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Afghan Government Completes First Peaceful Transfer of Power - 2001-12-22

In Afghanistan, a new interim government has taken office in the capital Kabul - marking the first peaceful transfer of power in over 30 years.

If all goes well, the interim government will give way, in six months, to a two-year transition administration and eventually, democratic elections.

Like so many people in Kabul Saturday, 30-year-old clothing shop owner Mohammed Zahir is huddled over a radio, paying close attention to the inauguration ceremony of a new government, charged with the task of drafting a plan to rescue Afghanistan from a generation of division and war.

As he listens to the outgoing Northern Alliance president, Burnuhaddin Rabbani, hand over power to the new interim government chairman, Hamid Karzai, Mr. Zahir's eyes light up. He declares that Afghanistan can now look forward to a bright future.

There was no peace in the country before, but now, there will be peace forever, Mr. Zahir says. He says he believes the overwhelming international support for rebuilding Afghanistan into a democratic society will ensure stability from now on.

At a nearby cosmetics store, 25 year-old Gloria Sharzad says she is equally optimistic. Although she is still wearing a burqa - a head-to-toe veil that all women were required to wear under the Taleban - she says life in Kabul has become noticeably better in the past several weeks, especially for women.

Five years ago, the Taleban forced her to quit her job as an engineer at a gas company and stay at home. The new government - formed under a landmark power-sharing agreement signed three weeks ago near Bonn - has promised to restore many of the rights the Taleban took away - even granting women the right to participate in government.

Ms. Sharzad notes that two people in the new 30-member administration are women.

We are sure that women will have much more freedom than before, she says. Ms. Sharzad says she believes as long as there is a good government in place, no one will ever again stop women from attending school or going to work.

Some Kabul residents say their support for the interim government is contingent upon its ability to hold together as a coalition, that can keep the peace in Afghanistan. Many are not sure if the factional fighting that destroyed more than a third of Kabul in the 1990s is truly a thing of the past.

They have a good reason to worry. The power-sharing agreement gives the new chairman of the interim government, Hamid Karzai, little direct power without the consent of his cabinet. As a broad-based compromise to four different ethnic factions represented in Bonn, most of the cabinet posts were filled by people not allied with Mr. Karzai. Some experts say this arrangement is a prescription for consensus or chaos.

Outsiders seeking a spot in the new political structure could also complicate matters.

Mr. Karzai's predecessor, Burnuhaddin Rabbani, has clearly stated that he intends to play the role of opposition leader and agitator, as he prepares to run in elections slated for 2004. The conservative cleric has called the Bonn agreement an "offense" to the Afghan people and says he will not tolerate any attempt to move Afghanistan away from being a strict Islamic country.

At a market place north of Kabul, 51 year-old Sayyed Hamayun says he is deeply worried about the possibility of renewed tension between the various faction leaders.

Mr. Hamayun says at this point, he does not care who rules Afghanistan. The only thing that matters to him is whether the country can find a leader who will maintain peace and allow the people to go back living normal lives again.