Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s second attempt to form a cabinet has raised concerns of a return to patronage politics with a batch of largely unknown figures who appear to come with useful connections.
Analysts said many of the new names submitted Saturday for parliament’s approval – to replace 17 nominees rejected by lawmakers earlier this month – have little or no experience in government, raising the risk of failure.
Karzai is battling to form a functioning government and end a political crisis in the war-ravaged nation that has dragged on since he was returned to power in a fraud-tainted presidential election in August.
The president last week ordered parliament to cancel its winter recess to consider new nominations after it threw out 17 of his 24 original choices in a January 3 vote.
Sixteen new nominees presented themselves to parliament on Saturday, including proposed foreign minister Zalmi Rasool, and lawmakers will grill them this week before a secret ballot likely next week.
Another two names will be put forward in the coming days for the water and power and telecommunications ministries, Vice President Mohammad Karim Khallili said.
“Most of these guys are unknown to the Afghan people,” said analyst Haroun Mir, noting that many nominees are aligned with warlords and minor political parties that supported Karzai in the election.
Mir, director of Afghanistan’s Centre for Research and Policy Studies, said no one who had delivered Karzai regional or ethnic blocs of votes had been left out, in what appeared to be a return to the politics of reward for support.
“Karzai wants to survive and survival means for him no organized opposition. So no one is left out of the government from the traditional groups and parties,” he said.
Parliament’s initial rejection of 17 names was seen as a huge blow to the US-backed leader, who is under enormous pressure to prove his commitment to clean and competent government in return for ongoing Western support to rebuild the country and fight Taliban insurgents.
Diplomats said Karzai wants a functioning government in place ahead of an international conference in London on January 28 to discuss a road map for the country’s future.
The new list includes three women after the sole female nominee was initially rejected, but analysts said political connections and not competence appeared to be the main qualification for many in the new line-up.
Other nominees have links to powerful warlords who helped Karzai in the August election, analysts said.
At least one is aligned with feared Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam; two are associated with former president and warlord Burhanuddin Rabbani; and several with Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, an ethnic Hazara former militia leader.
Also on the list is economy portfolio nominee Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, a former member of Hizb-i-Islami who now leads a pro-government wing of the moderate Islamist party.
“When you look at connections some of them have to warlords, Islamist parties or plain old crooks, it really does look like a return to the bad old days of rewarding your mates with a lucrative government job,” a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Analysts said that while the new nominees represent a cross-section of Afghanistan’s ethnic mix of Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara, the common thread was lack of experience.
“There are people among them who represent different groups and individuals,” said Kabul University law professor Nasrullah Stanikzai.
“If these people do not give up their factional loyalties, this could be a big problem for Karzai. If they give up on their loyalties and work as a team loyal to Karzai things will be fine. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Mir also said that proposed counter-narcotics minister Zarar Ahmad Muqbel had a reputation for bureaucratic weakness.
“He has already proven to be weak when he was interior minister. He was one of the weak ministers in the past and I don’t expect him to do any better in the new job,” Mir said.
Muqbel served briefly as interior minister until being replaced in late 2008 under pressure from Karzai’s Western allies by Mohammad Hanif Atmar, who has few powerful backers but is regarded as a success.
A UN official who asked not to be named said that as interior minister “Muqbel had totally failed the ministry,” overseeing a rise in crime to record levels.
Afghanistan is the world’s biggest opium grower supplying more than 90 percent of the globe’s illicit drugs which the country’s Western allies spend hundreds of millions of dollar every year to eradicate. – AFP