Armed militias still an issueAfghans face future [Archives:2005/804/Front Page]

January 6 2005

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

In one his last moves to close 2004, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai held the first meeting with his new Cabinet, stressing that ministers need to work together to rebuild the war-torn country and carry it into a brighter future.

In the meeting at the Presidential Palace in the capital Kabul, Karzai, the first elected president in Afghanistan, said that the Cabinet must focus on the economy, education and security and that the success of the government should be based on how well it fights against the flourishing drug industry.

He also urged the ministers to turn away from tribal and ethnic loyalty and commit themselves to the people who have been struggling during warfare that lasted for a quarter of a century.

The President said before the meeting that infighting in the Cabinet between political parties must be avoided.

“I hope all of our ministers in the Cabinet, if they have any link with political parties, they should resign from those parties. If they do, then the people of Afghanistan will trust our Cabinet,” said Karzai.

Karzai's selection of ministers, announced just days before the first meeting, has been seen as a significant move. Some warlords holding positions as ministers in the interim government put together after the Taliban regime was ousted in late 2001 were removed. Most of the ministerial positions were filled by technocrats with experience related to their new jobs and a college degree was a requirement.

“Taking out warlords and bringing in more qualified people is a fresh start for President Karzai to unify the country, establishing security and rebuilding a country that is in real need,” said an Afghan analyst.

Former Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, once a leading commander of the Northern Alliance, was replaced by his deputy Abdur Rahim Wardak, who fought against the Soviets in the eighties. Yunus Qanooni, who ran against Karzai during the presidential elections last October after being the Minister of Education, was not given a position in the Cabinet.

Two ministers were appointed as governors in important provinces after being replaced in the Cabinet. Gul Afha Sherzai, former Minister of Public Works, was named governor of the Kandahar province, while Sayed Hussain Anwari, former Minister of Agriculture, is now the governor of the Kabul province, which includes the capital city.

Karzai, who won the presidential elections on October 9 and took 55% of the votes, appointed the female presidential candidate Massouda Jalal as the Minister of Women's Affairs.

The new team of ministers working with the president may face obstacles in the near future, however. Decisions made by the Cabinet will need support by the Parliament which is scheduled to be elected next April. Militia leaders are likely to have a heavy influence on the new legislature. Qanooni has already announced his formation of an opposition party, and other warlords, such as Fahim, Mohammed Mohaqeq, Abdul Rashid Dostem, are not expected to sit idle during elections next spring.

Vikram Parekh, an Afghan analyst of the International Crisis Group, said that satisfying donor countries had played a part in Karzai deciding on who he would appoint as ministers. The choices were “very much dependent on foreign backing so the question will be how much will that affect their ability to get things done,” said Parekh. “Will they need to make compromises?”

Establishing security nationwide will also be a challenge. A number of militia leaders supported by armed followers control vast areas outside of the capital. US troops, numbering roughly 18,000, continue to battle with the remnants of the Taliban in the south while around 9,000 NATO-led peacekeeping forces mostly protect the capital.

Opium production has continued to climb over the last three years after the Taliban regime was forced out. The most recent United Nations report showed that the land being used for growing poppies grew 64% in 2004, reaching 131,000 hectares. Poppy cultivation covers each of the 32 provinces and 87% of the world's supply of opium, which is used to produce heroin, comes from Afghanistan.

To help tackle drug trafficking, Karzai established a new Counternarcotics Ministry headed by Habibullah Qadari.

“We look forward to working with the new Cabinet team,” said Bill Rammel, Foreign Office Minister to Afghanistan from Great Britain, the country spearheading the international community fighting opium production. “I shall be taking an early opportunity to reassure the new minister for counternarcotics, Habibullah Qaderi, of Britain's determination to support Afghanistan in its fight against drugs and to contribute to intensified international efforts in the year ahead.”

The newly appointed Defense Minister Wardak has said that progress made by the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program, which is run jointly by the United Nations and the Afghan government and aims at disarming militias, will continue.

“The process of DDR is going smoothly and would be completed in the three months ahead of the parliamentary elections,” said Wardak. Since the program began, around 30,000 weapons out of 60,000 to 80,000 have been collected.

Wardak also said that the goal of having 70,000 soldiers enlisted in the Afghan National Army (ANA) will be completed in December 2006. The US Army has been training ANA forces, and the local army now has 25,000 soldiers.

US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, supported Karzai's selection of a new Cabinet.

“We congratulate President Karzai on his appointment of a new Cabinet,” said Khalilzad. “We support their wish and call upon the Cabinet to fully devote itself to supporting President Karzai as he leads Afghanistan to a new and brighter future.”