Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Saturday, 16 January 2010

Afghan MPs reject many new Karzai cabinet nominees

Afghan MP votes 16 January 2010
Afghan MPs held a secret ballot for Saturday's crucial vote

The Afghan parliament has rejected 10 of 17 new cabinet nominees suggested by President Hamid Karzai.

The vote comes two weeks after MPs turned down most of Mr Karzai's first choices, dealing him a serious blow.

Two key posts were approved - Mr Karzai's former security adviser Zalmay Rasul as foreign minister and Habibullah Ghalib as justice minister.

However, MPs backed only one of the three women nominees, Amina Afzali, as work and social affairs minister.

The two women put forward for the posts of public health and women's affairs were rejected.

The BBC's Mark Dummett, in Kabul, says Mr Karzai had hoped to have his new cabinet in place before a crucial donor conference in London on 28 January, but that now appears impossible.

However despite the setback, the president now has 14 of 24 ministers confirmed including the most powerful ones in charge of foreign, defence and interior ministries, our correspondent adds.

It is not yet clear when the president will propose names to fill the vacant positions and when Parliament will vote for these candidates.

'Democracy in action'

MP Dawoud Sultanzoy was upbeat after the vote.

"I think democracy is in action," he said.

"We may not like individual results, but the overall system that is in play and the overall pattern that we are following is good for democracy. We cannot manicure this thing at this stage.

"This is a very young democracy. Overall it's a healthy process."

After the first vote on 2 January, Mr Karzai ordered MPs to cancel their winter break to speed up progress towards getting a functioning government in place.

The rejection of 17 of Mr Karzai's 24 original choices was seen as a blow to his authority, already damaged after an election marred by fraud in August.

US soldierin Parwan province 7.1.10
The US has announced a surge in troop numbers in Afghanistan

The new list included none of the previously rejected nominees.

MPs spent the last week questioning the new candidates ahead of Saturday's vote, which was carried out by secret ballot.

Some had complained that candidates were not suitably qualified or that others were too closely aligned to warlords.

Mr Karzai faces strong international pressure to create a government that can oversee reforms.

The UN has said international funding for Afghanistan's parliamentary elections this year will depend on reform of the country's election institutions.

Mr Karzai is also under pressure to form a government before a crucial donor conference in London on 28 January.

Also on Saturday, President Karzai met separately with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and US special envoy Richard Holbrooke in Kabul.

Mr Holbrooke said he and Mr Karzai had discussed the issue of reintegrating thousands of Taliban fighters into Afghan society. Mr Holbrooke said he believed it was a "good plan".

The Afghan government is expected to announce details of the plan soon. Diplomats said it would include job training and money to lure fighters from the hills.

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