Afghan president finally nominates cabinet ministers

After a wait of more than three months, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani nominated ministers for his new cabinet

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani nominated ministers for his new cabinet on Monday, after a wait of more than three months, in a bid to form a working government to tackle rampant corruption and the escalating war with Taliban insurgents.

Many Afghan institutions have been all-but-paralyzed for a year amid a months-long election crisis and uncertainty over whether the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops last month will lead to more violence and territorial gains by the Taliban.

Ghani’s chief of staff announced the 25 cabinet nominees at a ceremony attended by Ghani, who did not speak. The nominees must be approved by Afghanistan’s parliament.

The president and his election rival-turned-government partner, Abdullah Abdullah, have spent months wrangling over the makeup of the cabinet, raising worries over whether their unity government could work effectively.

Ghani was sworn into office on Sept. 29 after a power-sharing deal with Abdullah, who accused him of winning through fraud.

A former World Bank official, Ghani has promised a reformist, corruption-fighting government made up of technocrats and free from the patronage that marked the administration of his predecessor, long-time President Hamid Karzai.

He fulfilled his vow to include no former government ministers, though the makeup of the government reflected the balancing act to include candidates favoured by both the Ghani team and Abdullah’s camp. Both teams includes prominent ethnic and regional power-brokers.

The four most prominent ministries were evenly divided between the two camps.

Defense Ministry nominee Sher Mohammad Karimi, chief of staff of the Afghan National Army, is seen as close to Ghani, as is the nominee for finance minister, Ghulam Jilani Popal.

The powerful Interior Ministry post went to Nur ul-Haq Ulumi, who endorsed Abdullah during the campaign. Foreign Ministry nominee Salahuddin Rabbani is also associated with Abdullah.

Political analyst Zia Rafat said the cabinet did not represent a major break from Afghanistan's patronage system.

“Many of them are those who campaigned for either camp and in return earned something,” said Rafat, a Kabul University professor.

Thomas Ruttig, of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, agreed the top posts reflected political networks over professional qualifications, but there were also lesser-known names on the list who might turn out to be more independent technocrats.

“Let’s see whether that’s a good sign - and how many make it through parliament,” Ruttig said.

Ghani also nominated Rahmatullah Nabil to the powerful non-cabinet position of head of the National Directorate of Security intelligence agency, where Nabil is now acting director.

The cabinet nominees include three women - for the ministries of women's affairs, higher education and culture. Ghani and Abdullah had earlier vowed to name four woman ministers.