Powerful Warlord Rejected for Afghan Cabinet
KABUL (AP) -- Afghanistan's parliament rejected powerful warlord Ismail Khan for a new term as the country's energy minister Saturday and turned down at least 10 others nominated for Cabinet posts by President Hamid Karzai.
The laborious reading of individual votes continued into the evening, but the incomplete tally showed Karzai clearly facing significant resistance from lawmakers as he tries to get his second term in office into full swing.
Khan -- accused by human rights groups of complicity in war crimes -- was one of 10 incumbents nominated by Karzai to serve in his 25-member Cabinet. Some incumbents were seen as favorites of the United States and other Western nations whose financial and military support is critical to Karzai.
But Khan, a warlord in western Herat province during Afghanistan's civil war, was a controversial choice and critics said his nomination reflected the extent to which Karzai is beholden to regional power-brokers.
In another high-stakes political issue, the chief of Afghanistan's elections commission said Saturday a parliamentary vote will be held in May despite widespread international concern that the country's electoral system needs serious reform.
Elections commission chief Ali Najafi told a news conference the national vote will be held May 22.
However, he said Afghanistan needs about $50 million from the international community to meet the election's estimated budget of $120 million. It was not clear whether the vote would or could be held if donor countries don't provide the money.
In the wake of last August's heavily disputed presidential election, many critics have pushed Karzai and his government to delay the parliamentary vote. Karzai has insisted the constitution, which specifies the elections be held by May, must be observed.
A U.S. Congressional delegation that met with Karzai in Kabul last week said it had warned the president that holding the election without first enacting substantive electoral reform could undermine support for U.S. aid to the country.
''We did not receive any official reaction from the international community that says that they are not supporting the election,'' Najafi said. ''But in this regard, a paper was made by the United Nations which made certain recommendations and requested certain reforms.''
He said reforming the electoral law was one of the issues raised by the international community, however, ''it is not in our control, it is up to the parliament to approve the electoral law.''
Najafi said security in the insurgency-ridden country would be a concern for the elections and the vote would not be held in areas where it could not be ensured. He suggested voters from those areas could travel elsewhere to cast votes. In the presidential election, that arrangement was made for voters in 10 districts.
Karzai on Saturday visited the southern province of Helmand to express condolences to relatives of civilians allegedly killed in an airstrike.
Helmand provincial governor spokesman Dawud Ahmadi, who confirmed the president's visit to the town of Lashkar Gah, said an attack by international forces Wednesday killed seven civilians and two Taliban insurgents.
Civilian casualties is a sensitive issue facing foreign forces in Afghanistan. NATO says it's investigating the allegation.
The incident in Helmand was the second claim of civilian deaths in allied attacks in a week. The Afghan government said last week 10 people were killed, including eight schoolchildren, in a village in eastern Kunar province in a nighttime raid by international forces.