KABUL, Afghanistan -- Hamid Karzai named a new Cabinet yesterday, firing the prominent defense minister and removing other warlords from top posts in a major reshuffle weeks after being sworn in as the nation's first democratically elected president.
Karzai named a relative unknown, Habibullah Qaderi, to head the new Counternarcotics Ministry, responsible for cracking down on a multibillion-dollar heroin trade.
Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, a major Tajik warlord and the head of the Northern Alliance that helped the United States oust the Taliban in 2001, was replaced by his deputy, Abdul Rahim Wardak, according to a decree announced on state-run television.
Wardak is a Pashtun who made a name for himself as a commander in the 1980s fighting Soviet occupation, then fled abroad as the country descended into civil war.
The new Cabinet was announced on state-run television. But government officials leaked the list of Cabinet members to the Associated Press hours before the official announcement.
Southern warlord Gul Agha Sherzai has been 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.
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.
The Cabinet selections are seen as crucial to how this war-ravaged nation will deal with its myriad problems, including a destroyed infrastructure, a stubborn Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency, and a booming opium trade that accounts for three-quarters of the world's market.
However, 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 crack down on the influence of warlords and build a more professional political class.
Khan was accused of torture while governor of Herat, but also was credited with bringing stability and relative prosperity to the region. Karzai has walked a tight-rope in trying to limit the influence of the gunslingers, whose large private armies still control large swaths of the countryside.
Little is known about Qaderi, the new counternarcotics minister. He is a Pashtun from central Zabul province and was adviser to the minister of refugees.
The position will be closely watched to see if Karzai makes good on a pledge to wipe out opium production. Karzai has recently called for a "holy war" against the drug trade, and said it is a greater threat to the nation's future than the Taliban or Al Qaeda.