KABUL: Ashraf Ghani, a one-time US-based academic, was sworn in as new president of Afghanistan on Monday and used his inaugural speech to call for Taliban insurgents to join peace talks after 13 years of war.
The militant threat in Kabul was underlined by a suicide attack outside the airport’s main entrance that killed four members of the security forces and three civilians shortly before the inauguration.
The ceremony at the presidential palace marked the country’s first democratic transfer of power and opened a new era after the rule of Hamid Karzai, president since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.
The June presidential election was engulfed in disputes over fraud, but international donors welcomed Monday’s inauguration as a key legacy of the costly military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan.
Three months before the end of NATO’s US-led combat mission, the Taliban still pose a serious challenge to national stability and have launched several fresh offensives in recent months.
“We ask opponents of the government, specially the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami (another militant group), to enter political talks,” Ghani said after being sworn in.
“Any problems that they have, they should tell us, we will find a solution.
“We ask every villager to call for peace. We ask Muslim scholars to advise the Taliban, and if they don’t listen to their advice, they should cut off any relations.”
Karzai also pursued peace talks with the insurgents, but preliminary efforts collapsed last year when a Taliban office that opened in Qatar was styled as an embassy for a government-in-exile.
The toll in the suicide blast was four police and intelligence officials and three civilians killed, interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP, adding five civilians were wounded.
The Taliban claimed responsibility via a Twitter account for the attack, in which the bomber walked into a checkpoint.
Both Ghani and his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah claimed to have won the election, plunging Afghanistan into months of crisis that fuelled the insurgency and worsened the country’s dire economic outlook.
Under heavy pressure from the US and UN, the two candidates eventually agreed to form a “national unity government”, and Ghani was declared president a week ago after an audit of nearly eight million ballot papers.
Abdullah was also sworn in on Monday as “chief executive”, a new role similar to a prime minister, as part of a power-sharing deal that is likely to cause friction between opposing camps within the government.
Abdullah struck a positive tone at the ceremony, saying that “in this critical period of history, as a team, we are committed to a national unity government based on the political deal”.