On the job: Afghanistan’s new Cabinet meets to begin rebuilding a shattered, starving land
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Afghanistan’s new Cabinet met for the first time Sunday, hoping to begin the rebuilding of a land shattered by decades of war and reclaimed from international terrorists.
Premier Hamid Karzai said foreign forces _ including those of the United States _ should stay “for as long as it takes.”
“We need to have the instruments of controlling law and order in Afghanistan,” he told CNN. He said tribal leaders from southern Afghanistan met with him and asked for “the continued presence of the troops.”
The meeting of the 29-member Cabinet took place in a high-ceilinged room on the sprawling grounds of the presidential palace, where the scars of 23 years of conflict were evident. Some buildings had gaping holes from rockets; others lay in ruins.
Saturday’s inauguration was a peaceful ceremonial transfer of power, compared to Afghanistan’s violent past. While it came following months of war, the actual ceremony and the capital were orderly and tranquil.
“The Cabinet does not want to make promises just for show. We have to bring real change,” Communications Minister Abdul Rahim said. “That means a lot of work in planning, studying and implementing.”
Karzai took the chair at the head of an oval oak table. At his left was one of two women in the Cabinet _ Vice Premier Sima Samar, a white scarf casually covering her head.
In keeping with his emphasis on unity and the need to bury old rivalries, Karzai began by introducing Cabinet members to each other. Some were strangers by face but known by name and reputation.
The induction of the government also was welcomed worldwide as a first step toward peace in a country formerly ruled by the repressive Taliban regime and overrun by Osama bin Laden’s international terrorist network.
In the dusty, rocket-rutted streets of the capital, women clutched pale blue burqas against the cold as they chanted slogans of hope and peace to support the new government. It was an unusual show of political involvement by women, reflecting a liberal change from five years of Taliban rule that was ended by a U.S.-led military coalition.
The delicate balance that had been struck in cobbling together the government put representatives of all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups around the table _ some clean-shaven in suits and ties, others in the traditional clothing.
It included exiles, some who hadn’t lived in the country for nearly two decades, and former guerrilla fighters who once opposed each other.
True to his word to make security a priority, Karzai called for reports from the defense and interior ministers as well as the intelligence chief known as Engineer Arif, who attended the meeting even though he is not a Cabinet member.
An entire generation in Afghanistan knows only war. Most Afghan men, and many teen-agers, have weapons. Warlords with private armies rule far-flung regions. Though some local commanders handed over small caches of weapons to signal their support of the interim government, several Cabinet ministers arrived on Sunday with their own armed soldiers. Herat Gov. Ismail Khan had a 30-member private army.
Most Cabinet ministers seemed to agree that security in the capital, Kabul, was in relatively good shape, despite reports of break-ins and thefts, Rahim said in an interview after the two-hour meeting.
But they also agreed that the task in the provinces was formidable: finding ways to disarm belligerents and establish councils to collect weapons.
Many Afghans said Sunday they strongly supported international peacekeepers assigned to protect the government.
The first contingent of British Royal Marines patrolled government buildings. The British-led force is expected to number 3,000 to 5,000, including pledges of 1,200 by Germany and 1,500 by Britain.
“We don’t care if soldiers from everywhere in the world come to Afghanistan to bring peace. We just don’t want Afghan soldiers right now,” said Mohammed Nawab, a former commander during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“We have had enough of war. We need to unify, but we need time,” said Shah Mahmood, a farmer who came from the southeastern province of Ghazni to congratulate Karzai.
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