Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated Monday as president of Afghanistan, ending a months-long election dispute with the first democratic transfer of power in the nation’s modern history.
In his inaugural speech, Ghani pledged to fight corruption and called on the Taliban and its allies to join the political process and end more than a decade of war. But the occasion was marred by a Taliban suicide bombing elsewhere in the capital, underscoring the challenges Ghani will face.
“I am your leader, but I am no better than you,” Ghani said, quoting Islam’s first caliph, Abu Bakr. “I err; hold me to account.”
As one of its first acts, Ghani’s government was expected to sign a strategic agreement with the United States that would allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led NATO coalition’s mandate expires in December. The pact — which outgoing President Hamid Karzai refused to approve in his final months in office, fueling tension with Washington — was expected to be signed Tuesday by U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham and a senior member of the Afghan government.
U.S. officials say the extended troop presence is needed to continue training Afghanistan’s 350,000 soldiers and police officers, and to conduct counter-terrorism operations.
Ghani, a former Afghan finance minister and World Bank official, thanked Karzai for his role in the transition — including helping to broker a compromise after a runoff election marred by fraud — and for respecting Afghanistan’s constitution during his 13 years in office.
“Our people have shown that they desire peace and order,” Karzai said at the ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul.
Ghani will head a government of national unity that will see Abdullah Abdullah, his election rival, take the new post of chief executive. Ghani said the unity government would be one of “representation” and thanked Abdullah for joining in the leadership.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who struck the deal to form a unity government in an urgent visit to Kabul in July, praised both men as “patriots committed to the success of their country.”
“Afghans have taken a moment of challenge and turned it into a moment of real opportunity,” he said in a statement from Washington.
Taliban militants have been on an offensive in parts of northern and southern Afghanistan in recent months, and on Monday a Taliban suicide bomber struck a security checkpoint near Kabul’s international airport shortly before Ghani was sworn in.
Six or seven people were killed, according to a police official cited by the Associated Press. Separately, a Taliban attack in the eastern province of Paktia led to the deaths of at least 13 people, including seven militants, the AP reported.
After the oaths of office, Ghani signed an executive order naming Abdullah as chief executive and Ahmed Zia Massoud as special representative to the presidency. Massoud is the brother of slain militia commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, who fought the Taliban and was close to Abdullah.
Until Monday morning, it remained unclear whether Abdullah would participate in the inauguration. Members of his team were reportedly angered by the Ghani campaign’s decision last week to release results of the runoff, which Abdullah maintains was marred by widespread fraud. The results, after a United Nations-supervised audit of all 8 million ballots, showed Ghani winning 55% of the vote. In the end, however, Abdullah took part in the ceremony.
President Obama dispatched a delegation headed by John Podesta, his special counselor, to the inauguration. Other dignitaries attending included India’s foreign minister, the president of Pakistan and representatives from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Maldives and China.
Latifi is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Shashank Bengali in Mumbai, India, contributed to this report.