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Afghan President's Cabinet May Be Unpopular with Pashtuns - 2002-06-19


Afghanistan's transitional president was sworn into office Wednesday, and named a portion of his new cabinet. The cabinet announcement capped a nine-day traditional elective council, the Loya Jirga. Mr. Karzai faced tough political choices in putting together his team.

On the last day of the Loya Jirga, President Hamid Karzai announced a partial 15-member cabinet lineup that leaves the top portfolios in the hands of members of the Northern Alliance, the group that helped topple the Taleban last year.

Mohammad Fahim was retained as defense minister and Abdullah Abdullah stays on in the foreign minister slot. Another senior Northern Alliance member, Yunus Qanooni, was moved from the powerful Interior Ministry to the Education Ministry.

Those choices are expected to be unpopular with Mr. Karzai's fellow Pashtuns, who feel he has ceded too much power to the Tajik-and Uzbek-dominated Northern Alliance.

The new Interior Minister is Taj Mohammad Khan Wardak, a Pashtun and governor of Paktia province. A key Karzai advisor and former World Bank official, Ashraf Ghani, was named finance minister.

Mr. Fahim was also named as one of three vice-presidents, along with ethnic Hazara leader Karim Khalili and Nangahar provincial governor Haji Qadir.

Mr. Karzai was engaged in marathon negotiations to try to cobble together a cabinet that would win general acceptance. But he was under tremendous pressure from all sides, aides said. According to one source, Mr. Karzai was even threatened by some unnamed Northern Alliance figures who did not want to lose their positions.

Under terms of last year's Bonn Agreement (brokered by the U.N.), the Loya Jirga was to elect a head of state, choose an interim legislature, and approve what was termed "key personalities" of the transitional government. The council elected Mr. Karzai to head the government, which is to write a new constitution and pave the way for elections. But the council could not agree on a formula for seat allocation in the interim legislature.

Mr. Karzai told delegates that his cabinet may not be perfect but that the Loya Jirga could not resolve the parliament issue, either. "As for approving the cabinet, Mr. Karzai asked the Loya Jirga to ratify his choices by raising their hands, and many although not all appeared to do so," Mr. Karzai said.

Many delegates were unhappy that they were not able to put the cabinet choices to a vote. But, as delegate Wahid Mohmand said, they had little other choice but to trust Mr. Karzai.

"He has a really hard time right now. He's under a lot of pressure. And so he needs, I believe, the help of delegates at this point. We have to stand behind him and trust him. So that's our choice, you know. We don't have any other choice right now," Mr. Mohmand said.

Mr. Karzai said he will announce the rest of his cabinet choices later.

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