Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 140

On October 9, Hamid Karzai became the first directly elected Afghan president, winning by more than 55% of the vote. Seven weeks later, he is still brooding over his cabinet. Speculations are rife about the people who may take the helms of the various ministries. There have been several cabinet lists circulating in Kabul and elsewhere about the potential nominees. None has been as yet confirmed, while inauguration day is scheduled for December 7 (RFE/RL, October 25).

There are several reasons for the delay in choosing a cabinet, but the main one is the daunting task of balancing the demands of the international community with the preferences of Afghans themselves. As leader of the interim government, Karzai first presided over a cabinet that was ready-made for him by the Bonn agreements in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. His second cabinet was a transitional one, which came after the emergency Loya Jirga session in July of 2002. It generally contained the same faces, with some minor changes. Now Karzai faces the real task of choosing a government that would satisfy the people as well the rival forces still powerful in the country. At the same time, he has to choose a cabinet that will be technically and professionally able to shoulder the daunting task of reconstructing the war-shattered economy and infrastructure. More specifically, Karzai needs to exclude the so-called “warlords” and include the technocrats and educated elite who can do the job.

On different occasions he has expressed his desire not to form a coalition government, meaning in effect that he will exclude the ethnically based groups and parties. According to some accounts, people voted for Karzai because he was thought to be more popular among other candidates and that he could fulfill their demands. “They want him not to make any deals for the structure of the coming cabinet and they want him to consider the ability and professional backgrounds of those he wants to bring into the new cabinet” (Islaah in Dari, November 25).

Due to a history of suspicions among the various ethnic groups, only an ethnically broad-based government can earn the trust of the people. The Pashtuns have ruled the country for much of its modern history. For the other ethnic minorities to feel that they are not neglected, their trusted representatives need to be included. A government dominated by one ethnic group will have limited success in performing its tasks and will alienate the other groups. People expect Karzai “as the first elected president . . . to keep in mind the need for participation in the cabinet by all major ethnic groups (Mardum in Dari, November 9).

Equally important is the presence of professionals and technocrats, most of whom are living abroad and need to be enticed back with economic incentives. These are the people that Karzai needs for an effective job of reconstruction, while drawing support from the Afghan people and gaining the confidence of the international community. Of course there are a whole host of qualifications and requirements raised in choosing the personalities for membership in the cabinet: moral commitment, awareness, creativity, effectiveness, efficiency, and the will to serve people, among others. However, one independent publication sums the process up as such: “The most important points emphasized by everyone are ability and capability in the next government” (Eqtedar-e-Milli, November 20).

In fact Karzai can satisfy the two main expectations — ethnic composition and technical training — by choosing from the highly educated people of various ethnic groups who are not associated with any particular warlord and at the same time can properly represent the interest of their particular ethnic groups. They can play a useful role in rebuilding the country. For the people to have confidence in these individuals, they need to be strong personalities who will speak and represent the will of their constituencies.

However, speculation around Kabul suggests that Karzai will have a token ethnic appointment and rely heavily on the Pashtun constituency to ensure his dominance. If this is confirmed in practice, there would be little confidence in the government from the ethnic minorities who together make up the majority of the population.