Ashraf Ghani (pictured left) and Abdullah Abdullah have been sworn in as Afghanistan's new leaders. The inauguration marks the first peaceful transition of power in the country's history.
Foreign dignitaries gathered at the presidential palace in Kabul on Monday to witness the beginning of what many hope will be a new political era in Afghanistan.
President Hamid Karzai, who has headed the government since shortly after the US-led invasion in 2001, handed over power to the two democratically-elected leaders. They, in turn, are to lead Afghanistan as it faces another important transition: the withdrawal of NATO troops in the coming months.
Ashraf Ghani was first sworn in as president by the chief justice. Ghani then formally appointed Abdullah Abdullah as his "chief executive officer" (CEO), a new office broadly equivalent to that of prime minister.
The new leaders thanked the outgoing president and vowed to support continued peace efforts in Afghanistan.
"We are united...we will work together for a better future with trust and honesty and we will accept each other," Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah said.
President Ghani then followed by noting the next phase in which the country now finds itself.
"Today Afghanistan is different...today Afghanistan is conveying a message for a prosperous tomorrow. We are not under [anyone's power]," Ghani said.
The appointment of a new president was crucial, among other things, to arrange a continued ISAF troop presence beyond the end of the NATO-led force's combat mandate at the end of the year. A president's signature was required on terms for the remaining soldiers, for example guaranteeing against prosecution in Afghan courts. Former President Hamid Karzai, asked by the US to sign this agreement, had said that his successor should authorize the continued ISAF mission.
Karzai hands over power
The swearing in of Ghani and Abdullah officially ends roughly three months of political strife over this summer's election results. With the help of mediation by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the presidential candidates agreed to divide power.
Karzai noted ahead of the swearing in that the peaceful transition had occurred as a result of the will of the people.
"Brothers and sisters, you came and voted and then you waited after the election. You proved that you have enough political commitment to the country," Karzai said.
He also thanked the international partners who had helped the country establish a stable government and called on Afghan citizens to continue supporting peace.
"Without peace and security, our country will not acquire the desired [political, social or economic] progress," he said.
Violence ahead of ceremony
There were reports of violence on Monday.
A bomb exploded near Kabul airport, claiming several lives. The explosion was caused by a suicide bomber, according to Reuters news agency. An official death toll was not immediately available, however news agency DPA cited witnesses as saying that at least four civilians had been killed in the attack.
According to a military official in the eastern province of Paktia, a car bomb exploded near a government building. Security officials then clashed with Taliban militants, killing at least seven of them, Captain Mohammed Hekhlas told the Associated Press news agency.
The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan for five years prior to the US invasion, has rejected the new government.
kms/se (AP, AFP, dpa)