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Afghan Parliament Approves Government Reshuffle

Hanif Atmar (right), with President Karzai, is seen as the answer to corruption in the Interior Ministry.

Hanif Atmar (right), with President Karzai, is seen as the answer to corruption in the Interior Ministry.

KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai's cabinet reshuffle, including a new head for the Interior Ministry, which controls the police and has been criticized for corruption, has been approved by parliament, an official said.

Violence in Afghanistan has reached record levels as the war against the Taliban enters its eighth year. Western leaders have pointed to a lack of good governance and endemic corruption as factors feeding the insurgency.

Karzai swapped several of his cabinet ministers around this month but the new appointments needed approval by parliament. Deputies voted late on October 20 to endorse the new postings.

"We are happy that parliament approved three new ministers and they will officially start their jobs today," said parliament spokesman Asif Nang.

The most significant change, and one that has been praised by Karzai's Western backers, is the appointment of the former education minister, Hanif Atmar, to the Interior Ministry.

Atmar is seen as a capable administrator who has made great improvements in education and has an untainted reputation.

The United States has poured more than $3 billion into training and expanding the Afghan National Police in the past two years, seeing the force as key to the fight against the Taliban insurgency because, unlike the army, it has bases in every town.

But the program to reform the police has been hampered by corruption at the Interior Ministry, diplomatic sources say, where officials demand large bribes for the appointment of top officers who then recoup the money from lower ranks and ultimately the Afghan public.

The outgoing Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel was expected to become minister for refugees but failed to show up in parliament for the vote because he was ill, Nang said. His new appointment was not voted on.

"We haven't heard anything from Moqbel saying he is not interested in the new post," he said.

Other changes included Parliamentary Affairs Minister Farooq Wardak moving to the education ministry and former governor of Kandahar, Asadullah Khaled, taking over the ministry of parliamentary affairs. Asef Rahimi becomes agriculture minister.