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Afghan lawmakers reject Cabinet picks

KABUL — A chastened President Hamid Karzai must submit new Cabinet picks after defiant lawmakers rejected 17 of his 24 nominees Saturday, including a powerful warlord and the country's only female minister.

The Afghan parliament rejected nominees viewed as Karzai's political cronies, those believed to be under the influence of warlords and others deemed unqualified.

"I think, unfortunately, that the criteria were either ethnicity or bribery or money," lawmaker Fawzia Kufi said of Karzai's picks.

The vote was a setback to Karzai, though one political analyst in Kabul speculated that it could free up the president to appoint qualified professionals rather than settle political debts.

"There were lots of demands on Karzai from people asking for Cabinet positions because they campaigned for him," Mohammad Qasim Akhgar said. "This was the only way he could reward them and if parliament didn't approve them, it wasn't his fault. Very soon, Karzai will come out with a new list with the names of people he really wants to have in his Cabinet."

The new Cabinet is a bellwether for the U.S. and other nations hoping a stronger government will keep disenchanted Afghans from siding with the Taliban after Karzai won a second five-year term last year in a disputed election rife with ballot-box stuffing.

The lawmakers approved a handful of incumbent ministers favored by the West and instrumental to the war effort.

Karzai has defended his choices, which he announced late last month after several delays. He said his proposed Cabinet represented a balance of the nation's ethnic factions.

But parliamentarians weren't happy. They complained the list looked too much like the existing Cabinet and spelled another five years of business as usual for the Karzai government, which has been criticized as being corrupt and ineffective.

Of the 12 incumbent ministers Karzai sought to retain, the parliament approved only five.

The parliament's rejection of the only woman on Karzai's current team — Minister of Women's Affairs Husn Bano Ghazanfar — was an awkward blow to the president, who has pledged to place more women in high government posts in the traditionally male-dominated society.

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