Karzai to keep half of cabinet including warlords

Under intense pressure to reform, President Hamid Karzai plans to replace heads of two ministries linked to corruption while retaining several others favoured by the West, Afghan officials said yesterday. The cabinet lineup is an apparent bid to balance US demands and appease local power bosses who helped him win re-election.

The long-awaited cabinet list, expected to be formally announced today, is seen as the first test of Karzai's willingness to assemble a team of reformists, as demanded by the West. International leaders have threatened to hold back troops and development money unless Karzai tackles corruption and honours his pledge to end a "culture of impunity."

Karzai, who is beginning his second term, plans to retain a legendary warlord who holds political sway in western Afghanistan, the officials said. Two members of the Afghan parliament unhappy with the changes say some of the new faces were suggested by Karzai's political allies or former warlords.

A senior international official in Kabul said the diplomatic and aid communities were likely to welcome Karzai's decision to retain the key Cabinet ministers. He stressed that it still needs the blessing of parliament.

Afghan government officials say Karzai wants 12 of the 25 current ministers to stay for now. They include the ministers of defence, interior, foreign affairs, finance, public health and agriculture, who have all been praised by the international community.

Karzai is dismissing the other half, but several of the new nominees come with strong education credentials or government experience and are unlikely to be criticised by the West.

Karzai's new cabinet, however, retains Ismail Khan, the minister of water and energy. Khan has been accused by Human Rights Watch of perpetrating war crimes during Afghanistan's past quarter-century of conflict.

About 100 Afghan lawmakers learned about Karzai's Cabinet picks on Thursday when they met him at the palace. Mirahmad Joyanda, a member of parliament from Kabul, said he was discouraged by the list: "It is like a factory. Nothing has changed. Nothing is new. Half of the Cabinet remains. The other half is introduced by warlords."

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