- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 16, 2010

UPDATED:

KABUL (AP) — The Afghan parliament rejected the majority of President Hamid Karzai’s second slate of Cabinet choices Saturday, dealing a new setback to the U.S.-backed leader’s effort to assemble a team that can focus on badly needed reforms.

The U.S. and other countries contributing troops and aid have pushed Karzai to get his second-term administration in place ahead of a Jan. 28 international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London. The mixed results will further delay the process, two weeks after parliament rejected 70 percent of his first Cabinet picks.

Lawmakers have complained that some of the candidates on the president’s new list lacked the credentials to serve in the 25-member Cabinet. Others claimed that some nominees are too closely aligned with warlords, or were picked to pay back political supporters who helped get the president re-elected.

The 224 lawmakers present approved just seven of 17 nominees, including Karzai’s longtime national security adviser, Zalmay Rasoul, who will be foreign minister, a new justice minister and a woman who was named to the portfolio of Work and Social Affairs/Martyred and Disabled.

The 10 rejected included two other women nominated for the posts of women’s affairs and public health as well as Karzai’s choices for the ministries of higher education, commerce, transportation, public works, refugee and border and tribal affairs.

The slew of rejections — which leave Karzai with nearly a third of his Cabinet posts unfilled — is sure to worry the international community, which had hoped last year’s elections would usher in a strong government to help keep disenchanted Afghans from siding with Taliban insurgents amid warnings violence will worsen as the U.S. and other countries step up efforts in the country.

Continued political turmoil has distracted Karzai from that fight, even as the insurgency grows more virulent. A NATO service member was killed by a roadside bomb Saturday in southern Afghanistan, according to the international force. It did not provide more details.

“The rejection of the majority of the list shows that the people of Afghanistan are not happy with the work of the government,” said deputy parliamentary speaker Mirwais Yasini, a lawmaker from Nangahar province. “This will disrupt the work of the government and it’s not good for the future and the fate of the country.”

Kabul resident Mohammad Ershad agreed, saying Karzai’s picks “will never win because the government didn’t do anything the past eight years and there is no hope from it in the future.”

Karzai’s office issued a brief statement saying he had chosen the nominees “based on their talents, expertise and national participation” and regretted the outcome.

He must now put forward new nominees, which must be approved by parliament according to the Afghan constitution, but his office gave no indication when that might occur.

The discord stood in sharp contrast to the previous Cabinet vote in 2006 — the first by elected lawmakers to endorse a Cabinet following landmark parliamentary elections. Most of Karzai’s choices were easily approved at that time in what was seen as an endorsement for the president’s efforts to rebuild Afghanistan after almost three decades marred by Soviet occupation, civil war and Taliban rule.

The approval of at least one woman on the roster, Amina Afzali, was a minor victory for the president’s efforts to place more women in high government posts in the traditionally male-dominated society, although lawmakers expressed disappointment that the other two candidates were rejected.

The only woman on Karzai’s previous team — Minister of Women’s Affairs Husn Bano Ghazanfar — was rejected by parliament the first time around.

“Unfortunately we have some lawmakers who still can’t vote for a woman, even when they see one who is very active, talented and well-educated,” said Mohammad Ali Sitigh, a lawmaker from Day Kundi province.

U.S.-supported incumbents in the key portfolios of defense, interior, finance and agriculture were already approved in the initial Jan. 2 vote.

Karzai has not yet submitted a name to replace Ismail Khan, an infamous warlord who currently is the minister of water and energy and was rejected in the first vote.

NATO said Saturday that 11 insurgents had been killed in an overnight operation by Afghan and NATO forces that also netted a sizable amount of black tar opium and weapons and bomb-making materials in the Nad Ali district of the southern Helmand province.

Also Saturday, a district official was wounded when his vehicle was hit by a remote-controlled bomb in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, said police spokesman Wazir Pacha. Latifullah Babakherkhail, chief administrator of Bak district, was on his way to his office when the blast occurred, damaging his vehicle, Pacha said.

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