Afghan officials: Karzai to keep half his Cabinet

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KABUL (AP) — President Hamid Karzai wants to replace the heads of two ministries linked to corruption, but will retain half his current Cabinet, including six influential ministers embraced by the international community, Afghan officials said Friday.

Karzai, who is beginning his second term, also plans to keep on board a legendary warlord who holds political sway in the West, the officials said. Two members of the Afghan parliament unhappy with the new slate say some of the new faces were suggested by Karzai’s political allies or former warlords.

The long-awaited Cabinet list 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 honors his pledge to end a “culture of impunity.”

The U.S. and other nations sending troops and financial aid to the war-worn impoverished nation are also eager to see experienced hands at the helm, and Karzai’s decision to keep some key ministers in their posts appears to be a nod to those concerns. So far, the U.S. Embassy is withholding comment.

“We’re awaiting an official announcement and want to see that the nominations put forward reflect President Karzai’s stated commitment to good governance and integrity and professionalism within his Cabinet,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

However, a senior international official in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the Cabinet, said the diplomatic and aid communities likely would react positively to Karzai’s decision to retain the key Cabinet ministers. He stressed that it still needs the blessing of parliament.

The Afghan government officials, who divulged the list on condition of anonymity because it was not being submitted to lawmakers until Saturday, said Karzai wants 12 of the 25 current ministers to stay on their jobs for now. They include the ministers of defense, interior, foreign affairs, finance, public health and agriculture — all who have received kudos from 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 not likely to provoke overwhelming criticism from the West.

Karzai’s new Cabinet list, however, retains Ismail Khan, the current minister of Water and Energy. Khan, who is a powerful political figure in the Herat region of western Afghanistan, 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 with him at the palace.

Parwin Durani, a parliament member who represents the Afghan nomadic community, said about a third of the lawmakers at the meeting were unhappy that Karzai did not bring in more fresh faces. Some of the nominees were suggested by powerful individuals who helped to re-elect him, she said, expressing disappointment in the list.

She said Karzai told the lawmakers that while they had the power to seat the Cabinet, he would face pressure from the international community if they rejected certain nominees. Durani also said Karzai indicated that he might change some ministers in upcoming months.

Mirahmad Joyanda, a member of parliament from Kabul, said he was discouraged by the list and left the meeting.

“It is like a factory. … Nothing has changed,” Joyanda said. “Nothing is new. Half of the Cabinet remains. The other half is introduced by warlords.”

Karzai hopes to replace Muhammad Ibrahim Adel, the current minister of mines. Earlier this month, two U.S. officials in Washington alleged that Adel took a $20 million bribe to steer a $3 billion copper mining project to a Chinese company. The minister denied taking any bribes, saying the agreement was approved by the Cabinet and Karzai was also aware of it.

The president also wants to replace Sediq Chakari, who heads the Ministry of Hajj and Mosque. Allegations surfaced recently that money was pocketed at the ministry. Chakari, who has denied involvement, said two of his employees were being investigated in connection with missing money.

In addition to Khan, the officials said Karzai wants to keep:

—Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak

—Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta

—Interior Minister Hanif Atmar

—Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal

—Public Health Minister Dr. Mohammad Amin Fatemi

—Agriculture Minister Muhammad Asif Rahimi

—Justice Minister Mohammad Sarwar Danish

—Education Minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak

—Women’s Affairs Husn Bano Ghazanfar

—Communications Minister Amirzai Sangeen

—Counternarcotics Minister Gen. Khodaidad, who uses one name

Also Friday, the Kandahar regional governor’s office said three civilians were killed in an attack by a helicopter gunship used by international forces.

NATO said it was investigating the reported casualties in the Thursday night incident in the Shah Wali Kot district. It said initial operational reports indicated that the helicopter fired on men who were placing an explosive device along a road.

In Khakhrez, another district of Kandahar, seven civilians were killed Thursday when a roadside mine blast hit their vehicle, the governor’s office said.

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