief of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, Daoud Ali Najafi, said Saturday that a parliamentary vote will be held May 22 despite widespread international concern that the country's electoral system needs serious reform.
However, he said that Afghanistan needs about $50 million from the international community to cover the election's estimated cost of $120 million. It was not clear whether the vote would or could be held if donor countries do not provide the money.
After August's widely disputed presidential election, many critics have pushed Karzai and his government to delay the parliamentary vote. Karzai has insisted that the constitution, which specifies that the elections be held by May, must be observed.
A U.S. congressional delegation that met with Karzai in Kabul last week said it had warned the president that holding the election without first enacting substantive electoral reform could undermine support for U.S. aid to the country.
-- Associated Press