KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai (search) swore in his new Cabinet on Friday, hailing the body as the best hope for this war-ravaged nation and saying he would sack any minister who doesn't work hard to bring a better life for Afghanistan's people.
"The Cabinet that we swore in will be loyal to Afghan law and the national interests," Karzai said after a closed-door ceremony in which he gave the oath to 25 of the 27 new ministers. "I have chosen the ministers, and if they don't perform I will ask them to leave."
Two ministers not present will be sworn in later.
Karzai announced his selections on Thursday after weeks of delay since his Dec. 7 inauguration as the nation's first democratically elected president. He said the wait was due to discussions with potential ministers who Karzai insisted renounce their citizenship in any other country.
"I was ready to announce the Cabinet a week ago, but I delayed it in order to make sure that all of them renounced their dual citizenship," the president said. Many members of the nation's political class spent long years abroad during more than two decades of war, and their reluctance to give up U.S. and British passports had been criticized as revealing a lack of faith in Afghanistan's future.
The Cabinet announced Thursday removed several prominent warlords, including powerful Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim (search), a major Tajik strongman and the head of the northern alliance that helped the United States oust the Taliban in 2001. He was replaced with his deputy, Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Foreign Minister Abdullah and Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali (search), both popular in the West, were kept on. Like many Afghans, Abdullah uses only one name.
The Cabinet selections are seen as crucial to how the country deals with problems such a destroyed infrastructure, a stubborn Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency and a booming opium trade that accounts for three-quarters of the world's market.
The Afghan leader has pledged to bring more professionalism to his government, and said Friday that the new members of his government must put aside their ethnic and regional affiliations to serve the entire nation.
"No minister will serve as the minister of an ethnic group. No minister has come to claim a place here on behalf of a political party or a region. Every minister is a representative of Afghanistan and the interest of the Afghan people," Karzai said.
However, at least one regional strongman is joining the government.
Ismail Khan, the powerful western warlord whom Karzai removed as governor of Herat earlier this year, was given the position of water and energy minister.
One name not in the Cabinet was Yunus Qanooni, the former education minister who came in second to Karzai in October elections. Karzai called Qanooni "a friend" and said he left him out of the Cabinet so that he could start a national political party.
The president said such a party would have his support if it was inclusive of all Afghans, though he did not plan to join any political group ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for April.
"We need political parties, because in the absence of political parties, politics will become ethnic or linguistic," Karzai said.
Karzai named a relative unknown, Habibullah Qaderi, to head the new Counternarcotics Ministry to crack down on a multibillion-dollar drug trade that is flooding the world with cheap heroin.
Karzai has called for a "holy war" against the drug trade, calling it a greater threat to the nation's future than the Taliban or Al Qaeda.