Hamid Karzai will be heading to the international London conference later this month with a full cabinet, albeit not an entirely legitimate one. The Afghan president has decided to ignore his testy parliament for the moment and simply install the ministers he wants, whether the lawmakers agree or not. What seemed like a defeat for Karzai -- having parliament reject his nominees -- might now become at least a short-term victory. But the whole shabby incident bodes ill for Afghanistan's attempt to clean up for the world stage in London.
The formation of the government has been a lengthy and contentious process. Karzai's first roster of nominees was roundly rejected by the legislature, which on Jan. 2 confirmed just seven out of the 24 names the president had suggested. A second vote two weeks later yielded another seven confirmations, leaving Karzai with 10 empty slots. This came less than two weeks before the important Jan. 28 meeting in London, which will set the tone for the Afghan president's relations with the international community over the coming months. Karzai then asked the rejects to fill in anyway, becoming acting ministers at least until after the conference.
The inability to confirm a cabinet was just another mess on top of the general shambles of the Afghan political scene. Karzai came to his second term in office after a badly flawed election, in which the fraud was so glaring and well-documented that nearly one-third of the votes had to be annulled.
Worse still, the president gained his pyrrhic victory by forming alliances with some of the country's most detested figures, men like Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former warlord who has been widely accused of human rights abuses.
The wrangling over the cabinet has done little to raise Karzai's standing in the eyes of the international community, whose enthusiasm for the Afghan president has waned markedly over the past 18 months.
But, as with most things in Afghanistan, there is much more to the story than meets the eye. While the parliament's firm "no" to almost half of Karzai's picks looks like a major defeat for the Afghan president, some observers are convinced that Karzai is not at all unhappy about the outcome.
"President Karzai is not concerned about his rejected nominees," Qaseem Akhgar, editor of the Asht-e-Sobh daily, said in an earlier interview. "In fact, he used this opportunity ... to rid himself of the pressure exerted by his electoral allies to place their people in the government."
In other words, Karzai owed political favors to Dostum and others who helped him engineer his election; he had promised to place such supporters in important cabinet positions. But parliament rejected all of Dostum's allies, relieving Karzai of the burden.