Accessibility links

New Afghan Cabinet Goes to Work - 2001-12-24

Members of Afghanistan's new interim cabinet went to work Monday to begin governing a country that has not known peace for more than 20 years.

The newly sworn-in members of the power-sharing cabinet are starting from scratch, meeting their staff and being briefed by the acting ministers installed by the Northern Alliance.

The ministers held their first cabinet meeting Sunday, where they heard interim leader Hamid Karzai say the top priorities are reconstruction, the economy and bringing "peace and stability."

Mr. Karzai, who is to lead the government for a six-month interim period, has said one of his top priorities is to stamp out terrorism on Afghan soil. And, that includes the continuing pursuit of the chief terror suspect Osama bin Laden.

In an interview Sunday with CNN, the Afghan leader said he would hand over Mr. bin Laden to U.S. authorities or an international tribunal, if he is found anywhere in the country. And, he said, U.S. forces could stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to hunt down the man Washington accuses of masterminding the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Mr. Karzai says there is no way he can go unpunished. He says, if Osama bin Laden is arrested, Afghanistan will deliver him to international justice.

The Afghan leader also says both Osama bin Laden and the man who gave him sanctuary in Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammed Omar, could face domestic charges for what he called "the murder and destruction of the Afghan land and people."

Mr. Karzai vowed to wipe out all terrorists in the country, pledging to see to it that terrorism in all its forms is completely finished in Afghanistan.

The streets of Kabul are quiet, with British peacekeepers visible on patrols in the heart of the city. The British contingent is to expand to about 1,500 men and may be joined by around 1,200 German troops and elements from several other European countries.

However, British officials said Sunday the deployment of more of the security force has been delayed and the British Royal Marines may be on their own until at least the end of the year.

There are still armed militias in a number of neighborhoods in the city. Under the Bonn agreement which created the interim government, the only armed forces in the city are supposed to be police. Mr. Karzai is reported to have decided not to force the issue and will allow more time for the armed groups to leave.

Meanwhile, outside the capital, U.S. forces are continuing their search for bin Laden. But, so far, they have been unable to locate him.