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KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani presented his nominees for Cabinet to the country's parliament for confirmation on Tuesday — almost four months after he took office and amid mounting public impatience over the delays in forming a government.
The candidates, including three women, were presented to the assembly's lower house, or Wolesi Jirga, as Ghani's original list was hit by controversy — with one nominee allegedly being sought by Interpol to answer tax evasion charges and two others mysteriously withdrawing their candidacy just hours before the presentation.
In a speech lasting more than an hour and ranging widely over topics including trade, corruption, drug addiction and government accountability, Ghani said: "I have tried my best to present a cabinet that would be acceptable to you."
Ghani was inaugurated in September after a protracted election process that ended in a U.S.-brokered deal that he and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah form a "national unity" government. Abdullah is now chief executive.
The delay in choosing cabinet nominees eroded confidence in Ghani, who took office promising to end corruption and create a transparent, accountable government, signaling a break with the 13 years of patronage politics favored by his predecessor Hamid Karzai.
Rumors had swirled about the causes of the delay -- from an inability of the two men to agree on nominees, to the need to appease supporters from the different ethnic groups, tribes, geographical regions and religious beliefs that make up the complex Afghan mosaic.
It also exacerbated concerns about Ghani's ability to deal with the intensified Taliban insurgency following the departure on Dec. 31 of most U.S. and NATO combat troops, leaving Afghan security forces to fight alone. Last year was the deadliest since the insurgency began, with record numbers of civilians, soldiers and police killed by the Taliban. Many expect Ghani's resolve for peace to be tested this year once the winter snows thaw and fighting season begins in spring.
Fears about the intensity of the insurgency have been stoked by admissions from military and civilian leaders that the Islamic State group has established a recruiting presence in the volatile south of the country.
Relief that the Cabinet list had been compiled and the stasis of governance would finally end was quickly tempered with revelations about the nominee for the agriculture portfolio, Mohammad Yaqub Haidari, 52. He is allegedly wanted on tax evasion and fraud charges in Estonia and appears on Interpol's most-wanted list. Presidential spokesman Nazifullah Salarzai, implying that the allegations against Haidari were not known at the administration's upper echelons, said that if the allegations that he is a fugitive prove true, "Afghan law will be enforced on him."
Hours ahead of the session, parliamentarians revealed that a number of the nominees are dual citizens — of the United States, Britain, Australia and other countries. The Afghan Constitution says that parliament can choose whether or not holders of dual citizenship can take ministerial or other high office and some MPs have said they will oppose all nominees holding dual nationalities.
Two nominees withdrew their candidacies for unknown reasons, and another, a woman, was said by local media to have inflated her age in order to meet the constitutional minimum requirement of 35. Two replacements were quickly announced.
"Unfortunately the nation has waited for more than three months but what happened — the Cabinet has been announced with so many problems at the very start of the process," said political analyst, Azaraskh Hafizi. "The makeup of this Cabinet proves that we will have a lot of problems in the future when it comes to appointing provincial governors, ambassadors and other officials" because their loyalty to their political backers would be an ongoing issue, he said.
Ghulam Nabi Farahi, minister for parliamentary affairs, presented 24 of the 25 Cabinet nominees, except agriculture, along with a short biography. Also facing a confirmation vote will be the nominees for intelligence chief and Central Bank director.
Kabul MP Shukria Barekzaim said that Ghani's candidates would be closely vetted by the assembly. "We should go and vote for qualified people who have talent, a plan and a strategy, and who want to move the country forward," she said.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, six civilians, including a woman and a child, were killed after their minibus was hit by a roadside bomb blast in the eastern province of Ghazni, said Asadullah Ensafi, deputy police chief for the province. Two other civilians were wounded in the attack.