Cabinet's prospects clouded by security concerns

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 December, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 December, 2001, 12:00am

Afghanistan's long haul back to nationhood has received an important boost with the naming of a strong interim cabinet, analysts say. But they warn it is only the first step in a process which still faces potential pitfalls.

While the 30-member cabinet announced on Wednesday at the end of United Nations-sponsored talks near Bonn was mostly applauded, there were some reservations about its composition.

One Afghan-born scholar said some of those on the list had dubious backgrounds, but he diplomatically refused to indicate which ones 'so as not to deflect from the excellent choices' of others named.

The Northern Alliance, the US-backed political and military force headed by nominal President Burhanuddin Rabbani, snared the key foreign, interior and defence ministries. But it was feared this was a precursor to the group claiming a wider role than others in future administrations.

But most importantly, the lack of agreement in Bonn on the make-up of a peacekeeping force was viewed with concern. Without such a force, the cabinet would not be able to function effectively when it takes over power from the Alliance in Kabul on December 22. Under the Bonn agreement, the former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, will return a few weeks later to be the figurehead leader. The new cabinet will function for six months before a national assembly is called to choose a full government.

Despite the reservations, experts' comments yesterday were positive. Most praised was the choice of Hamid Karzai, described as intelligent and articulate, as prime minister.

Thomas Gouttierre, dean of the Centre for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, said Mr Karzai, along with young Tajiks Abdullah Abdullah, the new foreign minister, Younis Qanooni, the interior minister, and General Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the defence minister, would give the country the new start it so desperately needed.

Mr Gouttierre's sentiments were backed by his Afghan colleague Raheem Yasseer, and academics based in Britain and Australia.

'I'm heartened by the list,' Mr Gouttierre, who is in Washington to testify before Congress on Afghanistan, said. 'I think it's an attempt to put in people who I would call technocrats.'

Mr Gouttierre personally knows, or has worked with through his centre, many of those named. He speaks highly of their abilities and counts Mr Karzai, who he has known for 16 years, as one of his closest Afghan friends.

'He's a very sophisticated, well-educated, urbane person,' he said. 'He's been working for years to bring together disparate Afghan groups to focus on a national rather than a regional or ethnic policy.'

But even as warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum was speaking yesterday of refusing to recognise the new leaders, the analysts were warning that it was this sort of scenario that Afghans did not want to return to. 'The only way they're going to get tranquility is to not have a repeat of that warlord period from 1992 to 1996 that made the Taleban popular,' Mr Gouttierre said.