- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 19, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | Facing intense pressure to reform, President Hamid Karzai plans to replace the heads of two ministries linked to corruption while retaining several others favored by the West, Afghan officials said Friday. The lineup is an apparent bid to balance U.S. demands and appease local power bosses who helped him win re-election.

The long-awaited Cabinet list, expected to be formally announced Saturday, is seen as the first test of Mr. Karzai’s willingness to assemble a team of reformists, as demanded by the West. International leaders have threatened to hold back troops and development money unless Mr. Karzai tackles corruption and honors his pledge to end a “culture of impunity.”

Mr. Karzai, who is beginning his second term, also plans to keep on board a legendary warlord who holds political sway in western Afghanistan, the officials said.

So far, the U.S. Embassy is withholding comment.

“We’re awaiting an official announcement and want to see that the nominations put forward reflect President Karzai’s stated commitment to good governance and integrity and professionalism within his Cabinet,” embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

The Afghan government officials, who divulged the list on the condition of anonymity because it was not being submitted to lawmakers until Saturday, said Mr. Karzai wants 12 of the 25 current ministers to stay on their jobs for now. They include Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar, Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, Public Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi and Agriculture Minister Muhammad Asif Rahimi - all who have received kudos from the international community.

Mr. Karzai is dismissing the other half, but several of the new nominees come with strong education credentials or government experience and are not likely to provoke overwhelming criticism from the West.

Mr. Karzai’s new Cabinet list, however, retains Ismail Khan, the current minister of Water and Energy. Mr. Khan, who is a powerful political figure in the Herat region of western Afghanistan, has been accused by Human Rights Watch of perpetrating war crimes during Afghanistan’s past quarter-century of conflict.

Mr. Karzai hopes to replace Minister of Mines Muhammad Ibrahim Adel. Earlier this month, two U.S. officials in Washington alleged that Mr. Adel took a $20 million bribe to steer a $3 billion copper mining project to a Chinese company. The minister has denied taking any bribes.

The president also wants to replace Sediq Chakari, who heads the Ministry of Hajj and Mosque. Allegations surfaced recently that money was pocketed at the ministry. Mr. Chakari said two of his employees were being investigated in connection with missing money.

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