KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has missed his own deadline for naming a Cabinet as he undertakes a major overhaul of his country's government, which officials and analysts say has long suffered from a focus on patronage rather than policy.
The delay has raised concerns that Ghani and his former rival Abdullah Abdullah — now in the prime minister-like post of chief executive — cannot agree on who should take what Cabinet post. But diplomats and officials say the two leaders are restructuring the administration to focus on security, the economy and social policy ahead of a vital donor conference in December.
"There is no deadlock or difference of opinion," said Mujib Rahman Rahimi, Abdullah's spokesman. It takes time "to consider how to fill these positions in order to have a functioning, professional Cabinet."
Senior advisers are being appointed, regulatory authorities set up, ministers' duties defined, and some of the 24 ministries merged to possibly as few as 18, officials and analysts said.
Only when these tasks are complete can "the right people with the right skills be appointed to the right jobs," said another official close to Abdullah, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak frankly about internal discussions.
Ghani became president in September, promising to reverse the legacy of corruption and nepotism of his predecessor Hamid Karzai's 13 years in office. He inherited an anemic economy, endemic corruption, a lack of public trust in government and a still-virulent Taliban insurgency as U.S. and NATO combat troops prepare to withdraw at the end of the year.
Ghani said he would appoint his Cabinet within 45 days, but that deadline passed Thursday. He has met with around 80 percent of senior officials and asked each to explain the functions and responsibilities of their institutions, Ghani's spokesman Nazifullah Salarzai said.
"They all said there was no political will to have an institution that functioned normally and accountably," Salarzai said.
Ghani already has appointed former Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar as national security adviser and acting Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal as national finance adviser.
Women are expected to take a number of senior positions, while the Women's Affairs Ministry, widely derided as ineffectual, could be among those to go, a number of officials said.
Ghani and Abdullah want to name most of the Cabinet before they meet international donors in London in December to secure funding for post-war development, said a Western ambassador, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk about internal Afghan discussions. At the London conference, Ghani will be expected to demonstrate progress on reform, including graft and security.
So far, Ghani has shown diplomatic smarts by pulling Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan into an Afghan orbit revolving around peace talks with the Taliban. He has also worked to resolve the $1 billion Kabul Bank scandal.
While the Afghan public and media chafe at the Cabinet delay, officials cautioned that time is needed to ensure the new faces are credible and capable.
"Ghani would rather have no one who has been a minister before in the Karzai administration. On that issue, I don't think that Abdullah exactly agrees," the Western diplomat said.
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