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.