NEW DELHI — The Afghan government is trying to settle a simmering political dispute ahead of a key international conference later this month that's designed to win more European support for the country.
A week after the parliament rejected most of his cabinet nominations, President Hamid Karzai submitted a new list this weekend and succeeded in preventing the legislature from leaving for a scheduled six-week recess.
Analysts credit Karzai with putting forth a new roster that has a greater chance of success, but if he can't clear this latest political hurdle, doubts in European capitals about the prospects for stabilizing the country could deepen.
Karzai, however, also is under pressure from the U.S. and its European allies to root out official corruption, and his new nominee to head the country's counter-narcotics effort is a former interior minister who was widely suspected of taking bribes. Another new nominee has refused to return to Afghanistan from Canada to appear before parliament, McClatchy special correspondent Hashim Shukour reported from Kabul.
"Various donor governments have been looking towards (the Jan. 28 conference in London) as a landmark, after which they will make decisions about sending more troops," said Anna Larson, a researcher on governance with the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit in Kabul.
This can be seen in Germany, she said, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is using the conference as a decision making point for future contributions, military or otherwise.
Karzai offered his new slate of 16 cabinet picks on Saturday, a week after the parliament rejected two-thirds of his initial choices. Three are women (the sole female nominee in the first group was rejected). Nominations for two ministries — energy and telecommunications — are expected in the coming days.
Members of parliament had warned Karzai that it would be unconstitutional to rename any of those who'd been rejected the first time. Technically, that's a gray area of the law, but Karzai didn't press the point.
"By complying to the MPs requests, Karzai has made an unwritten rule a little bit more solid. So I think it's quite a good thing that he put different names forward," said Larson.
MPs have complained that the new nominees are mostly obscure, leading some to question if they have the chops.
But while they may be less qualified, these picks stand a better chance of winning support, argued Saleh Mohammad Registani, a former MP and a leading figure in the country's opposition.
The parliament is divided along ethnic lines, he explained. Of the 232 MPs who voted in the first round, roughly 100 were Pashtun, 70 Tajik, and the rest from other minorities.
The Tajiks, after rallying around Karzai's rival Abdullah Abdullah during the presidential election, stuck together during the first vote on the cabinet. Their 'no' votes combined with votes from a segment of Karzai's base: MPs in and around Kandahar and Paktia Provinces who felt their choices were overlooked.
"The numbers of the opposition MPs affected the decisions in parliament that day. So because of that, Mr. Karzai has put some new names on the lists" from opposition communities, Registani said. Now, he added, the Tajiks and others have more of a reason to horse-trade with the Pashtuns to get more cabinet picks passed.
"If this new list is rejected by parliament, it would be very bad news politically for Mr. Karzai heading into the conference," he said.