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Afghan Leader To Form New Government Within Three Weeks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (center) with Vice Presidents Karim Khalili (right) and Mohammad Qasim Fahim
KABUL (Reuters) -- Technocrats and some existing ministers will be included among Afghan President Hamid Karzai's new government within the next three weeks, a spokesman has said, despite pressure from the West for wholesale reform.

Karzai, reelected after a needless presidential runoff vote was abandoned on November 2, has received stern warnings from U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and others in the West that he must work harder to root out corruption that tainted his previous administration.

The runoff, triggered after widespread fraud marred the first round in August, was cancelled after Karzai's only rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew citing serious concerns about the vote.

Abdullah said on November 4 that Afghanistan deserved a better administration than any that Karzai was able to offer but urged his supporters to remain peaceful.

"My expectation from the people is to use constraint and behave on the basis of the rule of law and not resort to any illegal action for the fulfillment of their goals," Abdullah told a news conference at his Kabul home.

The flawed electoral process has left Washington and Afghanistan's other Western supporters to work with a partner whose legitimacy has been questioned, while Karzai himself faces an invigorated opposition under Abdullah.

The runoff decision came after weeks of political uncertainty, while Obama also weighs whether to send up to 40,000 more troops to fight a resurgent Taliban, who had threatened to disrupt the poll and branded Karzai's return a farce.

An Afghan policeman shot dead five British soldiers at a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan on November 3, underlining security concerns and certain to fuel debate in Britain about its presence in the country.

"The government the president has in mind is one that will have special places for experts, educated and professional people," Karzai spokesman Siyamak Herawi told Reuters.

"It [the next cabinet] will have new figures and some of the old ministers who have done well," he said.


Herawi said Karzai would announce his new government within three weeks. Washington and others have expressed concern Karzai would again turn to regional chieftains.

Key ethnic chiefs and regional power brokers threw their weight behind Karzai in the weeks leading up to the poll, making it difficult for Abdullah to challenge him but at the same time opening Karzai to accusations he would be in debt to warlords.

He drew criticism for his choice of running mates, including Mohammad Qasim Fahim, whom New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch has called one of the country's most notorious warlords.

Herawi rejected suggestions Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban were toppled in 2001, had struck any deals with such figures in return for cabinet positions.

He said the next government would be one of "national partnership" where all Afghanistan's diverse ethnic groups were represented.

The outcome of the election has left Washington and other Western supporters to work with a partner whose legitimacy has been questioned by some, while Karzai himself faces a newly strengthened opposition.

But Karzai, who retains broad support among Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, cannot afford to alienate too many of Afghanistan's diverse groups.

On November 4, dancing supporters took to the Kabul streets, chanting his name, banging drums, and playing native flutes.

Since Karzai's return to power was confirmed, Western leaders have told him he must do more to root out the corruption many in the West riddled his previous administration.

Obama and European leaders have backed Karzai but have also said he must work harder on good governance, respect for human rights, economic development, battling the drug trade, and training Afghan security forces so that foreign troops can eventually leave.

"Given what the international community is emphasizing on the eradication of drugs and corruption, all these issues will be taken into consideration," Herawi said.

Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of opium, used to make heroin, a trade which helps fund the Taliban-led insurgency.

There are currently around 67,000 U.S. troops and 42,000 allied troops in Afghanistan. The White House has said a decision by Obama on troop levels was still weeks away.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on November 3 European nations are reluctant to contribute more troops. Britain has the second-highest number of troops in Afghanistan after the United States.

With military deaths at record levels this year as violence spiraled across Afghanistan, U.S. public support for the war is also dwindling and U.S. lawmakers are questioning its cost.