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Proposed Afghan Cabinet Stocked With Familiar Faces

Ghulam Faruq Wardak is seeking to continue as education minister.
Ghulam Faruq Wardak is seeking to continue as education minister.
Ghulam Faruq Wardak is one of those hand-picked by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to make up his new cabinet.

But, like more than half of Karzai's cabinet appointees, his is not a new face. If approved by parliament to be education minister, he would continue in a post he has already held for nearly a year in the previous government.

Of the 23 nominations to the new cabinet, 11 served in the last one. Two, if approved, would be returning to posts they have held in previous Karzai governments.

Lawmaker Kabir Ranjbar, who supported reformist Ashraf Ghani in this year's presidential campaign, tells RFE/RL that Karzai's proposed cabinet has dashed Afghan hopes for change and reform.

"One can sense this and pass judgment that this cabinet has the stamp of failure written over it," Ranjbar says.

"We are disappointed because we needed forceful and forthright actions while we go through a war and Afghanistan struggles with a critical crisis."

To fill the key posts of justice and defense ministers, Karzai has turned to Sarwar Danish and Abdul Rahim Wardak (no relation to Ghulam Faruq Wardak), respectively. Both served in the previous cabinet.

The proposed interior minister, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, and finance minister, Hazarat Omar Zakhelwal, were both well-received by Western governments during their stints in those positions in Karzai's last cabinet.

Even Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, who has been tabbed to be economy minister, is not really a fresh face -- he is a successful Western-trained technocrat who formerly worked as the head of Afghanistan's Central Bank and as finance minister.

Parliamentary Questioning

After Karzai won a second term in office on the back of an election marred by fraud and chaos, expectations were particularly high for the new government.

Ordinary Afghans were looking for a cabinet that would both stand up for them and heal ethnic and political rifts that emerged during the election campaign. The outside world, particularly Afghanistan's foreign donors, were expecting a cabinet overhaul that would signal Karzai's dedication to fighting corruption.

Will parliament reject some of the proposed ministers, as it did in 2006?
Karzai has apparently taken steps to address domestic and international criticism over corruption. For example, the new cabinet will not include ministers of mining and religious affairs. Both offices had come under intense security following accusations that they embezzled large sums of donors' money.

Afghan lawmakers are expected to continue to question Karzai's proposed cabinet members over the next few days ahead of a vote later this week that will decide their ministerial fate. All will require majority approval by parliament to assume their posts.

Some parliament members will be looking to force a situation similar to that of 2006, when Karzai had to drop some of his cabinet choices after encountering resistance in parliament.

Malalai Shinwari, a pro-Karzai lawmaker who represents Kabul, is one of them. She says that a majority of the new ministers are qualified and represent Afghanistan's diverse ethnic groups and regions. But she wants to hear them all and to question them personally before deciding whom to support.

She is especially keen on exploring possible links between proposed ministers and former warring factions and militias.

With that in mind, Shinwari already knows she will not be voting to approve Mohammad Ismail Khan, a former mujahedin leader and strongman from the western Herat region. Shinwari did not vote for Khan in 2006, when he was last proposed by Karzai to be water and energy minister, and her opinion of Ismail Khan remains unchanged this time around.

"He only works for himself whenever in power," she says.

Experienced, Or Retreads?

Shinwari, a former journalist, also has reservations about Sayyed Makhdum Rahin, who has been nominated to be information minister. Rahin served in the same post from 2001-06, but failed to get parliamentary approval in 2006 that would have extended his term. He went on to serve as Afghan ambassador to India until his name resurfaced this week.

Shinwari says it would be "laughable" if he was approved for the new cabinet by the same parliament that rejected him before. She added that in his previous stint, "I didn't see him doing what he could have done to stop the theft of Afghanistan's archeological treasures."

Until the vote later this week, appointees are sure to be on the defensive, as today's grilling of Ghulam Faruq Wardak revealed.

The education minister-designate confidently touted his record and proudly pointed to the complete documentation of his assets that he has submitted to lawmakers.

"Corruption is invasive in the Afghan [political] system. I am not talking about one institution but it is present in the overall system," Wardak said.

"I am only responsible for my personal integrity and corruption. I can proudly tell you that I am not corrupt and the record of my 25 years [in public service] is before you."
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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