| ||Pressure From All Sides as Karzai Picks His Team|
The New York Times
By Richard A. Oppel and Abdul Waheed Wafa
KABUL — President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan faces a decisive test of his pledge to reduce corruption and cronyism when he names members of his new government as early as Tuesday, Afghan and Western officials say.
The appointment of the 25-member cabinet has put the embattled Afghan leader in a difficult spot: choosing between rewarding the warlords and others who helped secure his disputed re-election or answering demands to curb widespread corruption from President Obama and other Western leaders whose militaries are fighting an ever-deadlier Afghan insurgency.
Mr. Karzai has drawn support from a patchwork of traditional Afghan power brokers, some with brutal reputations, but he has also been warned that Western financial support hinges on the appointment of reform-minded ministers who will not steal or waste foreign aid money. Mr. Obama has also vowed that the Afghan government will no longer be given a “blank check.”
Mr. Karzai “is being torn apart by pressure from the West for reform, and by demands by people who supported him with votes in exchange for ministries,” said Abdullah Abdullah, who finished second to Mr. Karzai in the Aug. 20 election.
A United Nations-backed commission found evidence of widespread electoral fraud, but Mr. Karzai was proclaimed the winner last month after Mr. Abdullah withdrew from a planned runoff because he said he could not get a fair vote.
Some officials said they believed that more than half of the cabinet would be replaced, but they cautioned that any list of nominees, which must be approved in Parliament, could be changed up to the last minute.
“Karzai has made so many promises that it’s tough to fulfill them all,” one official said.
Mr. Karzai appeared to be trying to further splinter his opposition by trying to bring into the fold a number of officials from Jamiat-e-Islami, the party of the prominent opposition leader and former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani. One Jamiat official said to be under consideration is Mr. Rabbani’s son.
“It is probable” that Jamiat will join the government, said Mr. Abdullah, who is close to Mr. Rabbani. But he vowed that the opposition would continue to be robust.
Mr. Karzai “has a lot of tricks, and he is very clever,” Mr. Abdullah said. “But the opposition will remain intact.”
With American and NATO troop levels set to increase, military officials are closely watching the fate of the minister of defense, Abdul Rahim Wardak, and minister of interior, Hanif Atmar, who controls the police.
“We know Wardak plans to move on and Atmar would like to stay,” said a senior United States military official, who said officials were “very pleased with our relationship” with both ministries. If they left, it could take time to rebuild that trust. “The key will be integrity and competency of the new team,” the official said.
Officials say prominent power brokers or their associates under consideration for government positions include Hajji Muhammad Moheqiq, a warlord from the Hazara Shiite minority ethnic group, and aides to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek commander whose soldiers were accused of killing Taliban prisoners of war in 2001. General Dostum has denied any “intentional massacre” of prisoners.
A spokesman for Mr. Karzai, Hamid Elmi, declined to comment. But Karzai allies have circulated the names of many cabinet contenders in recent days, including Western favorites like Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister. One of the most popular members of the current government among Western diplomats, Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, has a strong chance of keeping his post, officials said.
Also under consideration for a national security position or other senior government job is Ali A. Jalali, a former interior minister who is a professor at the National Defense University in Washington.
In an interview on Monday afternoon, Mr. Jalali confirmed he was in Kabul talking to Karzai aides but said he did not know if he would be named to a post. “I don’t think it is a confirmed thing,” he said.
He defended Mr. Karzai against assertions that he would use appointments to reward supporters, saying that those who have been “effective probably will remain, and those who need to be replaced probably will be replaced.” He also said he had been told that Mr. Atmar and Mr. Wardak could stay in their jobs.
With mounting American warnings about official corruption, Karzai aides on Monday announced the conviction and sentencing of the mayor of Kabul, Abdul Ahad Sahibi, to four years in prison for embezzlement.
Enayatullah Kamal, a deputy attorney general, said in an interview that Mr. Sahibi was convicted of stealing about $18,000. It was the first high-level graft conviction since Mr. Obama ratcheted up the pressure on Mr. Karzai to crack down on corruption.
Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.