ON January 28 President Karsai of Afghanistan is due in London for an international conference called by Gordon Brown at which he will be expected to give an account of the reforms he has instituted since winning the presidential election in August and also of his further plans in two key areas -- eliminating corruption and preparing Afghan security forces to take over from American and NATO forces. However, it is not certain that Hamid Karsai will be in a position to provide the information expected from him. One week ago 17 of his 24 nominations for ministerial posts were rejected in secret ballots by the Afghan parliament; yesterday Mr Karsai put forward new names for approval but it may take one or two weeks before they can be voted on.

Afghanistan has now been without a government for six months. In one sense the most recent delay, though awkward, is an encouraging sign that Afghanistan's parliament is taking a stronger interest than hitherto in its President's actions. But it is annoying that Karsai proposed so many names that Parliament found unacceptable; he has a bad habit of putting old loyalties and unpaid political debts before the national interest.

Fortunately, though, his nominations for key ministries -- defence, interior, finance, agriculture and education -- were approved in the first round and in most cases went to respected Afghan technocrats known to US, UK, NATO and EU representatives in Kabul rather than to provincial party leaders or war lords.

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