Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was sworn in yesterday and is set to lead a power-sharing government just as the withdrawal of the majority of foreign troops presents a crucial test.
The first democratic handover of power in Afghan history has been far from smooth — the deal for a unity government was put together after months of deadlock as both Ghani and his opponent, former Afghan minister of foreign affairs Abdullah Abdullah, claimed to have won the election.
Illustrating the problems facing the new president, a blast on a road near Kabul airport just before Ghani was sworn in caused some casualties, a witness told reporters. A member of the security forces said a suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint.
There have already been signs of tension in the fragile coalition that is set to run the country. A dispute over office space and whether Abdullah would speak at the inauguration led to threats his camp would boycott yesterday’s ceremony, an Abdullah aide said.
Ghani’s first act after being sworn in was to sign a decree creating the post of chief executive. Abdullah was sworn in to that job moments later, and he made his speech before Ghani — a departure from the original program.
In his inaugural speech, Ghani appealed to the Taliban and other militants to join peace talks and put an end to more than a decade of violence. Thousands of Afghans are killed each year in the insurgency.
“Security is a main demand of our people, and we are tired of this war,” Ghani said. “I am calling on the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami to prepare for political negotiations.”
Hezb-i-Islami is an Islamist faction loosely allied with the Taliban.
Ghani also vowed to crack down on rampant corruption and called for cooperation within the coalition government.
“A national unity government is not about sharing power, but about working together,” Ghani said in his speech that lasted for nearly an hour.
Security was stepped up around Kabul ahead of the inauguration for fear Taliban insurgents might try to disrupt the ceremony or attack international dignitaries who had flown in to attend.
Foreign backers and Afghans hope that Ghani and Abdullah can put aside their acrimonious rivalry and work to improve life in a country that has suffered war and poverty for decades.
Even if its top figures are able to work together, the new government inherits massive problems, including fighting an emboldened Taliban who in recent months has been launching ever more aggressive attacks as foreign troops draw down.
Ghani must also reset relations with the US, which have soured in recent years under former Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
One of Ghani’s first acts as president is expected to be signing a bilateral security agreement that would allow a small contingent of US forces to remain to train and assist the new Afghan army and police.
The inauguration ceremony was held at the presidential palace compound in central Kabul. Foreign dignitaries attending included Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and White House senior adviser John Podesta, counselor to US President Barack Obama.
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