Afghanistan parliament rejects most of Ghani's cabinet

KABUL (AFP) - Afghan lawmakers on Wednesday rejected most of President Ashraf Ghani's nominees for the new cabinet, in a fresh setback for the newly formed "national unity government".

The lower house of parliament voted on 18 of Ghani's 25 selections for ministerial jobs and rejected 10 of them including the proposed defence minister.

Those who won approval included Salahuddin Rabbani, the former head of the Peace Council and nominee for foreign affairs minister, and Noorul Haq Ulumi, the nominee for interior minister.

The proposed new cabinet was unveiled on January 12, after three months of wrangling following last year's bitterly disputed presidential election.

It was meant to create a "unity government" agreed in a power-sharing deal between Ghani and his presidential poll rival Abdullah Abdullah.

That deal, hammered out after tortuous negotiations, was seen as saving Afghanistan from the risk of civil war, after both men claimed victory in last year's fraud-tainted election.

But last week parliament told Ghani that seven of his nominees were ineligible because they held dual nationalities.

Rabbani and Ulumi renounced their foreign citizenships to qualify, and MPs also approved Rahmatullah Nabil as the director of the NDS intelligence agency.

Those rejected included Sher Mohammad Karim, the current army chief of staff and nominee for defence minister, and Khatera Afghan, Ghani's choice for minister of higher education.

Afghan was the only woman up for approval on Wednesday after two other female nominees were excluded from the vote, one because of dual nationality and one for having "insufficient educational documents".

Ghani thanked MPs for approving the eight ministers and the NDS chief.

"The president wishes the new minsters success in serving the people, saying he will soon introduce to lower house of parliament new nominees for the remaining cabinet posts," a statement from his office said.

No timeframe was given for the new nominations and parliament has now gone into recess for more than a month.

This leaves only a third of the cabinet approved as Afghanistan begins the tough task of fighting the resilient Taliban insurgency without the help of NATO combat troops.

The US-led NATO mission which began in 2001 was downgraded in late December to support and training for the Afghan army and police.

About 17,000 foreign soldiers, most of them American, will still be deployed in Afghanistan this year, but US troop numbers are set to halve within 12 months and fall to almost nothing in two years.