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Karzai's Cabinet to Include Tajiks, Warlords

Government: Delegates reluctantly OK the president's choices, but his reliance on old power brokers comes with certain political risk.

June 20, 2002|ALISSA J. RUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan leader Hamid Karzai adopted a risky political strategy Wednesday, deciding to include several warlords in his inner circle and retain several key ethnic Tajiks in top government posts.

Karzai was inaugurated as the nation's transitional president later Wednesday as a nine-day loya jirga, or grand council, drew to a close.

The Cabinet was approved by a show of hands among the more than 1,500 delegates, but many seemed more resigned than genuinely pleased with Karzai's choices.

"We are satisfied but not very much," said Mohammed Hakim, an ethnic Pushtun from the eastern region around the city of Gardez. "The nation has not been given the right to select the Cabinet, particularly the key ministries."

The Pushtuns, who make up the largest of the nation's many ethnic groups, have felt shortchanged in the power structure Karzai has put in place since he became interim prime minister six months ago.

Although Karzai is a Pushtun, his initial government was dominated by ethnic Tajiks from the Northern Alliance, the army that helped defeat the Taliban regime last fall. Karzai could not afford to alienate them, because they still control significant parts of the country.

On Wednesday, Karzai retained Mohammed Qassim Fahim, a former Northern Alliance commander, as defense minister and Abdullah, a Northern Alliance spokesman, who goes by one name, as foreign minister.

Karzai also brought Fahim into his inner circle as one of three vice presidents. The other two also are prominent commanders: Haji Abdul Qadir, the Pushtun governor of Nangarhar province, and Karim Khalili, an ethnic Hazara commander.

Notably missing from the group was Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek commander from northern Afghanistan. People close to the warlord said he had been invited to be a vice president but had declined because he did not want to move to Kabul, the capital.

The risk for Karzai is that once inside the tent, the warlords--rather than turning away from regional concerns and working for the new government--will use their influence to hoard jobs for their friends and perpetuate a system that relies on guns and money to exercise power.

"It was not a good idea to bring commanders into these positions, because the idea that they will come to Kabul and lose power outside is not the case," said Hedayat Amin Arsala, the outgoing finance minister.

In an effort to downplay any impulse to count the number of slots that went to each ethnic group, Karzai exhorted delegates to think of every one as an Afghan, rather than a member of an ethnic group.

"We are all connected to each other, we all belong to Afghanistan; we are proud of it," he said. "Our feelings for the nation's development are equal."

Karzai did elevate a Pushtun to the Interior Ministry, naming Taj Mohamad Wardak, who was a resident of the Los Angeles area for 15 years before returning to Afghanistan this year. He is viewed as experienced, but some at the loya jirga expressed fears that Wardak, who earlier this year gave his age as 80, would not be able to control the many political pressures he will face in the job.

With the end of the loya jirga, the delegates will scatter to towns and villages across Afghanistan, taking home with them their impressions and frustrations over the country's first experiment with democracy in more than 30 years.

By the most generous of readings, the conference left many delegates disappointed.

Although they might have had unrealistic expectations coming in, given the difficulties of having such a large group take a hands-on role in choosing a Cabinet, they appeared to be leaving with a sense of having been cheated of their main job of designing the new government.

They had little say in the Cabinet's composition and left without having agreed on the shape of a national assembly, a crucial body for those who want to ensure that the executive branch's power can be kept in check.

Indeed, the delegates were not even able to resolve the composition of the group to make the decision about whether to create a parliament with legislative powers or a national shura, or council, that would have a more advisory role.

Most worrisome to many was the legitimizing of several of the warlords who had caused havoc in the past.

"It's OK if [the Cabinet] is decided in the palace, but the discussions that are going on are with the warlords and the normal people have no access to them," said Abdul Salam Rahimi, a member of the committee that set up the loya jirga.

"We need a strong parliament; I don't know why Karzai avoids that," said Zalmal, a delegate from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif who, like many Afghans, goes by one name.

"We are here to ensure the future of the nation," he said.

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