- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday rejected criticism that his proposed new Cabinet amounts to business as usual and is unlikely to do much to tackle the country’s array of problems.

Mr. Karzai has been under strong international pressure to clean up corruption in his government, anger over which has helped fuel the Taliban insurgency.

When Mr. Karzai’s nominees for the Cabinet were presented Saturday, many legislators complained that he was keeping ministers who had performed badly and that he was appointing new faces who may be in the pocket of warlords and regional power brokers.

Mr. Karzai dismissed the criticism at a news conference with Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme.

“Confidently, I say if there is any question about corruption, they will be accountable, and I will be accountable as well to the Afghan nation,” he said.

Mr. Karzai meanwhile defended the mayor of Kabul, who this month was sentenced to four years in prison for corruption. Mr. Karzai previously said the mayor was a scapegoat, and on Sunday he said he felt responsibility to defend someone who is “clean and honest.”

The attorney general’s office recently confirmed that it was investigating a few current ministers and a dozen former ministers for corruption. Members of parliament recently pushed Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar to disclose the names of ministers under investigation.

Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta on Sunday sharply criticized Mr. Faqiryar for allegedly saying that his ministry was being investigated in connection with the transfer of $500,000 to a foreign travel agency that was supposed to take Afghans to the 2007 pilgrimage to Mecca but didn’t.

In a letter to Mr. Karzai, Mr. Spanta said his ministry was involved only in seeking the return of the funds. Moreover, he wrote that his ministry also was working to find $10 million that remains unaccounted for following the 2008 pilgrimage.

“Although I know that my complaints of the misuse of authority by the attorney general’s office will bear no fruit, I register my profound complaint on the unethical and illegal conduct of this office and refuse to accept any apologies of the deputy attorney general for his baseless allegations and wrongdoing,” Mr. Spanta wrote.

Mr. Faqiryar said in a telephone interview that Mr. Spanta himself was never a target in the investigations.

Mr. Spanta was not among those nominated for Mr. Karzai’s new Cabinet, although he has been asked to stay on as foreign minister through the international conference on Afghanistan that is to take place in London on Jan. 28.

“I am pressing him to stay” through the conference so it doesn’t hamper preparations for the meeting, Mr. Karzai said Sunday. “Once that’s done, you’ll see that the Afghan government will look rather different.”

Some legislators have criticized the Cabinet nominations because there was only one woman, the minister of women’s affairs. Mr. Karzai on Sunday said he plans to form a new ministry for literacy, which would be headed by a woman, and said he also plans to appoint women to a number of deputy minister positions.

Mr. Leterme, whose country contributes more than 500 troops to the international military forces in Afghanistan, reaffirmed Belgium’s military and aid commitments.

The NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said in a statement Sunday that a Polish serviceman was killed the day before when his unit came under small arms fire in eastern Afghanistan.

NATO also said that a joint Afghan and international force on Saturday uncovered a large weapons cache in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. The joint unit discovered about 140 pounds of homemade explosive material, including six pounds of ammonium nitrate, which is used in making bombs, and parts for making a pressure plate and detonation cord.

Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed.

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