Lawmakers approve Afghan Cabinet after months of stalemate

KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's parliament on Saturday approved 16 more ministerial nominees, including four women, nearly completing President Ashraf Ghani's Cabinet after months of stalemate - leaving only the crucial post of defence minister to be filled.

Only eight out of 25 ministerial posts had been filled nearly eight months after Ghani's inauguration and the formation of a "national unity government" with his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah.

The rest were rejected by parliament in late January over technicalities, despite a power-sharing deal agreed between Ghani and Abdullah.

Though the deal was seen as staving off the threat of civil war, the delays stoked fears of instability in the troubled nation as Nato troops pull back from the front lines after 13 years of conflict against the Taleban.

Public criticism over the failure to appoint a defence minister - reportedly due to differences between Ghani and Abdullah over their choice of candidate - has been especially fierce, with many linking the leadership vacuum with a recent uptick in deadly insurgent attacks.

On Saturday a suicide bomber tore through a crowd of people, including government employees outside a bank in eastern city of Jalalabad, killing at least 33 people and wounding more than 100 others.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a attack, Ghani said, in what appears to be the first major attack by the jihadists in the country.

And last week militants killed 18 Afghan soldiers - including some who were beheaded - after storming army outposts in the remote mountainous province of Badakhshan, in a major attack before the Taleban's traditional spring offensive.

Among the 16 Cabinet nominees endorsed Saturday were four women, leading the ministries of education, counter-narcotics, labour and women's affairs.

"Congratulation to the nation. All 16 ministerial candidates introduced by the government were approved after voting in Saturday's session," said Lower House Speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan welcomed the decision, saying "it is imperative in the interests of effective governance that a full Cabinet be in office".