KABUL, Afghanistan - Hamid Karzai adopted a risky political strategy yesterday with the Afghan leader's decision to include several warlords in his inner circle and retain several key ethnic Tajiks in top government posts.
Karzai was inaugurated as the nation's transitional president later yesterday, and the nine-day grand council, or loya jirga, drew to a close.
The Cabinet was approved by a show of hands among the more than 1,500 delegates here at the loya jirga but many seemed more resigned than genuinely pleased with his choices.
"We are satisfied but not very much," said Mohammed Hakim, an ethnic Pashtun from the southeastern region around the city of Gardez. "The nation has not been given the right to select the Cabinet, particularly the key ministries."
The Pashtuns, who make up the largest of the nation's many ethnic groups, have felt shortchanged in the power structure Karzai has put in place since he became interim prime minister six months ago.
Although Karzai is a Pashtun, his initial government was dominated by ethnic Tajiks from the Northern Alliance, the army that helped defeat the Taliban last fall. Karzai could not afford to alienate them, in part because they still control significant portions of the country.
Yesterday, Karzai retained Mohammed Qassim Fahim, a former Northern Alliance commander, as defense minister and Abdullah, a longtime Northern Alliance spokesman who goes by one name, as foreign minister.
Karzai brought Fahim into his inner circle as one of three vice presidents. The other two also are prominent commanders: Haji Abdul Qadir, the Pashtun governor of Jalalabad province, and Karim Khalili, an ethnic Hazara commander.
Karzai also appointed Ashraf Ghani, a close friend, as finance minister. Ghani, an adjunct associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University, has been one of Karzai's most visible advocates in recent months. He is one of the few appointees with expertise in his field: a former official with the World Bank.
Notably missing from the appointees was Gen. Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek commander from Northern Afghanistan. People close to the warlord said he had been invited to be a vice president but had declined because he did not want to move to Kabul, the capital.
The risk for Karzai is that once inside the tent, the warlords, rather than turning away from regional concerns and working for the new government, will use their influence to hoard jobs for their friends and perpetuate a system that relies on guns and money, rather than merit, to exercise power.
"It was not a good idea to bring commanders into these positions because the idea that they will come to Kabul and lose power outside is not the case," said Halayat Amin Arsala, the outgoing finance minister.
In an effort to downplay any impulse to count the number of slots that went to each ethnic group, Karzai exhorted delegates to think of everyone as an Afghan, rather than a member of an ethnic group.
"We are all connected to each other, we all belong to Afghanistan; we are proud of it," he said. "Our feeling for the nation's development are equal."
With the end of the loya jirga, the nearly 1,600 delegates will scatter to towns and villages across Afghanistan, taking home their impressions and frustrations over the country's first experiment with democracy in more than 30 years.
By the most generous of readings, the conference left many delegates disappointed. While they might have had unrealistic expectations coming in, given the difficulties of having such a large group take a hands-on role in choosing a Cabinet, they appeared to be leaving with a sense of having been cheated of their main job of designing the new government.
They had little say in the Cabinet's composition and left without having agreed on the shape of a national assembly, a crucial body for those who want to ensure that the executive branch's power can be kept in check.
Karzai's new government will be judged as much on whether the ethnically diverse Afghans perceive it as fair as on its achievements. The inclusion of warlords is particularly problematic.
"It gives the impression to the people that the warlords are running things," said Arsala, the former finance minister.
Karzai appeared sensitive to the potential accusation that he was embracing "warlordism" and went out of his way to justify his choices, attempting to distinguish between warlords and mujahedeen, "holy fighters" who struggled to free Afghanistan from Russian dominance.
Alissa J. Rubin writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.