KABUL - Technocrats and some existing ministers will be included among Afghan President Hamid Karzai's new government within the next three weeks, a spokesman said on Wednesday, but his main rival ruled out taking any part.
Karzai, re-elected after a needless presidential run-off vote was abandoned on Monday, has received stern warnings from U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and others in the West that he must work harder to root out corruption that tainted his previous administration.
The run-off, triggered after widespread fraud marred the first round in August, was canceled after Karzai's only rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew citing serious concerns about the vote.
That decision came after weeks of political uncertainty, while Obama also weighs whether to send up to 40,000 more troops to fight a resurgent Taliban, who had threatened to disrupt the poll and branded Karzai's return as a farce.
Karzai has committed himself to an inclusive government, but Abdullah ruled out taking any part despite pressure for a power-sharing deal.
I have no interest in the future cabinet of Karzai's government and I will pursue my agenda, which is change, Abdullah told a news conference at his Kabul home.
Abdullah branded the government-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) decision to cancel the November 7 run-off as illegal and said Karzai would not be able to deliver on promises of reform.
A government which is derived from such an illegal decision will not be able to deliver, Abdullah said in his first public comments since the IEC's decision, also urging his supporters to maintain peaceful opposition.
BRITISH TROOPS SHOT
An Afghan policeman shot dead five British soldiers at a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the Ministry of Defense said, underlining security concerns and certain to fuel debate in Britain about its presence in the country.
The flawed electoral process has left Washington and Kabul's other Western supporters with troops fighting in Afghanistan to work with a partner whose legitimacy has been questioned, while Karzai himself faces an invigorated opposition under Abdullah.
The government the president has in mind is one that will have special places for experts, educated and professional people, Karzai spokesman Siyamak Herawi told Reuters.
It will have new figures and some of the old ministers who have done well, he said.
Herawi said Karzai would announce his new government within three weeks. Washington and others have expressed concern Karzai would again turn to regional chieftains.
Key ethnic chiefs and regional power brokers threw their weight behind Karzai in the weeks leading up to the poll, making it difficult for Abdullah to challenge him but at the same time opening Karzai to accusations he would be in debt to warlords.
He drew criticism for his choice of running mates, including Mohammad Qasim Fahim, whom New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch has called one of the country's most notorious warlords.
Herawi rejected suggestions Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban were toppled in 2001, had struck any deals with such figures in return for cabinet positions.
He said the next government would be one of national partnership representing Afghanistan's diverse ethnic groups.
Karzai retains broad support among Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.
On Wednesday, dancing supporters took to Kabul streets, chanting his name, banging drums and playing native flutes.
Since Karzai's return to power was confirmed, Western leaders have told him he must do more to root out the corruption many in the West believe riddled his previous administration.
Obama and European leaders have backed Karzai but have also said he must work harder on good governance, respect for human rights, economic development, battling the drug trade and training Afghan security forces so that foreign troops can leave.
Given what the international community is emphasizing on the eradication of drugs and corruption, all these issues will be taken into consideration, Herawi said.
Afghanistan is the world's leader producer of opium, used to make heroin, a trade that helps fund the Taliban-led insurgency.
There are currently around 67,000 U.S. troops and 42,000 allied troops in Afghanistan. The White House has said a decision by Obama on troop levels was still weeks away.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Tuesday European nations are reluctant to contribute more troops.. Britain has the second highest number of troops in Afghanistan after the United States.
With military deaths at record levels this year as violence spiraled across Afghanistan, U.S. and British public support for the war is dwindling and lawmakers are questioning its cost.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Yara Bayoumy in KABUL, Peter Griffiths in LONDON, and Ross Colvin and Patricia Zengerle in WASHINGTON; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Jerry Norton)