KABUL -- President Ashraf Ghani was sworn in for a second term Monday (March 9) at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, as his rival Abdullah Abdullah held a parallel inauguration just metres away.
Ghani, dressed in traditional Afghan clothing and a white turban, was sworn in surrounded by supporters, senior political figures, diplomats and foreign dignitaries including US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.
"I swear by the name of God that I shall obey and protect the holy religion of Islam, respect and supervise the implementation of the constitution," Ghani said at the oath-taking ceremony.
Ghani was declared as the winner of the election held last September.
Ghani took 50.64% of the votes, compared with Abdullah's 39.52%, Independent Election Commission Chairwoman Hawa Alam Nuristani said, citing the February 18 final tally.
During his March 9 speech, Ghani appeared to extend an olive branch to his opponents, saying: "Today is the day for unity, we have to think about the future."
"I call on ... [past] political rivals to lend me a hand and a shoulder to serve this country," he said. "Our mission is peace and ending the 40 years of war."
Explosions heard; Ghani defiant
As hundreds of Afghans watched Ghani's swearing-in ceremony, two loud explosions were heard, prompting some attendees to flee.
"I have no bulletproof vest on, only my shirt," Ghani told those who stayed behind as sirens wailed.
"I will stay even if I have to sacrifice my head."
An AFP reporter saw many of those who fled return to their seats after Ghani's refusal to leave the podium prompted cheers and applause.
The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) claimed responsibility via its usual social media channels, saying it fired 10 rockets near the presidential palace.
On March 6, ISIS gunmen killed 32 people and wounded dozens of others at a ceremony in Kabul commemorating a Hazara leader killed in 1995 by the Taliban.
The Taliban, who have slammed the electoral process as "a fake and foreign-run" affair, have also ramped up attacks on Afghan forces and civilians.
Fight for power
Minutes before Ghani was sworn in, in another corner of the sprawling Presidential Palace compound, a suit-clad Abdullah inaugurated himself as president.
Abdullah lost to Ghani in 2014 as well. The United States brokered a power-sharing deal that year.
Security appeared to have been tightened ahead of the competing ceremonies, with road closures and multiple checkpoints set up in Kabul hours beforehand.
"It is impossible to have two presidents in one country," said Kabul resident Ahmad Jawed, 22, who urged the men "to put their personal interests aside and think only of their country".
Unity only way forward
Violence has continued unabated throughout the country, except for during a week-long partial truce ahead of the US-Taliban deal signed last month in Doha.
Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on February 29 signed the historic peace agreement, which is expected to lead to talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government.
Intra-Afghan talks are scheduled to begin Tuesday (March 10).
According to the agreement, foreign troops will withdraw from Afghanistan in 14 months, in return for various security commitments from the Taliban and a pledge to hold talks with Kabul.
"Unity is the only way [forward] if it wants to win on the negotiating table," political analyst Atta Noori told AFP, referring to the Afghan government.
Today is the day of the major failure for the US and its allies in Afghanistan. They caused to give birth to two presidents. It's impossible to have two presidents in one country. The context shows that the current situation is to the benefit of the Taliban. if the political situation between the two rivals deteriorates, Taliban will attack to seize the cities one after another. And many people will support the Taliban this way.Reply
The current situation of the country is very horrible and dangerous. Two parallel ceremonies and two governments cannot continue that easily. There is urgent need for unity; not destructive rivalries. Before this, Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative of the United States for Afghanistan reconciliation, also tried to put an end to this stalemate or deadlock, but unfortunately he could not break this deadlock.Reply
These two oath-taking ceremonies will have a negative impacts on the peace process of the country. A dispute over power is not a wise act in this period of time, and it will have serious consequences for the future peace process and unity of the nation. I request all Facebook users to avoid discord and maintain national unity. Finally, these leaders will compromise one day.Reply
The oath taking ceremony of Ghani took place against a deal with America for the unconditional release of 5000 Taliban prisoners. Ghani said before he would never release Taliban prisoners, and this was a red line for him, but you could see how his red line changed into a yellow one.Reply
Indeed, today is the day of the failure of America and its allies in Afghanistan. I am sure they are feeling ashamed. You alongside with this democracy and fraudulent technocrats (Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation) and America are to blame for this crisis; not just Afghanistan.Reply
These acts of the heads of the national unity government will cause the outbreak of war as well as ruin the peace talks. The heads of the national unity government and of the international community, particularly America, should be held accountable for the crisis that will happen.Reply
We have been continuing in this misery for nearly five decades and a new misery will happen and its responsibility will be on the shoulders of those who were involved directly in all issues of Afghanistan.Reply
America wants Ghani to retain power, because Ghani is its favorite servant. The only way to succeed is to say no to America and its partners. Abdullah’s followers or advocates should resist the fraud committed by Presidential Palace and kick Ghani out of the Palace.Reply
The Independent Election Commission gave the certificate of success to Ghani, and he was sworn in based on it. The Commission's commissioners were also not elected by Ghani. However, their appointment was among the authorities of Ghani because he was president at that time too, but Ghani allowed the commissioners to be elected by all candidates together. Abdullah ashamed himself and ashamed other Afghans.Reply