Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Ashraf Ghani Sworn In As President of Afghanistan, Shares Inaugural Stage With Abdullah Abdullah

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated as president of Afghanistan on Monday, punctuating a season of grave political crisis with a peaceful transition of power that stood as a rarity in a country marked by four decades of war.

To the relief of the international community, Mr. Ghani’s first appearance as president was full of reassuring touchstones.
He quickly appointed his rival in the bitterly contested runoff election, Abdullah Abdullah, as the government’s chief executive officer, and shared the inaugural stage with him. It was a signal that Mr. Abdullah was to have a real role in their power-sharing government, which American officials had midwifed through months of acrimonious negotiations.
Mr. Ghani also declared a halt to the
degeneration of relations with the United States under the departing president, Hamid Karzai, who refused to sign a long-term deal to keep American troops in Afghanistan and in his last days in office publicly blamed his allies for the country’s predicament.
“Now it’s time that we enter a new era of our relationship with the United States, Europe and other countries of the world,” Mr. Ghani said. His aides said his government would sign the troop agreement with the United States on Tuesday, and then a similar agreement with NATO on the same day.
Seeking to strike a note of social change, Mr. Ghani announced that his wife, Rula, whom he met while both were students at the American University of Beirut, would have a public role as well — another rarity in a country where women are frequently sequestered.
“My wife worked a lot on behalf of refugees and will continue working for them,” Mr. Ghani said. “Women and youth will have a wide participation in my government.”
Many watching his first presidential speech were struck by another departure: his willingness to adopt a tone of humility and accessibility at odds with a long-held reputation for arrogance and aloofness.
“I am your leader, but I am not better than you,” he said, echoing remarks attributed to Islam’s first caliph, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq. “So if I make any mistake you should hold me accountable for it.”
Mr. Ghani’s road to the presidency of
Afghanistan began in 2009 when he
renounced his American citizenship — most of his adult life had been spent in the United States and countries other than Afghanistan — in order to run against Mr. Karzai. He finished a distant fourth that year, earning the sobriquet “Mr. Three Percent.”
His professorial and sometimes preachy style at the time left Afghan voters cold, and he worked hard at changing his image during the 2014 campaign, adopting a more populist approach in his speeches.
Known for a short temper, Mr. Ghani stayed so notably calm throughout the campaign that a joke circulated that he had been taking anger-management counseling. Mr. Abdullah, usually billed as the smoother politician, ended up seeming more mercurial than Mr. Ghani did.
“Isn’t that ironic?” Mr. Ghani said after the first round of the election, on April 6. “If the campaign has shown anything, it’s that my alleged reputation is manufactured. All the campaign events, all the TV interviews, all the debates — can anyone count a single instance of anger or display of emotion, negative emotion, or false pride?”
Mr. Ghani, 65, proved during the long
campaign and its tumultuous aftermath that he was nothing if not disciplined, in ways that went far beyond his public demeanor.
Years ago, cancer cost him all but a tiny portion of his stomach, he has told people many times, so he has to eat numerous small meals through the day. During the campaign, though, he still kept a punishing schedule of public appearances and travel throughout Afghanistan.
An anthropologist by training, Mr. Ghani worked for the World Bank for many years.
In 2005, he formed a consultancy called the Institute for State Effectiveness with Clare Lockhart, who had been an adviser to him when he served as Afghanistan’s finance minister under Mr. Karzai.
Although the book that Mr. Ghani wrote with Ms. Lockhart, “Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World,” opens with a general look at countries in crisis, it could also be taken as a succinct and specific summary of some of the problems facing Mr. Ghani’s new government.
“Within these countries, vicious networks of criminality, violence and drugs feed on disenfranchised populations and uncontrolled territory,” he wrote, describing how the people in countries from Latin America to Africa and Central Asia are “locked into lives of misery, without a stake in their countries or any certainty about or control over their own futures.”
Many Afghans would identify with the
book’s thrust. Their country is ravaged by violence, sick with corruption, and seething with frustration. The government is struggling against a Taliban insurgency that has turned much of the country into a no-go zone.
Many young Afghans, taunted by the images of Western prosperity on the Internet and facing massive unemployment at home, desperately want to flee, as evidenced by the large sums that young Afghans pay to
human traffickers for a dangerous, difficult passage into Europe. Afghanistan has been the biggest source of asylum seekers year after year, although in the last year it was surpassed by Syria.
Amid these daunting problems, Mr. Ghani is taking office under a cloud, dogged by electoral fraud allegations.
After an internationally led audit of the
runoff election, nearly a million votes, two-thirds of them for Mr. Ghani, were officially discarded as fraudulent. But Mr. Abdullah’s supporters said from the start that the true number of bad votes may have been two or three times higher than that, and Mr. Ghani was pressured to accept a power-sharing arrangement with Mr. Abdullah.
Further, that deal very nearly collapsed at the last minute, as Mr. Abdullah threatened on Sunday to pull out of the inauguration ceremony over a series of disputes, including an unseemly fight over office space in the presidential palace. Mr. Abdullah’s followers squabbled with supporters of Mr. Ghani’s first vice president, the influential but controversial power broker Abdul Rashid Dostum, over
offices that Mr. Abdullah had expected to get.
The recent presence of many of Mr.
Dostum’s followers on the streets of Kabul, in civilian clothes or unofficial uniforms and heavily armed, has been a cause of concern to many residents of the capital. It is technically illegal for anyone other than government security forces to publicly carry weapons, but the police have been reluctant to challenge the gunmen.
Perhaps because many foreign officials feared yet another of the kind of sudden crises that defined the electoral battle, the inauguration was attended mainly by lower-level delegations from Afghanistan’s international backers. Pakistan was the only country to send a head of state, President Mamnoon Hussain, despite the deeply strained relations between the two neighbors.
In a reminder of another challenge facing the new government, the Taliban carried out a deadly suicide bombing near Kabul International Airport, killing at least seven people despite heavy security around the city. During his speech, Mr. Ghani called on the Taliban and other militants to disarm and join peace talks.
Despite the concerns around the six-month election wrangle, the transfer of power by Mr. Karzai, who was Afghanistan’s president for nearly 13 years, was in the end orderly, and Mr. Karzai said he was fulfilling his often-stated ambition of handing over power democratically and peacefully.
“I’m very grateful to God to give me the power to hand over the power to the new president today,” he said at the inauguration. Officials said that
immediately after the ceremony, he moved into a private house near the palace, but outside its walls.
John Podesta, the counselor to President Obama who represented the White House at the ceremony, said it was a “momentous day” for Afghanistan, adding, “We’re looking forward to working with Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah.”

Although two contested and turbulent presidential elections in a row have prompted questions about the outlook for Afghan democracy, the departing American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, defended the result after months of turmoil.
“It is a democratic transfer,” Mr. Cunningham said. “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.”

  - The New York Times