Historic, anxious handover as Afghanistan swears in new leader * Rivals to share power after disputed poll * New government faces emboldened Taliban, fiscal crisis * Disputes between new government partners already erupting
Afghanistan inaugurated its first new president in a decade today, swearing in technocrat Ashraf Ghani to head a powersharing government just as the withdrawal of most foreign troops presents a crucial test. The first democratic handover of power in Afghanistan’s history has been far from smooth: the deal for a unity government was cobbled together after months of deadlock over a vote in which both Ghani and opponent Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory.
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 Reuters witness said. A member of the security forces said a suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint. Already, there have been signs of tension in the fragile coalition that will run the country.
A dispute over office space and whether Abdullah would speak at the inauguration led to threats his camp would boycott Monday’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 a speech before Ghani a departure from the original programme.
The inauguration marks the end of an era with the departure of President Hamid Karzai, the only leader Afghans have known since a USled invasion in 2001 overthrew the Islamist Taliban that had given sanctuary to al Qaeda. Alreadytight security was stepped up around the capital, Kabul, ahead of the inauguration for fear Taliban insurgents might try to disrupt the ceremony or attack international dignitaries who flew in to attend. Both foreign backers and Afghans hope that Ghani and Abdullah can put aside their acrimonious election rivalry and work to improve life in a country that has suffered war and poverty for decades.
We expect both to fulfil the promises they made to the people, said unemployed Kabul resident Mohammad Sharif. We, the people of Afghanistan, are monitoring their performance to see whether they can serve the people or not. The dispute over Abdullah’s speech and the office space was resolved after latenight meetings with the US ambassador, the Abdullah aide said.
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