Just a few minutes and a thin wall apart, both President Ashraf Ghani and his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, took the oath of office as the president of Afghanistan on Monday, plunging the fragile country into a new crisis during sensitive peace talks.
As both men were delivering their speeches broadcast on split screens across the country, a barrage of rockets landed in the capital near the site of the ceremonies. Sirens blared in the diplomatic area near the presidential palace.
Mr. Ghani’s inauguration was briefly interrupted, with some in the audience running for cover. But the president refused to leave the stage and urged calm.
The US-Taliban deal signed just over a week ago was touted as Washington’s effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan and was seen by many Afghans as the best opportunity yet for bringing an end to relentless wars.
But President Ashraf Ghani, who was declared the winner of last September’s election, and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who charged fraud in the vote along with the elections complaints commission, have refused to settle their differences, reports Arab News.
The two ceremonies were held at the same time, Ghani’s in the presidential palace and Abdullah’s next door in the Sapedar Palace, both packed with each rival’s supporters.
The militant Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack near the presidential palace.
“Caliphate soldiers targeted the inauguration of the tyrant Ashraf Ghani”, firing 10 rockets near the presidential palace in Kabul, the militant group said in a statement released via its usual social media channels.
The bitter feud between President Ashraf Ghani and his former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah has raised fears for Afghanistan’s fragile democracy as the United States prepares to leave the country following an agreement last month with a strong and largely unified Taliban. Addressing the ceremony President Ashraf Ghani said that a mechanism for the release of Taliban prisoners has been reached and a presidential decree would be issued in this regard on Tuesday.
Even as Ghani was winding up his thank you speech, rocket fire could be heard. The rockets landed near the presidential palace, rattling some of those attending even as Ghani urged them to stay. The perpetrators of the fire were not immediately known, but the scene hiked worries that the heightening split in Afghanistan’s leadership may lead to violence, either internally or with Taliban insurgents.–Agencies