After 13 years in power, 10 of those as an elected president, President Hamid Karzai today handed the reins over to new leadership in Afghanistan.
Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president. His wife, Lebanese Christian Rula Ghani, promises to be a more visible first lady in Afghanistan than her predecessor, Dr. Zeenat Karzai, who was rarely seen in public.
The new chief executive officer, a newly created position with duties similar to a prime minister, will be filled by Abdullah Abdullah. He and Ghani worked out the power-sharing agreement after Abdullah contested the results of the presidential election runoff, citing widespread fraud.
Karzai delivered his final address to the nation Sunday night, vowing that “sooner or later, there will certainly be peace in the country.”
“When I first came to office, we didn’t have a flag, or a currency. We were the object of foreign agendas. We were homeless in our own country,” he said. “I am proud to have worked toward bringing the nation together to live under one flag in their shared homeland. I am proud to have worked toward rebuilding the nation that our ancestors had built. I am proud to see kids going to school all over the country and singing the national anthem with pride and joy every day.”
Afghanistan, he stressed, “deserves a better life.”
“Today we are working as one united team for a better Afghanistan,” Abdullah, a longtime political rival of Karzai, said after being sworn in today. “Afghanistan today is in need of cooperation, brotherhood, unity and partnership more than ever.”
The White House sent counselor John Podesta to lead the American delegation at the inaugural.
The U.S. delegation also included Marine Sgt. Miroslav Kazimir, who was badly wounded by a roadside bomb in 2011.
“Today we congratulate President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah on this historic inauguration. I have known both of them for many years, and they are both patriots committed to the success of their country. Never has that been more evident than in the spirit of cooperation and partnership that united them in establishing a government of national unity to fulfill Afghan aspirations for peace, prosperity and stability,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.
“Afghans have taken a moment of challenge and turned it into a moment of real opportunity.”
Kerry also lauded Karzai’s “contributions to the cause of democracy, development and security.”
“It’s no secret that our relationship with President Karzai has been punctuated by disagreements,” he said. “But always, always, the world has recognized that he is a nationalist, a patriot, and an important figure who stepped forward when his country needed him, and helped profoundly shape one of the most challenging periods in Afghan history that has seen remarkable progress.”
Notably, Karzai refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that Ghani will now sign.
“If I learned anything from my recent visits to Kabul, it’s that the Afghan people are determined to choose unity over division and ensure that the first peaceful democratic transition in the history of their country will not be its last,” Kerry continued.
“This is a beginning not an ending, and with all beginnings the toughest decisions are still ahead. As Afghanistan enters this new chapter in its history, the United States looks forward to deepening its enduring partnership with a sovereign, unified and democratic Afghanistan.”