(Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai will retain technocrats in key ministries when he unveils a new cabinet, parliamentary sources said on Friday, a move likely to appease Western backers who want him to clamp down on corruption.
A list obtained by Reuters showed almost half of the ministers will be replaced or reshuffled, but for the most part they will not be the cabinet’s key figures.
Karzai, due to announce his new government on Saturday, has faced intense pressure from the West to appoint honest technocrats after being re-elected in an August 20 election marred by widespread fraud.
The following is a list of key ministers, according to the new list, which is yet to be debated and approved by parliament, as well as some powerful provincial officials whose futures will be in question when Karzai hands over 34 governorships, probably later in the new year.
HANIF ATMAR - INTERIOR MINISTER
A Pashtun technocrat who has worked in humanitarian organizations and once served as a senior spy officer during the communist regime. Liked by Western diplomats for launching early reforms of the struggling police force. Reports this week in Afghan media that he was being investigated for corruption have been denied by the attorney general’s office.
ABDUL RAHIM WARDAK - Defense MINISTER
The veteran former anti-Soviet guerrilla commander is well liked by the United States and was praised last week by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates for his handling of the army.
OMAR ZAKHILWAL - FINANCE MINISTER
An economist and Karzai ally praised by Western diplomats for increasing revenues and tackling corruption. Has been one of the architects of a plan to put a handful of ministers in charge of clusters of ministries, which could see his own influence extended in economic affairs.
MOHAMMAD ISMAIL KHAN - ENERGY AND WATER MINISTER
A prominent anti-Soviet and later anti-Taliban commander, Khan is mostly popular in his home region of Herat in the west. He was ousted from the powerful governorship of Herat and brought to Kabul to join Karzai’s cabinet. He endorsed the president just before the election, helping Karzai win in Herat. Western diplomats wanted to see him sidelined.
RANGEEN DADFAR SPANTA - FOREIGN MINISTER
A former Karzai adviser on international affairs, Spanta is among the handful of technocrats in the government. An ethnic Tajik, Spanta lived and worked for many years in Germany and speaks Turkish. But, according to parliamentary officials, Spanta will leave his post after the January 28 London conference on Afghanistan. They did not give a reason why.
GUL AGHA SHERZAI - URBAN DEVELOPMENT MINISTER
Although this is not one of the top ministries, Sherzai, governor of Nangarhar province and a Pashtun former anti-Soviet guerrilla commander is credited for making Nanagarhar free of opium poppy and more secure — earning him the nickname “Bulldozer” for getting things done. Sherzai has been accused of rights abuses during his guerrilla years and a rough-and-tumble period as Kandahar governor from 2001-03. But his reputation for getting things done suits his new portfolio.
WAHIULLAH SHAHRANI - MINES MINISTER
According to the list, Wahidullah Shahrani will take on the portfolio on mines, which have the potential to earn Afghanistan significant revenue in the future. The outgoing minister for mines has been a subject of some media criticism.
During his tenure at the commerce ministry, Shahrani adopted a vigorous privatization campaign and has doggedly rooted out corruption. He fired corrupt people working in his ministry and appointed department heads he described as more educated and transparent in their operations.
He also fired 180 people at the government-owned petroleum enterprise, including the director general, whom he has described as “one of the most corrupt individuals in the country.”
ATTA MOHAMMAD NOOR - BALKH PROVINCE GOVERNOR
One of the few regional chieftains who backed Karzai’s rival Abdullah Abdullah in the election. He was a Northern Alliance commander whose forces were involved for years in battles for control of the north, often as a rival to Uzbek strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum. He has warned of possible unrest if Abdullah supporters like himself are sidelined.
AHMAD WALI KARZAI - KANDAHAR PROVINCIAL COUNCIL CHIEF
Hamid Karzai’s half brother is widely seen as one of the most powerful men in the south. He is under the spotlight because of reports linking him to the drug trade, which he denies. The New York Times also reported he received payments from the CIA. President Karzai has long been dogged by accusations members of his family are involved in drugs, undermining Western support, but says he has seen no evidence of wrongdoing by his brother.
Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Jerry Norton