Profiles: Afghan cabinet nominees

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, has retained several technocrats in his proposed new cabinet, which must be approved by the parliament in Kabul.

The nominations include:

* Abdul Rahim Wardak, defence

A former guerrilla commander who fought Russian invaders, General Wardak’s performance as defence minister will be central to the west’s hopes of accelerating the expansion of the Afghan National Army to allow it to eventually take over the burden of providing security. Liked by the US government, he is seen as one of the most effective interlocutors within the Afghan administration. Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, expressed support for him during a visit to Kabul this month. There are, however, concerns that his advanced age and health problems may hinder his ability to push forward change. On the other hand, analysts say that removing him could prompt a power struggle within security forces that could prove an even bigger hindrance to reform. An ethnic Pashtun, he survived an assassination attempt at Kabul airport in 2005. Gen Wardak also has a literary bent – a former university lecturer in Kabul, he is the author of various historical texts.

* Mohammed Hanif Atmar, interior affairs

A spy chief during Afghanistan’s communist days, Mr Atmar faces the unenviable task of building up the country’s notoriously corrupt police force. Another favourite of the US administration, Mr Atmar has nevertheless lost some of his appeal among diplomats in the wake of widespread rigging in August’s general elections . The opposition alleged that much of the ballot-stuffing was carried out with the connivance of senior police officers, who answer to Mr Atmar. Although Mr Atmar launched early reforms, the police are regarded as one of the weakest links in the country’s security forces. An ethnic Pashtun who earned a masters degree in the UK, he has worked in various humanitarian organisations and has previously served Mr Karzai in the rural and education portfolios. Afghan media have reported that he was on a list drawn up by the attorney-general’s office of ministers who should be investigated on suspicion of corruption, but prosecutors have said he will not face charges.

* Omar Zakhilwal, finance

Respected for his efforts to fight corruption and boost revenues, Mr Zakhilwal lends weight to the cabinet’s technocratic credentials. He has backed a proposal to create a series of powerful “commissioners” within government who would each control a cluster of ministries, a plan that western diplomats hope will streamline government. A former consultant for the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and other international organisations, Mr Zakhilwal has also held a clutch of senior advisory positions within the Afghan government. An ethnic Pashtun, he received his higher education in Canada and holds a PhD in economics.

* Asif Rahimi, agriculture

A favourite of the US and Europe, Mr Rahmi will be poised to play a central role in Washington’s plan to sharply increase agricultural spending to try to undermine support for Taliban insurgents. An ethnic Tajik, he studied in Kabul and later at the University of Omaha, then ran operations in Afghanistan for Care, the humanitarian agency, before joining Mr Karzai’s government. He headed the National Solidarity Programme, a scheme that has been widely praised for placing development funds directly in the hands of locals. USAid, the American government aid agency, plans to roughly treble agricultural aid to about $500m a year and start providing funding directly to Mr Rahimi’s ministry to complement the US counter-insurgency strategy.

* Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, foreign affairs

Another technocrat, Mr Spanta will remain as foreign minister until an international conference on Afghanistan in London in January, but officials say he will then leave his post. Mr Spanta returned to Afghanistan to teach at Kabul university in 2005, having worked as a professor at Aachen University in Germany. An ethnic Tajik, he was a key figure in a UN-backed programme which disarmed thousands of former fighters. He has also been reported in Afghan media to be on a list of ministers suspected of corruption, but the attorney-general’s office has denied this.

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