Ashraf Ghani Sworn In as Afghan President

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – KABUL, Afghanistan — Ashraf Ghani, the former World Bank technocrat and prominent intellectual, on Monday became the first modern leader of Afghanistan to take office in a peaceful transfer of power.

His inauguration as president came under a dark cloud, however, dogged by fraud allegations that were so serious he was forced to accept a power-sharing arrangement with his opponent, the official runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah. Even that deal nearly collapsed at the last minute, as Mr. Abdullah threatened to pull out of the inauguration ceremony over a series of disputes, including an unseemly fight over office space in the presidential palace.

In what has been a characteristic of the six-month wrangle over the Afghan presidential elections, representatives of both camps met late into the night to iron out their differences so that they could present a united front to the country at an inauguration attended mostly by low-level delegations from Afghanistan’s international supporters, including the United States, which sent two of President Obama’s advisers along with the American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, and the American military commander, Gen. John F. Campbell. Pakistan was apparently the only country to send a head of state, President Mamnoon Hussain, despite the deeply strained relations between the two neighbors.

In the end, Mr. Abdullah attended the inauguration. As soon as Mr. Ghani took the oath of office, he issued a decree appointing Mr. Abdullah the chief executive of his government. Both men must soon begin the difficult process of agreeing on cabinet ministers and other positions on the basis of “parity,” according to an American-brokered agreement they signed on forming the national unity government.

There were hopeful notes as well. Mr. Ghani spoke at length in his inaugural address about the need to fight corruption and to bring more women and young people into the government. He struck an immediate contrast with his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, by saying that his wife, Rula, a Lebanese, would take part in public life. “My wife has worked a lot for refugees and will continue working for them,” he said. Mrs. Ghani was in the audience as well, whereas Mr. Karzai’s wife was almost never seen in public.

Despite a reputation for intellectual arrogance, Mr. Ghani struck a humble note. “I’m your leader, but I’m not better than you, so if I make any mistake you should hold me accountable for it,” he said. He also told the country’s judicial authorities not to hesitate to prosecute his own relatives if the need ever arises.

Mr. Ghani won a June 14 runoff election against Mr. Abdullah, with 55 percent of the vote to Mr. Abdullah’s 45 percent, but Mr. Abdullah and his supporters cried foul. He had won the original April 6 election with 45 percent of the vote to Mr. Ghani’s 31 percent in a crowded field of contenders, and accused his opponent of fraud.

Nearly a million votes were discarded as fraudulent, twice as many for Mr. Ghani, but Mr. Abdullah’s supporters said the true number of fraudulent votes was two or three times higher than that.

The dispute forced a full audit of the vote, supervised by the United Nations, but Mr. Abdullah’s supporters felt the audit was not fair and boycotted it. After two visits to the Afghan capital, Kabul, by Secretary of State John Kerry, and further negotiations by phone and video link with Mr. Kerry and other American officials, the two sides agreed to a national unity government in which Mr. Abdullah would have substantial powers.

Under terms of the deal, it was agreed that the election commission would not publicly announce the vote totals until after the inauguration, a highly unusual procedure but one that the election commission agreed to, under United Nations’ pressure.

Then on Friday, Mr. Ghani’s campaign posted those totals on its official Facebook page, leading Mr. Abdullah to nearly pull out of the inauguration ceremony. That was further aggravated by a scuffle at the presidential palace between Mr. Abdullah’s followers and those of Abdul Rashid Dostum, Mr. Ghani’s first vice president, over who would have offices that Mr. Abdullah had expected to get, according to a Western diplomat.

Mr. Dostum, an Uzbek warlord whom Mr. Ghani described in 2009 as a “known killer,” brought a substantial block of votes to Mr. Ghani’s campaign. The presence of many of Mr. Dostum’s followers on the streets of Kabul, in civilian clothes but heavily armed, has been a cause of concern for many residents of the capital. The carrying of weapons is theoretically outlawed except by uniformed security forces or those with special licenses. The police, however, have been reluctant to challenge the gunmen.

Despite the concerns around election wrangle, the transfer of power was unique in Afghanistan’s modern history, and Mr. Karzai said he was fulfilling his oft-stated ambition of handing power to a successor democratically and peacefully. “I’m very grateful to Allah to give me the power to hand over the power to the new president today,” Mr. Karzai said at the inauguration ceremony.

While there was no doubt the transfer of power was peaceful — aside from a bomb blast outside the Kabul International Airport that reportedly killed four people — the democratic nature of the election is likely to be debated for years to come.

“It is a democratic transfer — absolutely it’s a democratic transfer in that millions of Afghans voted, millions of those votes were validated through the audit process, a significant proportion of fraud was discovered in the audit and those votes were invalidated and there is a result, which is a lawful, constitutional result,” said Mr. Cunningham, the American ambassador.

Mr. Abdullah’s supporters continue to maintain, however, that he was the real winner of the election, and Mr. Abdullah agreed to the compromise that came into effect on Monday only to avoid further conflict and strife.

Both Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah support the signing of a bilateral security agreement with the United States, which Mr. Karzai had refused to sign. That was expected to happen on Tuesday, when a similar agreement with NATO is to be signed as well. The agreements call for a continued American and coalition military presence in Afghanistan after the end of 2014.

Source: New York Times

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