Former Warlord On List Of Karzai Picks For Cabinet

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is announcing his new Cabinet on Sunday. Karzai's plan is to retain nearly half of his ministers, including a handful of those favored by the West. But some of his choices are controversial, including a former warlord.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Afghanistan tomorrow, President Hamid Karzai will hand over his long-awaited choices for a new cabinet to the Afghan parliament. Karzai's plan is to retain nearly half of his ministers, including a handful of those favored by the west. But some of his choices are controversial, including a former warlord.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is among a few journalists who've been given a sneak preview of the list by the presidential palace. Tell us, Soraya, are there any surprises in Karzai's choices?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, I think many people are surprised that he wants to keep on so many of the existing ministers, especially since he's been talking about change, about cleaning up corruption, that sort of thing. And also because he had to curry so much favor with people who are not necessarily desirable to the West or to Afghans, namely, former warlords and strongmen. So, the fact that there is going to be so much consistency going forward, at least if the parliament approves it, that's something that's sort of interesting to people here.

SIEGEL: Is he hearing criticism of that list from Afghanistan's international coalition partners?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, so far they've remained mum because he actually has to present the list to parliament. But they are likely to be pleased about the fact that he's definitely kept on people that they favor, including the person who's in charge of police, the interior minister, as well as the defense minister, the finance minister. They may be less pleased about the fact that he's retained a former warlord who's now in charge of the water and electricity ministry here.

But Mr. Karzai has basically removed two ministers from the list who exist in the cabinet now. And these are two men who are accused of taking bribes and embezzlements. This is sort of seen as a nod to the West, who's really putting - and not just the West, but to his domestic constituents who are putting pressure on him to, in fact, deal with corruption.

SIEGEL: Having seen the list yourself, do you think that it's likely to please his key Afghan supporters?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, it's interesting because he had to curry so much favor with former warlords and people who are not necessarily savory to the West or even to Afghans, for that matter. And you don't see too many of their names or even their supporters' names on the list. So, it's unlikely that they're going to be very thrilled with the list. But one thing that's important to note, Mr. Karzai says, in keeping the people that he wants to keep, that it's for now, that in other words it's not necessarily for the entire five year term. And so perhaps somewhere down the line, he will be bringing in more of these people who have helped him get reelected.

SIEGEL: And when he presents it to the parliament tomorrow, is it assumed that parliament ultimately will approve the list or is that at all in doubt?

SARHADDI NELSON: I think there will be some serious fighting. It's unclear whether or not it will be approved quickly and certainly before the winter recess, even though the pressure is on from the West to move things forward. Part of the problem is that some of the names, even that the West likes, members of parliament do not. For example, the foreign minister, Mr. Spanta, He is somebody who they had voted to impeach back in 2007.

And I think there are others in parliament who were hoping there would be more change, that there would be new faces and people who would help propel forward his anticorruption agenda and other things that some members of parliament would like to see.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Soraya.

SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking to us from Kabul.

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