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Karzai Asks Council for More Time

June 19, 2002|ALISSA J. RUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KABUL, Afghanistan -- This country's arduous formation of a new government was prolonged Tuesday until at least today as President-elect Hamid Karzai asked the delegates to a grand council for more time to complete the crucial job of forming his Cabinet.

Karzai backed away, however, from the position he took just a day earlier that there was no need to have the council approve the appointments.

The shift came after Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, said that under an agreement reached last year in Germany that set up the steps for creating a government, approval from the loya jirga is necessary.

"Based on the Bonn agreement, both the structure of the government and key personnel have to be proposed by the president and approved by the loya jirga," he said. "Whoever says approval is not needed has spoken mistakenly. As the international community, we were involved in it, and we will insist on it."

Still up in the air late Tuesday was what form that approval might take, said Karzai's senior advisor, Ashref Ghani. Among the options were a voice vote, a show of hands or a ballot. Such nitty-gritty procedural questions have come up several times a day at the grand council as it attempts to create a government almost from scratch.

But the nearly 1,600 delegates took the delay in stride, applauding and laughing as Karzai made light of the difficulty of choosing a Cabinet but also struck a sober note by reminding them that the right choice will be critical to Afghanistan's future.

"The selection of the Cabinet, it is almost over, but I think more consultation is better because it concerns the nation's destiny," Karzai said. He joked that his life would have been far easier if the Bonn agreement had determined the Cabinet members rather than leaving the task up to him.

The choice of a Cabinet will be a key test of Karzai's ability to juggle the needs and desires of the different ethnic groups that make up Afghanistan. The most powerful posts in his interim administration have been held by ethnic Tajiks, while Pushtuns--who claim that they are at least as numerous--have complained of being shortchanged. However, if Karzai alienates the still heavily armed, Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance commanders, he risks an almost immediate challenge to his authority.

During the loya jirga, which officially opened June 11, there have been scattered reports of attacks and violence around the country, serving as a stark reminder of the limits of Karzai's power and that of the international community. The most recent incident occurred Tuesday night in Kabul, the capital, when two rocket blasts shook the eastern suburbs. No casualties were reported.

International peacekeepers had warned of violence during the loya jirga, perhaps from fugitive members of the deposed Taliban regime or the Al Qaeda terrorist network, or from others seeking to destabilize the situation here.

Also Tuesday, it became clear that a blueprint proposed for forming a national council, or shura, to help the new government function was still controversial, and it appeared likely that delegates will leave Kabul with the issue still undecided. Offered by the grand council's chairman, Ismail Qasimyar, the plan would draw representatives from each province and include others chosen from among delegates to the loya jirga. This new group also would reserve 15 seats for women, Qasimyar said.

However, a raucous debate broke out after he described his plan. The controversy gave Karzai a chance to tout his proposal to have a handful of delegates from each election district stay in Kabul after the loya jirga ends to refine the proposal.

At its heart, the disagreement involves whether to have a legislative body that would act as a check on the executive branch and could write new laws, or to have an advisory council that would have less power but could be organized more quickly. A legislative body would probably take the shape of a parliament, and that would require an election--a lengthy and expensive process.

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