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Afghan Cabinet Selection Hits Snags

FILE - Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks to the media during an event in Kabul, Dec. 10, 2014.

The Afghan president's bid to form a cabinet nearly four months after taking office ran into fresh trouble on Monday after his candidate for finance minister withdrew and doubt was cast over as many as 11 nominees believed to hold dual citizenship.

President Ashraf Ghani is hoping to finalize a 25-member ministerial team after overcoming disagreements with his chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, who shares control over appointments under the deal to share power following a disputed election.

The lack of leadership at ministries has left many projects in limbo and frustrated efforts to restore confidence in the economy after a destabilizing election last year that threatened to deepen ethnic and regional rivalries.

It has also detracted from efforts to fight an escalating Taliban insurgency that has taken advantage of the withdrawal of most foreign troops last year.

On Monday, Ghani's nominee for the key position of finance minister, Ghulam Jilani Popal, withdrew for "personal reasons", according to a senior presidential palace official.

Another government official said Popal disagreed with the president on a number of unspecified issues and was instead being considered for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG).

Both sources said the new nominee for finance minister would be Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, the current Afghan ambassador to the United States.

Popal was one of up to 11 cabinet nominees who reportedly hold dual citizenship, according to lawmaker Abdul Qader Zazai, a member of the committee vetting nominees. The constitution stipulates that ministers must be solely Afghan citizens.

Second nationalities included American, Australian, Canadian, British and Turkish. Diplomats at two embassies confirmed that nominees held their citizenship as well, while others declined to comment for privacy reasons.

Ghani's office was not immediately available to comment on any aspect of the cabinet nomination process.

Nominees face a confidence vote in parliament at the end of the week.

"We will never vote in favor of any nominee with dual citizenship, as it is clearly prohibited by the constitution and we can't break the law," said Kabul lawmaker Qais Hassan.

The impasse has added to embarrassment after the nominee for agriculture minister admitted his name was on an Interpol wanted list for tax evasion. He has denied any wrongdoing, however.

Ghani's ongoing struggle to appoint a cabinet with his rival-turned-partner Abdullah has dented public confidence in the president, who based his campaign on promises of greater transparency and new faces in government.

"This is a business enterprise, not a cabinet," said senator for southern Farah province, Gul Ahmad Azami.

"Language, allegiance and religious belief count for more than talent, experience and commitment. I'm 100 percent sure that people of Afghanistan will not be satisfied."