KABUL- Afghanistan will host a grand presidential inauguration on Monday, with former US-based academic Ashraf Ghani taking power as NATO troops end their 13-year war without defeating the fierce Taliban insurgency.
A small bomb attached to a cart exploded in east Kabul early in the morning, injuring no one, police said, with much of the city under a security lockdown due to the threat of militant attacks.
Afghan dignitaries gathered for the ceremony in the presidential palace as helicopters buzzed overhead ferrying in foreign guests.
The event will mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power — a benchmark seen by international donors as a key legacy of the costly military and civilian intervention since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Ghani succeeds President Hamid Karzai after a bitter three-month standoff over disputed election results that fuelled the insurgency and worsened Afghanistan’s dire economic outlook.
Both Ghani and his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah claimed to have won the fraud-tainted June 14 election, plunging Afghanistan into a crisis that threatened to trigger nationwide unrest.
Under heavy pressure from the US and UN, the two candidates eventually agreed to form a “national unity government”, and Ghani was declared president after an audit of nearly eight million ballot papers.
Abdullah will also be sworn in on Monday as chief executive, a new role similar to a prime minister, in a government structure far different to Karzai’s all-powerful presidency.
John Podesta, counselor to President Barack Obama, will lead a 10-strong US delegation, with President Mamnoon Hussain representing Pakistan and Vice President Hamid Ansari travelling from India.
Many other countries, including Britain and France, will be represented only by their ambassadors in Kabul, while China is sending Yin Weimin, minister of human resources.
On the eve of the swearing-in, another small bomb hidden in a military vehicle exploded outside the presidential palace complex, injuring the driver.