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Afghan president’s new Cabinet picks include controversial figure

President Hamid Karzai snubbed two prominent warlord figures in a new Cabinet lineup unveiled Saturday but unexpectedly offered a ministerial spot to the leader of a party linked to a Pakistan-based insurgent commander.

The list of 16 Cabinet nominees also includes three women, one of them a prominent activist chosen as minister of women’s affairs. Karzai had been sharply criticized when his previous lineup had only one woman.

The Afghan parliament on Jan. 2 rejected 17 of the 23 prospective ministers that Karzai initially put forth, including former militia commander Ismail Khan and three nominees associated with another former commander, Rashid Dostum.

Before the replacement list was presented to lawmakers, aides had suggested that the president might offer up some of the rejected candidates again, but for different posts. But Karzai, weakened by a bruising election battle tarnished by massive vote-rigging, apparently decided against stirring up a fresh confrontation with parliament.

The president ordered lawmakers to put off their winter recess for a vote on the new list, which may be held by week’s end.

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The Afghan leader, who was sworn in to a second term in office in November, has been under pressure to assemble a government before a major aid and security conference in London at the end of the month. If Karzai’s Cabinet is not confirmed by then, countries supplying troops and aid to Afghanistan will have to make financial commitments without knowing who would be overseeing the disbursement of some funds -- a difficult proposition in light of corruption concerns.

Of the new nominees, the most eye-catching is probably Abdul Hadi Arghandiawal, the chairman of a party that is an offshoot of the Hezb-i-Islami movement. Karzai tapped him as economics minister.

Arghandiawal has denied having direct links to insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the movement’s founder. Hekmatyar sometimes has allied with both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and most analysts believe he and Arghandiawal are in contact.

But the choice of Arghandiawal would be in line with Karzai’s stated desire to reach out to insurgents who are willing to lay down their arms and join the political system. Hekmatyar, who once served as Afghanistan’s prime minister, is thought to harbor a wish to regain a position of political influence.

With seven ministers approved in the original vote and 16 nominees now on tap, Karzai told Afghan lawmakers the final slate would comprise 25 ministers. That leaves two posts yet to be filled, which could still be given to controversial supporters.

In his new lineup, Karzai also named a candidate for the job of foreign minister, which he previously left vacant. He nominated Zalmai Rasool, former head of the national security council.

Lawmakers and analysts said the new list consisted of a mix of qualified candidates and those with little relevant experience. One new nomination that will probably please the West is that of Arsala Jamal, an English-speaking technocrat who is the former governor of restive Khowst province, which borders Pakistan and is a hotbed of insurgent activity. Karzai nominated him as the new minister of tribal and border affairs.

laura.king@latimes.com


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