Karzai seeks new cabinet before London conference

8:43am EST

By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai has met members of parliament in the hope of persuading them to confirm a cabinet in time for an international conference at the end of the month, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Karzai will submit a new list of cabinet nominees within days, and will include several of the same candidates rejected by parliament last week, but will name them to different portfolios, spokesman Wahid Omar said.

Parliament stunned Karzai last week by rejecting more than two thirds of his choices for the cabinet, including one powerful former guerrilla commander and several allies of other ex-commanders who backed the president’s re-election.

The unexpected stand-off has extended a long period of political uncertainty that began with the fraud-tainted election in August, which took months to resolve. A U.N.-backed probe found nearly a third of Karzai’s ballots were fake, forcing a second round which was canceled when Karzai’s opponent withdrew.

Countries with troops fighting in Afghanistan hope to turn the page on months of drift and confusion with the London conference on Jan 27, called to outline a path of reform that would allow the Western military contingent to begin withdrawing.

However, parliament rejected 17 of 24 Karzai’s cabinet candidates last week, including former powerful militia commander Ismail Khan and allies of other former commanders such as Ahmad Rashid Dostum, who backed Karzai in the disputed poll.

Spokesman Omar said the president had been meeting with members of parliament in recent days to canvass their support for a new list and avoid a repeat of the rejection votes.

“President Hamid Karzai wants to have a complete cabinet before the London conference and expects the MPs to give them their vote of confidence,” he said. He said Karzai would send the new list to parliament on Saturday or Sunday, including several of the ministers rejected last week, now offered new jobs.

EX-GUERRILLA CHIEF MAY BE REAPPOINTED

A parliamentarian who attended a palace meeting said Karzai had told them one of the ministers he would seek to reappoint in a new post was powerful ex-commander Ismail Khan.

Parliament had refused to reconfirm Khan in his current post as energy minister, the highest-profile of last week’s snubs.

Karzai’s initial list for the cabinet had received mixed reviews. Western governments were pleased that the interior and defense ministers were retained, along with others they consider competent in posts that spend large amounts of aid money.

But other posts were offered to allies of former warlords, a tactic Karzai has long used to maintain support from regional chieftains who have dominated the country for decades.

The defense, interior, finance and agriculture ministers liked by the West were among the seven approved by parliament.

The new list will include 18 ministers, including a replacement for Foreign Minister Datfar Rangin Spanta, whose successor had not been included in the initial list of 24. The parliamentarian who asked not to be named said Karzai would propose his security adviser, Zalmay Rasul, for that post.

U.S. and Western leaders say forming a credible cabinet that can tackle corruption and limit the influence of former guerrillas is key to winning the support of the Afghan public.

Washington has pledged to send 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan in coming months, bringing the total Western force to more than 140,000. Support for the mission has declined as the death toll has risen; 2009 was by far the deadliest year.

Nine U.S. service members were among many wounded by a blast in the eastern province of Nangarhar on Wednesday. Afghan officials said at least two civilians were killed.

[original]

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