The runner-up to Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan's historic presidential elections has congratulated the Afghan leader on the formation of his Cabinet and said he is in the process of forming an opposition political party.
Yunus Qanooni said on Saturday that he had deep respect for the Cabinet ministers and for Karzai himself -- but that he felt he could best serve the nation by becoming a leading opposition figure.
He said he would call the party New Afghanistan, and that it would be created in the coming weeks.
"We will support any positive steps taken by the government, but if they do something wrong, we will raise our voices and we will struggle against that," Qanooni said. "What is important is to resolve our differences through politics. We are no longer living in a time of war."
The sentiments echoed those expressed by Karzai himself on Friday after he swore in his new Cabinet. The president described Qanooni as "a friend" and said he left him out of the Cabinet so he could start an opposition party ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for April.
"We need political parties, because in the absence of political parties, politics will become ethnic or linguistic," Karzai said.
Qanooni, an ethnic Tajik who was a senior figure in the northern alliance that helped the US drive the Taliban from power in 2001 and who later served as Karzai's interior and education minister, got 16 percent of the vote in October elections. That was far behind Karzai but well ahead of a field of 15 other presidential candidates.
There had been speculation Qanooni might be offered the powerful defense ministry, but Karzai instead gave it to Abdul Rahim Wardak, an ethnic Pashtun. Qanooni said he was offered the post but turned it down because he wasn't qualified, and because he felt that being in the Cabinet would limit his political role.
Meanwhile, at least five people were killed in a burst of Taliban-led violence violence that occured in the hours after Karzai announced his Cabinet, officials said on Saturday, highlighting how authorities have yet to quell an insurgency.
One suspected Taliban insurgent was killed and four others injured late Thursday as a bomb he was planting by the roadside exploded in southeast Khost province just hours after the president unveiled a new reformist Cabinet.
"A bomber died in Arin village after the bomb he was planting on the main road [leading] to the security command exploded," provincial police chief Mohammad Ayob said.
The police chief blamed members of ousted Taliban militia for the blast.
At least one driver was killed on Friday when Taliban militants attacked a 20-vehicle defense ministry convoy travelling through Farah Province from the main western city of Herat to the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
"Another driver is still missing and the 17 other vehicles reached Kandahar safely," Farah deputy police chief Mohammad Rasool said. The army trucks had recently been donated by India.
Two Taliban and one Afghan soldier were also killed on Friday evening in an attack on Atghar district government headquarters in the southern province of Zabul.