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Afghanistan: Karzai Sworn In As Afghan President

Karzai takes the oath of office Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan's first directly elected president today at an inauguration ceremony in Kabul's presidential palace. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were among the scores of foreign dignitaries in attendance as Karzai took an oath of allegiance to both Islam and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The ceremony follows Karzai's outright first-round election victory on 9 October -- a ballot that Karzai praised in his inauguration speech as a sign of great progress and hope. But Karzai also warned that there is still cause for concern about terrorism, religious extremism, warlords, illegal drug production, and drug smuggling.

Prague, 7 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Karzai's inauguration ceremony began with a blessing from the Koran by the blind Afghan religious scholar Qari Barakatullah Saleem, Despite threats by Taliban fighters to disrupt the event, the ceremony passed off peacefully within Kabul's heavily fortified presidential palace.

Placing his hand on the Koran, Karzai repeated the oath of office as read by Afghan Supreme Court head Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari. In accordance with the Afghan Constitution, Karzai swore to obey and protect the religious principles of Islam as well as to respect and implement the constitution and other laws of Afghanistan.

"I will safeguard the rights and interests of the Afghan people," Karzai said. "And by the help of Almighty God -- and the support of the nation -- I will continue my efforts for the welfare and the development of the country. Almighty God, help me."

In his inauguration speech, Karzai said his three years in office as Afghanistan's transitional leader had both joy and gloom. He told stories of Afghans who overcame great difficulties to vote in the October presidential election. He said the resilience of Afghans who have endured so much suffering during the last three decades -- as well as their willingness to work for progress -- was reflected in the massive voter turnout.

Karzai said he is compelled to respect the aspirations and goals of those Afghans who are determined to rebuild the country and who long for a nation that, in his words, "stands on its own two feet."

Karzai also outlined what he said are serious challenges ahead for Afghanistan. One key priority is to continue strengthening Afghanistan's security sector by disarming and demobilizing militia factions while building up the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

He stressed the need to eradicate of opium-poppy cultivation, illegal drug production, and drug smuggling out of Afghanistan -- which is the world's main supplier of heroin.

He said establishing the rule of law throughout the country is a priority along with administrative reforms aimed at bringing an end to corruption and the abuse of public funds.

Karzai said that the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan has been greatly reduced. But he said the fight against terrorism is not yet over -- and that he is increasingly concerned about the relationship between terrorists and illegal narcotics operations. Karzai called for regional and international cooperation in order to move forward against the threat.

In a joint press conference with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney shortly before today's inauguration ceremony, Karzai credited the United States with bringing peace and democracy to Afghanistan.

"We are very, very grateful, to put it in simple words, to the people of the United States of America for bringing us this day, a day of peace, a day of democracy, a day of the empowerment of the Afghan people," Karzai said.
"We are very, very grateful, to put it in simple words, to the people of the United States of America for bringing us this day, a day of peace, a day of democracy, a day of the empowerment of the Afghan people." -- Karzai

Cheney, who was among the scores of foreign dignitaries attending today's ceremony, said the United States has been proud to work with Afghans in order to free them from the rule of the Taliban regime.

"Now the tyranny is gone," Cheney said. "The terrorist enemy is scattered and the people of Afghanistan are free. The United States and our coalition partners were proud to join with brave Afghan citizens in liberating this nation, and we will continue to stand with Afghans in building a future of freedom and stability and peace."

Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based researcher on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, said he agrees with Karzai's statements that the elections were a success because of the strong turnout by Afghan voters.

"The elections, along the balance, should be viewed as something that was surprisingly successful," Parekh said. "There was very little violence, very little civic disturbance, and the results [were] broadly accepted by the population -- and ultimately by the opposition candidates. It has made many people more optimistic about the preparedness of the country for parliamentary elections [scheduled for April 2005]."

Parekh said that progress on the challenges Karzai outlined in his inauguration speech will be greatly influenced by the choices he makes for his cabinet -- an issue that is still being negotiated in Kabul.

"Talks on the formation of a cabinet are likely to go on -- possibly until mid-December. And it is not a path that should be taken lightly because there is an imperative for Karzai to show that he really does represent the entire country," Parekh said. "If he wants actions taken by his cabinet to have broad support across the country -- and to limit the amount of resistance that he is going to face -- he will need to have a cabinet that has credible representatives from other [non-Pashtun] ethnic groups who have real power and are not just there for show."

Critically, Parekh said Karzai also needs to remove provincial and cabinet-level officials that are thought to be involved in illegal drug smuggling.

"There are a lot of officials in the country -- at a provincial level and some members of the [outgoing Transitional Administration] cabinet -- who are widely believed to be involved in narcotics trafficking," Parekh said. "Even if they have supported Karzai, as some of them have during the presidential election campaign, it is not going to be a basis for a credible attempt to reduce narcotics production and trafficking in Afghanistan if such officials are retained in the next government. It will simply compromise any effort to get serious about this problem. And it will make any attempts that they do support seen as partisan or likely to target their internal rivals or opponents."

Parekh also said that Karzai can enforce existing laws on the upcoming parliamentary elections in order to enhance the demobilization and disarmament of warlord militias. That's because Afghanistan's new election laws forbid political parties from maintaining any militia forces.

Get RFE/RL news, analysis, and background on the Afghan elections at "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05."