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Afghanistan: New Government Takes Office In Kabul

Kabul, 22 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Hamid Karzai was sworn in as prime minister of Afghanistan's interim government today and immediately worked toward unifying the diverse country. The 44-year-old Pashtun leader took the oath of office during an inauguration ceremony in Kabul that formally ended five years of rule by the defeated Taliban.

In his inaugural speech, Karzai said Afghans have to overcome a very painful past on the way to a better future.

"The road is very long, and we have just begun our journey," Karzai said. "Our once prospering homeland is now in ruins because of the interference of evil powers, because of the interference of people both inside and outside our country, who thought only of their own ambitions. Because of all this, our country became a land of fighting and disorder and terrorism, and now it lies in ruins."

Karzai promised to fulfill his mission to bring peace to the war-torn country. He also paid homage to outgoing President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Massoud, the guerrilla leader who was assassinated on 9 September.

The United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said they all hope this day marks the end of years of conflict in Afghanistan: "The people have now put their faith in the interim administration, and this faith must be rewarded so that wounds can be healed and the nation can move on."

Karzai was selected to head the interim Cabinet at a United Nations-sponsored meeting of Afghans near Bonn as part of a deal signed on 5 December. His term of office is six months. In that time, his cabinet is expected to launch Afghanistan on the road to revival and organize a Loya Jirga, or grand council, that will choose a government to rule for two years while laying the groundwork for elections.

Speaking two hours after the inauguration, Karzai said his priorities will be security and economic development, AP reported. But he warned that Afghans cannot do it alone. They are flat broke, have little or no infrastructure, and the education level has been dragged to barely literate by decades of relentless conflict.

Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, sent a message saying his country's people would pray for the success of the new administration. Musharraf said Pakistan had earmarked $100 million for reconstruction projects and humanitarian assistance. Musharraf, who has supported the U.S. campaign against Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban, also said Pakistan will reopen its embassy and consulates in Afghanistan "as soon as possible."

China's Foreign Ministry also expressed its "warm congratulations." Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said he was "inspired with hope" to see former rivals attending the swearing-in ceremony in Kabul. Russia said the day marked the start of a process to create a peaceful Afghanistan "free from terrorism and drugs." Germany and Italy, among other European countries, also sent messages of congratulations.