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Afghan Interim President Wants to Choose Own Cabinet - 2002-06-17

Afghanistan's interim president has told the grand elective assembly, the Loya Jirga, that he wants to choose his own cabinet. President Hamid Karzai also called on the assembly to choose representatives to decide the issue of allocating seats in an interim parliament. The president's move leaves the Loya Jirga with little work to do.

President Karzai went before the Loya Jirga Monday to tell them he will pick his own cabinet. He did not reveal his choices, and said he will take one more day to finalize the cabinet lineup. But he pledged it would be a cabinet that, in his words, "meets the needs of the people."

The speech startled many delegates. Under the terms of the Bonn Agreement, signed late last year, approving what was termed "key personalities" of the next interim government is one of the three tasks of this Loya Jirga. The other two are electing a head of state and choosing an interim legislature.

Of those, the Loya Jirga has only elected the president, Mr. Karzai.

Speaking after the president's speech, foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah said Mr. Karzai does not need the Loya Jirga's approval of his cabinet. "The key posts are not subject to the approval by the Loya Jirga," he said.

The cabinet issue is extremely sensitive. Some of Mr. Karzai's fellow ethnic Pashtuns have complained he gave too much power to ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks in the previous interim government, and will do so again.

Mr. Karzai also said that a commission made up of five representatives from each of the nine electoral districts would stay after the Loya Jirga to work out a formula for allocating seats in an interim parliament. Delegates have argued over whether the legislature should be on the basis of population or geography.

Karzai advisor Ashraf Ghani said the issue could not be left to the Loya Jirga to decide. "Our purpose and main objective in this Loya Jirga is to achieve unity on key issues," he said. "On the modality of selection of members, there are clearly two camps. If you just put it to a vote, one side is going to be cheated."

Alex Thier, an analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group and an observer inside the Loya Jirga tent, says the new interim government has denied the Loya Jirga the opportunity to make the key decisions, and that, he says, has undercut the legitimacy of the entire effort. "Every time it seemed as though there would be a meaningful debate on an issue, it was undercut," said Alex Thier. "Every time it seemed as though people were going to finally get to choose at least those things that they were supposed to choose under the Bonn Agreement, they were undercut. And I'm afraid that the story of this Loya Jirga is ultimately going to be that the people didn't get to decide on the few issues that were granted to them."

Barring any new developments, the Loya Jirga is expected to adjourn Tuesday or Wednesday.