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Popularity Boost Opens Door For Karzai Cabinet Maneuvers

  • Abubakar Siddique

Over 70 percent of Afghans have rated Karzai's performance as "good" or "excellent"

Over 70 percent of Afghans have rated Karzai's performance as "good" or "excellent"

A new survey has concluded that Hamid Karzai's popularity is soaring among Afghans, and it couldn't happen at a better time for the newly reelected president.

Seventy percent of Afghans believe Karzai is moving their country in the right direction, nearly double the percentage who felt that way just one year ago, according to the poll conducted jointly by Britain's BBC, Germany's ARD, and the United States' ABC television networks.

Seventy-two percent among more than 1,500 Afghans surveyed rated Karzai's presidential performance as "excellent" or "good," compared to just over 50 percent in a similar survey conducted one year ago.

The findings come as parliamentarians this week grill appointees for Karzai's second-term cabinet. The president's first attempt to form a government was soundly slapped down by parliament, which vetoed two-thirds of the president's cabinet nominees.

Western media has widely characterized the development as a major blow dealt to Karzai by an increasingly independent parliament.

Upcoming Vote

Others, however, see the Afghan president's increased popularity giving him newfound room to maneuver that should ultimately result in a government to his liking.

Kabul-based Afghan analyst Mohammad Yunos Fakur tells RFE that the president will gain a "positive advantage from this survey," which he says reflect Afghans' positive response to the attention the international community has paid Karzai since his contentious reelection.

With parliament set to vote on Karzai's latest cabinet nominees this weekend, Fakur predicts Karzai will form a competent cabinet soon. "The increased international engagement with Hamid Karzai [after his reelection] has given people satisfaction that he will continue leading them on the right path," he says.

Fakur, who opposed Karzai in the contentious August election, tells RFE/RL that the Western media survey shows that Afghans are pragmatic.

The Afghan people, he says, want to see Karzai succeed because they still view him as having the best chance to bring stability to the country. "There were wars in Afghanistan and we don't have another leader as an alternative to him in the political arena," he says.

"His efforts to strike a balance with the international forces and juggle domestic political factions [has endeared him to Afghans]. People are also concerned that his absence would pave the way for mujahedin leaders and warlords to resume fighting."

Fakur adds that the survey shows that Afghans appear to have gained more favorable views of the U.S.-led international coalition after it committed tens of thousands of new troops and billions of dollars in civilian aid.

Fakur is not alone in his belief that parliament's rejection of two-thirds of Karzai initial cabinet choices was part of a greater strategy.

He suggests that the lawmakers, who face elections this spring, are eager to prove to their constituents that they are sensitive to their demands.

'Balancing Demands'

Fakur expects some of the names Karzai forwarded to parliament this week to be rejected as well. "I think he is facing challenges in balancing the demands of the international community and the expectations of the jihadi factions and the society at large," he says.

"That's why he sends the parliament a list of mixed nominees. The lawmakers I talk to here think that only a few of these nominees would be approved."

Fakur suggests, however, that not too much should be read into such a scenario, because Karzai might not be keen to see all of his nominees appointed anyway.

Karzai introduced 17 new nominees to the parliament on January 9. The new list includes three women compared to just one in the first list. Amena Afzali and Palwasha Hassan, candidates for the social and women affairs ministers, are well known Afghan civil rights activists. Sorya Dalil is a medical doctor who served in NGOs and the United Nations.

The new nominee for foreign minster, Zalmay Rassul, has worked closely with Karzai as his adviser over the past eight years. He is among a handful of former royalists who have good relations with Karzai, and reportedly also enjoys good rapport with the international community.

Although no major warlords or militia commander have been nominated to the cabinet, the list includes many nominees from Hezb-e Islami and Jamiat-e Islami -- Afghan versions of the pan-Islamist Muslim brotherhood, which enjoys a majority ethnic Pashtun or Tajik following.

Karzai's latest appointment for the powerful position of economy minister is among the most controversial. Years ago, Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal dissociated himself from Gulbuddin Hetmatyar, whose faction continues to wage war against Afghan and international troops.

Zarar Ahmed Moqbil, Karzai's choice to head the Counternarcotics Ministry, is another controversial appointee. Moqbil, who was pushed out as interior minister in a previous Karzai cabinet amid corruption allegations, is considered a Jamiet-e Islami loyalist.

Karzai's first list of cabinet nominees met with criticism from some who felt the president may have been paying back election favors by forwarding names preferred by former militia commanders such as Abdul Rashid Dostum and Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq.

This time around Karzai's list included many ethnic Uzbek and Hazara nominees, but none appear to have close ties to the country's warlord factions.
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