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Karzai vows accountability for newly appointed cabinet

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed yesterday that his new cabinet would be held to account, dismissing critics who have said entrenched corruption would continue.

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed yesterday that his new cabinet would be held to account, dismissing critics who have said entrenched corruption would continue.

He also promised a bigger role in government for women in the generally patriarchal society.

Karzai has been under strong international pressure to clean up corruption in his government. Anger over graft has helped fuel the Taliban insurgency and dismayed the United States and other countries he counts on for troops and aid.

But when his nominees for the cabinet were presented Saturday, many legislators complained that he was keeping ministers who had performed badly and that the new faces he was appointing might be in the pockets of warlords.

"Confidently, I say if there is any question about corruption, they will be accountable, and I will be accountable as well to the Afghan nation," he said of the cabinet, about half of them incumbents.

Karzai was speaking at a news conference with Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, whose country contributes 500 troops to the international forces in Afghanistan.

Leterme reaffirmed Belgium's military and aid commitments.

Some legislators have also criticized the cabinet nominations because there is only one woman - the minister of women's affairs.

Karzai said yesterday that he planned to form a new ministry for literacy that would be headed by a woman and that he also planned to appoint women to a number of deputy minister positions.

"There will be more women in the cabinet, I assure you. You will see it very soon," he said.

Karzai defended the mayor of Kabul, who this month was sentenced to four years in prison for corruption. Karzai said he felt responsibility to defend someone who is "clean and honest."

The Attorney General's Office recently confirmed it was investigating a few current ministers and a dozen former ministers for corruption. Members of parliament recently pushed Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar to disclose the names of ministers under investigation.

Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta sharply criticized Faqiryar yesterday for allegedly saying his ministry was being investigated in connection with the transfer of $500,000 to a foreign travel agency that was supposed to take Afghans to the 2007 pilgrimage to Mecca, but did not.

In a letter to Karzai, Spanta said his ministry was involved only in seeking the return of the funds.

"Although I know that my complaints of the misuse of authority by the Attorney General's Office will bear no fruit, I register my profound complaint on the unethical and illegal conduct of this office and refuse to accept any apologies of the deputy attorney general for his baseless allegations and wrongdoing," Spanta wrote.

Faqiryar said in a telephone interview that Spanta himself was never a target in the investigations.

Spanta was not among those nominated for Karzai's new cabinet, although he has been asked to stay on as foreign minister through the international conference on Afghanistan that is to take place Jan. 28 in London.

As with Karzai's previous cabinet, the new slate of proposed ministers is a collection of Western-educated Afghans and former mujahedeen or their nominees. The nominees must be approved by parliament.

Among the changes, Karzai wants to replace Muhammad Ibrahim Adel, the current minister of mines. Earlier this month, two U.S. officials alleged that Adel took a $20 million bribe to steer a $3 billion copper-mining project to a Chinese company. The minister denied the allegation.

Karzai, however, retains as water and power minister Ismail Khan, a powerful warlord from the Herat region in western Afghanistan, whom human rights groups have accused of complicity in war crimes.