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Afghan Lawmakers Back Karzai Choices

April 20, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Lawmakers approved President Hamid Karzai’s choices for key ministries Thursday in a Cabinet vote that gave the U.S.-backed leader a boost as he tries to curb an intensified insurgency more than four years since the Taliban’s ouster.

But five of Karzai’s nominees, including the incumbent information and economy ministers and the sole woman, were rejected. The president will nominate new candidates for those remaining ministries, then a fresh vote will be held. No date has been set.

The vote was the first by elected lawmakers to endorse a Cabinet following landmark parliamentary elections last year.

Twenty of Karzai’s 25 candidates were approved by majority votes from the 248-member parliament, including new Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, a former Kabul University professor who went into exile during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Spanta replaces the high-profile Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s envoy since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime.

The three other key posts _ defense, interior and finance _ also went to Karzai nominees in a strong showing seen as an endorsement for the president’s efforts to rebuild Afghanistan after almost three decades marred by Soviet occupation, civil war and Taliban rule.

``This proves that Karzai has strong support within the parliament because he got his nominees into the key ministries,″ said Qassim Akhghar, an analyst who heads an Afghan press watchdog group.

Spanta’s predecessor, Abdullah, has had close ties with Washington, but his ouster had been long anticipated because of an apparent falling out with Karzai over how the ministry was handling foreign affairs, observers said.

Ties with Pakistan, in particular, have deteriorated sharply in recent months amid allegations of cross-border infiltration by Taliban militants.

Karzai will rely heavily on his new Cabinet _ once formed _ to deal with the enormous challenges his country still faces. These range from reining in Taliban militants who wield immense influence in remote parts of the country, particularly in the south, to improving ties with neighbors such as Pakistan. Resolving basic needs of ordinary Afghans, such as high unemployment and underdevelopment, will be key to his government’s credibility.

Even though the Cabinet’s formation is not yet finalized, having lawmakers ranging from pro-Western academics to ex-Taliban supporters agree on the key components of a broad-based government would have been inconceivable to many war-weary Afghans several years ago.

Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, a Pashtun, won back his job, while lawmakers promoted Zarar Ahmad Muqbal, a Tajik former central Parwan province governor, from deputy to interior minister. The Finance Ministry went to the incumbent, Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a Pashtun.

Control over both security portfolios is vital to Karzai as his government confronts a resurgent threat from Taliban extremists and other militants, who have stepped up bombings and shootings in recent months across the country.

Longtime culture and information minister, Makhdom Raheen, was among five Karzai picks voted down by lawmakers.

``Of course President Karzai was hoping to get all his 25 nominees approved, but Afghanistan now works under a democratic process where lawmakers make their choices based on their democratic rights,″ said Karzai’s spokesman, Karim Rahimi. ``It is a good sign.″

Raheen lost his seat amid complaints from religious hard-liners that he had not done enough to prevent the airing on state-run TV of suspect programs, including shows containing images of women dancing.

Lawmakers also opposed the only female nominee, Suraya Raheem Sabarnag, for the women’s affairs portfolio, while Gul Hussein Ahmadi was rejected as transport minister.

Amin Farhang, who had held the economy ministry, was voted down, as was former deputy foreign affairs minister Mohammed Haider Reza, who had been nominated to take on the commerce post.

Their rejection indicated discontent among lawmakers about the pace of economic development, unemployment and grinding poverty suffered by most Afghans.


Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

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