Karzai unlikely to sacrifice his wolves!

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Helmand (Afghanistan), Nov.18 (ANI): Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who will make his inauguration speech in Kabul tomorrow, is unlikely to carry out a major cull of his ministerial team, believe diplomats and observers.

Acutely aware that his disgruntled international backers will be looking for signs that he intends to mend his ways, Karzai will in all probability, cull "minor sacrificial lambs rather than the worst offenders."

According to The Independent, Karzai's two running mates-Muhammed Qasim Fahim, accused of drug trafficking, and Abdul Karim Khalili, charged with alleged war crimes-are expected to be confirmed as his vice-presidents.

When Karzai made his victory speech earlier this month, he signalled his defiance by choosing to be flanked by the two men.

Diplomats described the choreography as deliberately provocative towards the US and NATO powers pressing for the removal of warlords and power brokers who have been accused of flouting the rule of law and undermining governance.

There is, however, widespread expectation is that foreign minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, and defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, will be booted out as the President seeks to consolidate his power base for his second term.

The two ministers do not have reputations for corruption nor are they considered to have been particularly bad at their jobs. But they do not control large vote banks, or enjoy powerful tribal followings.

Spanta was promoted from presidential foreign policy advisor to foreign minister four years ago. A former Marxist, he has irritated Washington with his caustic criticism of Western policy in his country, but US officials acknowledge that in comparison to many others in Afghan public life, he is "relatively" clean.

While Wardak has built up a good working relationship with Western commanders, in Kabul it is felt that he may be moved, using the excuse that a fresh mind is needed to revamp the Afghan security forces.

If they do go, both men are likely to be replaced by figures approved by Abdullah Abdullah - the man whose strong showing forced a second round, only for him to pull out citing unsatisfactory polling conditions - and Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president.

Karzai would not risk angering Messrs Fahim or Khalili, even if he did feel like trying to placate the West or his former adversary. Fahim brought in the Tajik vote in the August polls and Khalili pulled in the Hazara ballots, thus ensuring that Abdullah did not gain as much of the non-Pashtun vote as he might have hoped.

Similarly, Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, who US President Barack Obama has declared should be investigated over the killings of thousands of Taliban prisoners, is unlikely to face any charges as he delivered a large portion of the Uzbek vote to Karzai.

Kabul will be under lockdown tomorrow, with the airport closed and Afghans given a public holiday and advised to avoid "unnecessary movements".

Journalists have been banned from the ceremony, but 800 guests will throng the presidential palace.

There is still speculation in some circles that Obama himself might swing by at the end of his weeklong tour of Asia. (ANI)

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