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Karzai Faces Difficult Questions in Choosing Cabinet - 2002-06-14

Afghanistan's grand elective assembly, known as a Loya Jirga, has begun debating who should fill cabinet posts. The assembly on Thursday chose incumbent government chief Hamid Karzai to head the next 18-month transitional government. But it is not clear which cabinet members are to be chosen by the assembly and which chosen by Mr. Karzai.

One day after electing Hamid Karzai interim president by an overwhelming margin, the Loya Jirga began tackling the ticklish question of who should be in the interim government. The question is all the more vexing because no one seems to be sure who is to do the choosing.

The wording of the guiding Bonn Accords, signed in December, is somewhat vague, saying that the Loya Jirga will approve "prominent personalities" to be in the Transitional Authority, as it is officially named. But, even with his large mandate from the Loya Jirga, it remains unclear just how much leverage the council will grant Mr. Karzai in putting together his team.

Said Tayeb Jawad, one of Mr. Karzai's advisors, said the cabinet will be smaller and staffed more by technocrats. "It will be most probably a smaller cabinet, staffed more by professionals. Still, it depends on the Loya Jirga, and on the political negotiations. But definitely we will see a larger number of Afghan professionals being members of the cabinet," he said.

But Mr. Karzai must walk a political tightrope. As a Pashtun, he is a member of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. But much of the armed power is held by the self-proclaimed United Front, the Tajik and Uzbek-dominated alliance that defeated the Taleban.

Pashtuns have grumbled that Mr. Karzai gave away too much to the Tajiks and Uzbeks in the last interim government, and are afraid he will do so again. But Tajiks and Uzbeks are demanding their slice of the political pie, saying they deserve it for ousting the Taleban.

Meanwhile, another ethnic group, the Hazaras, have complained they have been left out in the cold.

Mr. Karzai is not showing his hand just yet. Asked about the cabinet makeup Friday, he refused to give any details but pledged that it would be broadly representative of Afghanistan's different groups. "I'll tell you that the government will be representative. It has to be. It has to represent the Afghan interests as a whole," he said.

Mr. Karzai has promised to stamp out what has become known as "warlordism", the rule of local fiefdoms backed by private armies. But that will take time, and cannot be realistically embarked upon until a multi-ethnic national army is in place. In the meantime, it remains to be seen if Mr. Karzai will have to make some compromises with the warlords in return for some stability and breathing room to get the government functioning.

The Loya Jirga will also choose a 111-seat parliament that is to function as an interim legislature.