ISLAMABAD - Ashraf Ghani taking the oath of office as Afghanistan’s new president is a move being hailed as the country’s first democratic transfer of power. In his inaugural speech Monday, the former World Bank executive called on the Taliban and other insurgent groups to join peace talks to put an end to bloodshed in the country, saying Afghans are tired of war.
The inauguration ceremony at Kabul’s presidential palace took place before a large number of foreign dignitaries, including neighboring Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain and senior U.S. presidential adviser John Podesta.
Abdullah sworn in
Moments after taking the oath, President Ashraf Ghani swore in election rival, Abdullah Abdullah, as chief executive as part of a national unity government.
The newly created post is part of a power-sharing agreement the two men signed to end months of election deadlock over allegations of vote fraud.
Apparently referring to the power-sharing agreement with Abdullah, Ghani stressed that conflict is not the way to settle political differences.
“We have established that political differences can be resolved through political means, and in this context I call on the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami to come to the negotiating table for political talks,” Ghani said. “Hezb-i-Islami is an Afghan militant faction fighting NATO forces independent of the Taliban.”
Ghani said security is a main demand of all Afghans and he will go to any extent to restore peace in the country. “We are tired of war and our message is a message of peace, but it should not be considered our weakness,” the new Afghan leader explained. “The Taliban did not immediately respond, but the militant groups had rejected the Ghani-Abdullah political deal as a U.S.-orchestrated agreement.”
The Taliban insurgency has increased attacks in recent months and has captured territory in some Afghan border areas.
Observers believe the planned withdrawal of NATO forces has emboldened the Taliban and its recent battlefield gains underscore the grave challenge facing Afghan security forces when they fight without international military support.
U.S. officials have expressed confidence that Ghani will soon sign a bilateral security agreement with Washington that would allow a small American military force to stay in the country past 2014 to continue counter-terrorism missions and train Afghan security personnel.
End of Karzai reign
Monday’s political transition marked the end of President Hamid Karzai’s nearly 13 years in power.
Karzai was installed as leader of Afghanistan in late 2001, shortly after a U.S.-led military coalition ousted the Islamist Taliban from power for harboring the al-Qaida network.
Karzai refused to sign the security pact, accusing the United States of not helping him in his efforts to strike peace with the Taliban.
But Ghani and Abdullah have promised to conclude the deal without further delay.
In his Monday speech, Ghani promised not to tolerate corruption and nepotism. He also vowed to introduce long-demanded reforms in the country’s judicial system to ensure speedy justice to ordinary Afghans.