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Karzai Alerts Afghans That He Will Select New Cabinet

Politics: President-to-be also parries delegates by proposing a panel to discuss a legislature.


KABUL, Afghanistan — Confronted by demands from this nation's grand assembly for a voice in deciding who will run the next government, incoming President Hamid Karzai put the delegates on notice Monday that he will make the appointments and at best let them know his selections before their session disperses.

Karzai also responded to the gathering's conflicting proposals for formation of a legislature with a tried-and-true delaying tactic: He proposed a committee.

The announcements made by the newly chosen transitional president on the seventh day of the prolonged assembly, or loya jirga, confirmed the impression that had been forming among delegates for days that further decisions about the country's governance will be up to Karzai, not the gathering.

Despite the curtailing of the loya jirga's clout in charting Afghanistan's postwar future, there were mixed sentiments among the delegates about the value of their volatile convocation.

Some were angry that they had been allowed to do little more than rubber-stamp the interim government's plans for running the country until nationwide elections in 2004.

Others hailed the forum that democratically chose a leader and brought together fierce warlords, humble farmers, intellectuals and refugees for peaceful debate and a search for national solutions.

"Everyone is talking over the same things and nothing important," said Abdul Qader Khan, an ethnic Pushtun delegate from the southern city of Kandahar. "It's really frustrating--and boring."

But others urged their colleagues in the nearly 1,600-strong gathering to keep its shortcomings in context.

"We never expected it to be so successful," said former President Sibghatullah Mojaddidi, praising the first loya jirga in a generation for selecting Karzai as transitional president and airing the concerns and grievances of constituents.

After 23 years of bloodshed, as well as persistent violence on the country's lawless fringes, the lively exchanges in an air-conditioned tent erected on a soccer field provided an alternative for settling Afghanistan's differences, said Ahmed Wali Masoud, Afghanistan's ambassador to Britain and brother of slain Northern Alliance warrior Ahmed Shah Masoud.

The loya jirga, a 1,000-year-old tradition for deciding vital national issues, was supposed to conclude Sunday after selecting a head of state, deciding the structure of a transitional government and approving "key positions" within the leadership. The agenda was outlined in a U.N.-brokered agreement signed last fall by Afghan leaders who met in Germany.

But except for the selection Thursday of Karzai, a 44-year-old Pushtun who has been interim prime minister for six months, the delegates have been mired in conflict and complaints about their role. Like many Afghans, the participants want to see a reduction of the power of Northern Alliance commanders who have controlled the interim government seated at the talks in Germany.

Karzai's aides have been saying for days that it is impractical to submit personnel decisions for the perusal of nearly 1,600 people and that the need for a Cabinet of professionals has to outweigh even the desire for strict ethnic balance. The current ministers of foreign affairs, the interior and defense are all ethnic Tajik warlords, as is the head of the intelligence service.

The new Cabinet must be named by Saturday, when the interim government's mandate expires. But Karzai told the delegates that his slate of appointees might not be ready before the assembly ends its deliberations. He promised to seat an ethnically representative government and one with the skills needed to lift the country out of poverty and desolation.

It was unclear Monday how much longer the loya jirga will remain in session, although Foreign Minister Abdullah said the aim was to wrap up today or Wednesday.

Delegate Fatima Gailani, a Western-educated Pushtun who has lived in Britain for years, expressed the mix of trust and suspicion felt by many at the loya jirga. "Everybody loves Mr. Karzai," she said. "But there is such fear about who will be in his Cabinet."

Karzai's authority has largely been limited to Kabul, the capital, but the relative peace that has reigned since his December appointment as premier is seen as the result of a power-sharing deal with the Northern Alliance commanders. If they are dropped from the government, factional fighting could resume and central authority collapse. Hoping to ease delegates' qualms about the incoming Cabinet, Karzai urged them to pick representatives to stay in Kabul as a committee after the loya jirga ends to advise him and discuss how to seat a fair and representative consultative council, or shura.

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