Afghanistan’s incoming president Ashraf Ghani promised “a new chapter” in global relations Monday as he took office in the country's first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban.
In a speech at his swearing-in ceremony in Kabul, the new leader appealed to militants to end their deadly insurgency and join talks - underscoring the deep-seated security challenges Ghani faces in the run-up to the withdrawal of NATO combat troops later this year.
“We are tired of insecurity and our message is that of peace,” Ghani said, urging the Taliban and other militant groups to "come to talk" to resolve disagreements.
“But this message is not a sign of our weakness," he warned. "We will not tolerate killing our people.
Ghani's inauguration, which followed six months of disputed election results, was overshadowed by attacks including a suicide bomb in the capital and the storming of a police building in the eastern province of Paktia. Across the country at least 16 people were killed, including four attackers, and more than 25 were injured in attacks.
The president's first act was to appoint his election opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, as chief executive, fulfilling a political pledge he had taken to share power and defuse election tensions.
“I and Dr. Abdullah are the servants of all Afghans and will be responsible to the nation,” Ghani said. “People want reform and change and we are committed to that.”
Among those attending the inauguration ceremony were U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham and White House adviser John Podesta. Relations between the U.S. and Ghani's predecessor, Hamid Karzai - who also attended the ceremony - were increasingly strained in the final months of Karzai's leadership.
The U.S. is keenly watching the transfer of power, with Ghani expected soon to sign a new security agreement with the U.S. that would allow about 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after the international combat mission ends on Dec. 31.
Secretary of State John Kerry described Ghani and Abdullah as “patriots” in a statement welcoming the handover.
“No one should forget for a minute what's been accomplished in Afghanistan,” he said. “Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of so many from around the world, in addition to the strides it has made in consolidating its democratic system, Afghanistan has made unprecedented gains in the life expectancy, health, and education of its people- particularly women and girls.”
In his speech, Ghani said his country "which started as a failed state 13 years ago, now has a respectful place in the international arena" and promised to “forge a new chapter in our relations” with other countries, including the U.S.
"Our national forces are ready to take on full responsibility,” he said, adding that they would “need the continued support” of the international community and pledging economic reforms and better governance.
“There will be zero tolerance for corruption,” he said.
Ghani said his first overseas trip would be to perform Hajj in Saudi Arabia. “We will try to have the best relations with our neighbors based on mutual respect,” he said. “We will start respectful relations with Islamic world. We are committed to bring peace, stability and prosperity to our people. We are hopeful for the future. We are facing huge threats, so we will seriously pursue peace.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.