KABUL, (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai submitted a new list of cabinet nominees on Saturday to replace ministers rejected by parliament in a shock snub last week, but lawmakers promised a tough fight to get the names confirmed.
In what are likely to be seen as positive changes by both the West and many of Karzai’s critics at home, it included no prominent ex-guerrilla chiefs and fewer of their allies.
It also included a record three women, up from just one in both the outgoing cabinet and Karzai’s earlier list.
In an apparent concession to parliamentarians, Karzai did not seek new posts for any of the 17 candidates that had been rejected, although the palace had earlier said he might put some forward for different portfolios. Two spots remain vacant.
Nevertheless, many of the new nominees are little known, and lawmakers said they would vet them carefully. “It looks like Karzai has picked them up from the street,” parliament member Sayed Dawood Hashimi told Reuters, predicting that only four or five would be approved.
Parliament’s rejection of most of Karzai’s first slate was a major political blow to a man who has been Afghanistan’s leader since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
Seven ministers already confirmed from the original list included the defence, interior and finance ministers, held over from Karzai’s pre-election cabined. Together they control a large chunk of foreign cash and are liked by Western governments.
The house had rejected a number of allies of former guerrilla commanders that backed Karzai’s re-election.
Dawood Sultanzoy, one of the parliamentarians who led the revolt against the previous list, told Reuters the new list was “a mix of qualified and not very qualified people”. “I think the result of the vote will also be a mix of some who will get the vote of confidence and some will not, that’s my prediction,” he said.
The new list contained 16 names, including Karzai’s security adviser, Zalmay Rasul, nominated to the previously unfilled post of foreign minister. The two posts left unfilled are the communications ministry and the water and energy portfolio.
Among those not given a new spot were powerful former guerrilla commander Ismail Khan, the outgoing water and energy minister, whose narrow rejection for the same post last week was the highest-profile snub to Karzai.
Parliament’s veto last week of Khan, who backed Karzai’s re-election in August at the last minute and helped secure him votes in the west of the country, was seen as the clearest sign that lawmakers wanted to curb the influence of former warlords.
Karzai also omitted allies of former ethnic Uzbek militia chief Abdul Rashid Dostum, three of whom were in his previous list. Dostum had campaigned for Karzai despite a human rights record that alarmed the United States and United Nations. “Karzai deceived us,” said Salim Sahi, a member of parliament from Dostum’s Jumbesh Party. “We collected 700,000 votes for him and in return he promised us several cabinet posts.”
Lawmakers will question candidates before voting can take place, a process that took more than a week for the original 24. “If you work two shifts, morning and afternoon, we should be able to take a vote of confidence by Thursday,” speaker Mohammad Younus Qanuni told the lower house.
Vice President Karim Khalili, who read out Karzai’s list to the house and introduced most of the new candidates, said parliamentarians should “act responsibly in every decision…. Your vote of confidence or rejection is highly respected.”
Karzai hopes to have the new cabinet confirmed in time for a Jan. 21 conference in London that will be his debut in the West after blows to his reputation from a re-election in which a U.N.-backed probe found nearly a third of his votes were fake.
Western governments see improving the cabinet as a vital step to bolstering Afghanistan’s government so they can eventually begin withdrawing troops. U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to send an extra 30,000 Americans to join an international force of nearly 110,000 troops fighting a Taliban insurgency.
Washington in particular has said it will not give aid money to individual ministries unless it trusts the minister in charge.
The past year has been by far the deadliest of the eight-year-old war. The international force said on Saturday that two of its troops had died in the last 24 hours, one from a roadside bomb and another from a vehicle accident.