updated 12/24/2004 6:20:05 AM ET 2004-12-24T11:20:05

Afghanistan’s new Cabinet was sworn in Friday, sealing the ouster of some high-profile warlords from the government. President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman said the changes reflected the leader’s will to have educated people running the country.

Former Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, a major Tajik strongman and the head of the northern alliance that helped the United States oust the Taliban in 2001, was dropped in the Cabinet shuffle and replaced by his deputy, Abdul Rahim Wardak, part of a crackdown on warlords in the government.

Southern warlord Gul Agha Sherzai was removed as public works minister. Also dropped from the Cabinet was Sayed Hussain Anwari, who controlled a private army in the north and had been agriculture minister.

The new ministers — 27 in all — were sworn in by Karzai during a closed ceremony at the presidential palace, said Khaleeq Ahmed, a spokesman at the presidency. The event was not covered live on Afghan television, but Karzai was expected to make a statement later in the day.

First major policy decision
The selections are Karzai’s first major policy decision since his inauguration this month as Afghanistan’s first democratically elected president.

The Afghan leader has pledged to bring more professionalism to his government and has embraced a constitutional decree that all ministers be college-educated and that they give up citizenship in any other country.

“This is a comprehensive step that takes Afghanistan to a new era in which people come to the Cabinet because they are capable of serving the Afghan people and because they are educated,” said Jawed Ludin, Karzai’s chief spokesman. “What matters in the next five years is that the people should see some change in their lives.”

The Cabinet selections are seen as crucial to how this war-ravaged nation will deal with problems such as a destroyed infrastructure, a stubborn Taliban and al-Qaida insurgency and a booming opium trade that supplies three-quarters of the world’s market.

Calls for a 'holy war' on drug trade
Karzai named a relative unknown, Habibullah Qaderi, to head the new Counternarcotics Ministry to crack down on a multibillion-dollar drug trade that is flooding the world with cheap heroin.

Karzai has called for a “holy war” against the drug trade, calling it a greater threat to the nation’s future than the Taliban or al-Qaida.

The new Cabinet selections were announced late Thursday on state-run television.

Central Bank Governor Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a longtime Karzai ally, replaced Ashraf Ghani as finance minister.

Foreign Minister Abdullah and Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, both popular in the West, were kept on. Like many Afghans, Abdullah uses only one name.

Masooda Jalal, the only women to run in the October elections and an outspoken critic of Karzai’s reliance on warlords, was named minister of women’s affairs.

But at least one regional strongman is joining the government.

Ismail Khan, the powerful western warlord whom Karzai removed as governor of Herat earlier this year, was given the position of water and energy minister.

The post is not considered a top-tier position, but Khan’s selection is likely to prompt criticism from human rights groups, who want Karzai to build a more professional political class and crack down on warlords who still control much of the countryside.

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