Karzai offers new cabinet list, but several lawmakers continue to have qualms

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 10, 2010

KABUL -- Seeking to end a political standoff with a newly assertive parliament, President Hamid Karzai on Saturday submitted a fresh list of nominees for his cabinet in place of the candidates rejected by the legislature last week.

But parliament showed no sign of bowing easily to Karzai's wishes, with several members quickly raising objections to some of the new nominees and the house speaker promising a thorough vetting of the replacement candidates.

"It's a little better than the previous one -- not a lot, but a little," said Khalid Pashtun, a parliament member critical of Karzai, speaking about the new list shortly after it was introduced. "Twenty-five to 30 percent are still objectionable."

At the heart of the dispute is a struggle for power in post-Taliban Afghanistan between former guerrilla commanders, or warlords, who have backed Karzai and want a share of the spoils after his disputed reelection last year, and younger, reform-minded politicians who want to break the stranglehold of the old military power brokers.

Concern that Karzai's first proposed cabinet was loaded with allies of the military commanders led parliament to reject 17 of the 24 names submitted last week. That left some key ministries, including public health, education and energy, with caretakers in charge.

The new list of 16 names is primarily made up of political unknowns, suggesting that Karzai had ceded somewhat to demands to trim the power of the warlords. But some critics were questioning the allegiances of several of the new nominees.

"We don't want to be controlled by these traditional power brokers," said Fawzia Kofi, 32, one of the young reformist leaders in parliament. "The faces are all nice people, but the addresses are still the same," she added.

Yonus Qanooni, speaker of the lower house, said the chamber would work overtime to question all the nominees in hopes of having a vote within a week. Parliament was supposed to be on a winter break but has remained in session to deal with the crisis.

The rejection of the cabinet nominees last week was considered unusual here because parliament has long been seen as largely bending to the president's wishes.

Since he came to power in 2001 after the Taliban fled Kabul under an intense U.S. bombing campaign, Karzai -- without an army of his own and under international pressure to make accommodations -- has assiduously courted the mujaheddin commanders who fought the Soviet Union.

But the commanders, in exchange for their support, have demanded that their allies be placed in key ministries. Guerrilla commander Ismail Khan, whose stronghold is the western province of Herat, took the job of energy minister for himself. He was one of the nominees parliament rejected a week ago. Karzai did not rename him Saturday, leaving that post vacant, with Khan serving as caretaker.

Karzai's critics in parliament said it is time for him to break his alliance with the various military commanders and form a cabinet of experts who are competent in their fields.

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