KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search) held his first Cabinet meeting on Monday, urging his ministers to avoid political intrigue and work together for the future of this war-battered country.
Karzai swore in the new Cabinet last week, brushing aside several warlords in favor of professionals with university degrees. He left Yunus Qanooni (search), his prime opponent in October elections, out of the government, saying he did so in order to allow Qanooni to start an opposition party.
The president said he would support the creation of an opposition, saying it was in the interest of Afghanistan's (search) fledgling democracy. But on Monday he made clear that no member of his government should wade into political waters.
"I hope all of our ministers in the Cabinet, if they have any link with political parties, they should resign from those parties," Karzai said ahead of the meeting at the presidential palace. "If they do, then the people of Afghanistan will trust our Cabinet and be confident that it will work for them."
Karzai's new justice minister, Sarwar Danish, left his political party on Monday ahead of the Cabinet session. Karzai also stressed transparency and accountability, saying all Cabinet ministers must make public their personal holdings in order to guard against corruption.
The president stressed improvements to the economy, education and security as goals of his government, and said he would dispatch ministers to every province in the far-flung country so that the people got to know them.
"I want a Cabinet that is at the service of the people, and which participates in the reconstruction of the country," said Karzai, who was sworn in earlier this month as Afghanistan's first democratically-elected president.
Afghanistan is still recovering from more than a quarter-century of warfare. Most of its infrastructure is in tatters and its army is struggling to cope with a stubborn Taliban insurgency. Its economy, which is largely reliant on foreign aid, risks being swamped by a booming drug trade that has flooded the world with cheap heroin.
Karzai, who recently declared a "holy war" against drug trafficking, said fighting the trade would be a hallmark of his administration.
"We don't want to be known in the world as drug traffickers," Karzai said.
Karzai gave the ministers a week to report back to him on their long and short term plans.
"Security and prosperity is the basis of our work," Karzai said. "We have a big responsibility on our shoulders and we must fulfill the promises we have made to our people."