- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | Afghan legislators complained Saturday that several members of President Hamid Karzai’s proposed Cabinet are inexperienced and beholden to warlords - opposition that threatens to slow the reform Washington believes is essential to beating the Taliban.

The U.S. Embassy made only neutral comments after the nomination list was presented to parliament, but gave no assessment of the nominees, some of whom are known to be favored by Washington and its allies. The embassy appeared to want to avoid the appearance of interfering in the formation of a new administration. Britain, another major troop contributor and advocate of reform in the government, issued a more positive assessment.

Mr. Karzai’s list was seen as a litmus test of his commitment to cleaning up corruption in his government, anger over which fuels the Taliban insurgency. The Afghan leader has come under mounting criticism over his stewardship since the fraud-marred August election and the decision by President Obama to send 30,000 more troops here to try to break the Taliban momentum.

In response to the pressure, Mr. Karzai kept U.S. favorites in several posts critical to the war and reconstruction - including the ministries of defense, interior and finance - and jettisoned the heads of two ministries embroiled in corruption probes. About half of the 23 nominees are holdovers.

The list did not include a nominee for foreign minister; Mr. Karzai has said he would make that nomination after the international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London in late January.

Many of the new names appeared aimed at satisfying domestic political allies, including warlords, who have kept him in power. Many legislators regarded the new figures suspiciously, concerned they would disregard national interests to do the bidding of those regional power bosses, who are widely reviled for their brutality in the 1990s civil war and who still hold significant power in their regions.

“I think that if this Cabinet gets a confidence vote from the parliament of Afghanistan, it would not be able to put medicine on the injuries of the Afghan people,” said Gul Pacha Mujedi, a parliamentarian from Paktia province.

One notorious warlord, Ismail Khan, would retain his position as water and energy minister.

A presidential spokesman said Mr. Karzai made his decision in consultation with international officials and Afghan political figures but that he was not beholden to either.

“He has listened to the international community and various political parties, but the final decision was made by the president,” spokesman Waheed Omar told reporters.

“We look forward to the lower house of parliament carrying out their duty to vet and approve candidates who will contribute to Afghanistan’s progress towards institutional reform, security and prosperity,” said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. The British and Canadian missions praised the new Cabinet.

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