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Dismay over Karzai's picks

The new cabinet satisfied criticism from the West, but many Afghans saw more of the same.

KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai announced his cabinet yesterday, presenting a list that satisfied Western backers who had warned him against stacking the government with reward-seeking power brokers or graft-tainted politicians.

But if Karzai's choices mollified international unease, they provoked dismay among many Afghans, who said the retention of about half the previous ministers would bring five more years of inefficient and fractured governance.

Since winning reelection in a fraud-riddled poll, Karzai has been under Western pressure to build a cleaner, more competent government as more than 30,000 U.S. and international troops prepare to deploy. But he is also indebted to a vast network of supporters, some of them brutal warlords, who helped deliver votes.

Signs of those pressures were reflected in the list of appointees, analysts said. As expected, Karzai retained 11 of 25 cabinet members, including those most important to and favored by the international community - the interior, defense and finance ministers. Karzai also kept the current education, health and agriculture ministers, whose portfolios receive massive amounts of foreign aid directed toward the Afghan people.

The minister of mines and the minister of hajj and Islamic affairs, both linked to corruption, were not on the list. But one former warlord, Energy Minister Ismail Khan, was.

A Karzai spokesman, Waheed Omer, said the cabinet was chosen after consultation with various parties, including Western governments. But he said Karzai selected the appointees independently, based on their qualifications and effectiveness.

Critics said the choices amounted to more of the same.

"There is not some big difference," said Nur ul-Haq Ulumi, a member of parliament who supported Karzai's main opponent in the presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah. "With these weak people, we can do nothing."

The parliament must approve the new ministers.