Afghan Prez Makes Diverse Parliamentary Appointments

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President Hamid Karzai has made his appointments to the upper house of Afghanistan's parliament, set to convene this month for the first time in over 30 years, officials said Friday.

Karzai also welcomed NATO's decision to send 6,000 extra troops into the volatile south of Afghanistan, saying it showed the world was still paying attention to the country.

The president's appointees to parliament come from various Afghan factions and include a former Taliban official and an ethnic Tajik former defense minister — indicating Karzai wants to create a balance among rival groups as Afghanistan embraces democracy after decades of war.

The president appoints one-third of the 102-seat upper house, and the rest are elected by provincial councils. Afghans voted for a lower house in September. Parliament is due to open Dec. 19 — the final step on Afghanistan's internationally-backed political transition after the 2001 ouster of the Taliban.

A government official said Karzai's appointees include Mohammed Fahim, an ethnic Tajik and a prominent figure in the Northern Alliance that helped the United States drive the Taliban from power. Karzai fired Fahim as defense minister a year ago.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the names of the appointees have yet to be announced.

Human rights groups have accused Fahim of abuses during the quarter-century of violence that started with the Soviet invasion of 1979 and included deadly fighting among rival warlords in the early 1990s and the subsequent Taliban takeover.

Another appointee is Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban deputy minister for higher education, the official said. Others include the governors of Uruzgan and Helmand, two southern provinces still plagued by Taliban rebel violence, and Sulaiman Yari, a Shia Muslim from the ethnic Hazara community who is loyal to Karzai.

Karzai is a member of Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the mostly Sunni Muslim Pashtuns.

Karzai said Thursday he was appointing a broad range of people including intellectuals, tribal leaders and a representative of the small Hindu community.

The joint Afghan-U.N. election board has certified Karzai's appointees, the board said in a news release. It said Karzai's office would announce the names.

Another government official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said Karzai had submitted his list of appointees to the joint Afghan-U.N. election board for certification.

Karzai expressed thanks to NATO after the military alliance announced the plans to expand its operations in Afghanistan. The deployment next year of 6,000 mostly European and Canadian troops will free up U.S. forces for counterinsurgency operations and likely lead to a reduction in U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan.

"The new measure of NATO, the new soldiers for the security of Afghanistan, are appreciated. It shows the world's attention to Afghanistan," he told a news conference.

"Afghanistan still does not have the ability to provide completely for the security of the country."

NATO peacekeepers currently operate in the relatively stable north and west of Afghanistan. With the deployment in the south, it will have as many as 18,000 troops in the country.