KABUL, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai swore in a new Cabinet yesterday, promising the 27-strong group will leave their ethnicities and regional interests at the door to work for all of Afghanistan and pledging swift action against any minister who does not pull his weight.
The US-backed leader also expressed support for the creation of an opposition party headed by his chief rival in October elections, saying a dissenting voice would be in the interest of the country.
"The Cabinet that we swore in will be loyal to Afghan law and the national interests," Karzai said after a closed-door ceremony in which he gave the oath to 25 of the 27 new ministers. "I have chosen the ministers, and if they don't perform I will ask them to leave."
Two ministers not present will be sworn in later.
The Cabinet announced Thursday removed several prominent warlords, including powerful Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, a major Tajik strongman and the head of the Northern Alliance, which helped the United States oust the Taliban in 2001. He was replaced with his deputy, Abdul Rahim Wardak.
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.
The Cabinet selections are seen as crucial to how the country deals with problems such as 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.
The Afghan leader has pledged to bring more professionalism to his government, and said yesterday the new members of his government must put aside ethnic and regional affiliations to serve the entire nation.
"No minister will serve as the minister of an ethnic group. No minister has come to claim a place here on behalf of a political party or a region. Every minister is a representative of Afghanistan and the interest of the Afghan people," Karzai said.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad congratulated Karzai on the selections and said Washington was eager to work with the new group.
"The October presidential election showed the world that the Afghan people aspire to build a future of democracy, peace, and stability," Khalilzad said. "The Afghan people have also made it clear that they want a Cabinet of competence and integrity."
One name not in the Cabinet was Yunus Qanooni, the former education minister who came in second to Karzai in October elections. Karzai called Qanooni "a friend" and said he left him out of the Cabinet so that he could start a national political party ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for April.
Such a party would almost certainly sit in opposition to Karzai's government, but the president said he would support its creation if it was inclusive of all Afghans.
"We need political parties, because in the absence of political parties, politics will become ethnic or linguistic," Karzai said.
He nonetheless ruled out the possibility of joining Qanooni's party or any other, saying the president must remain "above politics."
Karzai announced his selections Thursday after weeks of delay since his Dec. 7 inauguration as the nation's first democratically elected president. He said the wait was due to discussions with potential ministers who Karzai insisted renounce their citizenship in any other country.
"I was ready to announce the Cabinet a week ago, but I delayed it in order to make sure that all of them renounced their dual citizenship," the president said.
Many members of the nation's political class spent long years abroad during more than two decades of war, and their reluctance to give up US and British passports had been criticized as indicating a lack of faith in Afghanistan's future.