- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan In an emotional ceremony attended by warlords, diplomats and U.S. troops, Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's new leader, was sworn in yesterday as prime minister to rule for the next six months.
Wearing a peaked wool hat and green-and-blue striped traditional robe, Mr. Karzai was hugged by his predecessor, departing President Burhanuddin Rabbani, in front of more than 1,000 applauding delegates.
"Now we have seen the sun rise again on our country's land, and we can see that the way of peace and unity is coming," Mr. Karzai said in his speech.
"We will protect the rights of Afghan women," Mr. Karzai said, provoking scattered applause from the audience, including about 30 women. Unlike most females in Afghanistan, they did not wear veils.
In a strong signal that he is willing to give controversial American views the benefit of the doubt, Mr. Karzai, said yesterday he doubted reports that U.S. warplanes mistakenly had bombed tribal elders loyal to his government in an air strike on a convoy in eastern Afghanistan. But the new Afghan chief said he would discuss the attack with U.S. officials.
The Pentagon yesterday reiterated that it had solid intelligence the convoy was carrying Taliban leaders and said U.S. planes came under missile fire from the trucks. Defense Department officials further said the convoy was carrying fugitive Taliban leaders leaving a "command and control compound" that also was struck.
But tribal leaders in Khost province, near the scene of the attack, said the victims were Afghans, including Muslim clerics, invited to attend the installation of Karzai's interim government.
Formally titled "chairman of the interim administration," the urbane, soft-spoken Mr. Karzai hopes to maintain Afghanistan's fragile peace until a grand assembly can elect a new government in the summer.
The U.S. commander of military operations in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, and U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan James Dobbins, plus about 20 other American officials, attended the ceremony.
A handful of U.S. Marines and Army troops protected them, but much of the security was left to the poorly trained Afghans.
British and other international troops will help the new Afghan government provide security in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan.
"Hamid Karzai, the chairman of the interim administration, will provide the leadership to guide all of the people of Afghanistan," said U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in his speech at the start of the ceremony.
Mr. Rabbani presided over the U.S.-backed guerrillas' disastrous 1992-96 regime in Kabul, during which tens of thousands of people died in urban warfare as the rebels squabbled among themselves.
During the ceremony, Mr. Rabbani expressed regrets over the way Mr. Karzai's new interim government was hurriedly appointed in Bonn.
"I, at the outset, insisted that the members of the interim administration be appointed in Kabul, so that neither history nor the people blame us for forming an Afghan government outside the borders of the country," Mr. Rabbani said in his farewell speech.
"However, for the sake of an immediate return to peace and the keen interest of the international community, I did agree to it," Mr. Rabbani added.
He wished Mr. Karzai "success" and said, "today, peace and stability returns to the country."
Mr. Rabbani also thanked the United Nations, European governments and others for helping Afghanistan, but never mentioned the United States.
The mood at the ceremony, meanwhile, was upbeat amid hopes for a lasting peace.
"I have to say there were large sections of [the ceremony] which I can only speculate on, since I didn't have full translation, but I felt what Karzai said was exactly what the international community wanted to hear, as well as the what the people of Afghanistan wanted to hear, about the intentions of his government," Mr. Dobbins said in a brief interview after the ceremony.
During the ceremony, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum appeared on stage in a line-up of leaders supporting Mr. Karzai, squashing speculation that he was unhappy with having only three of his supporters appointed to the new administration.
Mr. Karzai, in a news conference after the ceremony, said a U.N.-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) designed to provide security in Kabul was welcome but in a limited role.
"We don't need them on the streets," Mr. Karzai told journalists. "It is a symbolic presence and an important presence," Mr. Karzai added.
Mr. Karzai's interim government includes an uneasy mix of politicians, military commanders, tribal elders, bureaucrats and supporters of a former monarch.
They appeared on stage in front of a 12-foot-tall painting of Ahmad Shah Masood.
Mr. Masood was a legendary Northern Alliance commander who was assassinated just before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed more than 3,000 people.
Mr. Masood's death was blamed on suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden as a way of crippling the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.
Mr. Masood, a minority ethnic Tajik, gained fame fighting against the Soviet Union's 1979-89 occupation and is a symbol of Afghanistan's long years of warfare.
In death, Mr. Masood has been elevated to saintlike proportions, and his photographs are plastered throughout Kabul. The ceremony was held yesterday in a wood-paneled auditorium inside the Interior Ministry compound, guarded by dozens of Afghan forces and about 20 British troops.
Mr. Karzai's strengths include his Pashtun ethnicity in a country where Pashtuns form 40 percent of the population and the single largest tribe.
He also enjoys the blessing of the United Nations and the military support of the United States, Britain and other nations fighting to end terrorism in Afghanistan.
Five weeks of U.S. bombardment of Afghanistan, which began on Oct. 7, boosted his meteoric rise to power. The bombing allowed U.S.-backed Northern Alliance fighters to enter Kabul on Nov. 13, after the Taliban regime fled.
Mr. Karzai and the 29 members of his government were not elected democratically.
They were appointed by Afghan delegates who met in Bonn, Germany, in an effort to set up a transitional administration quickly to fill the vacuum left when the Taliban abandoned the Afghan capital.
Mr. Karzai, who opposed the Taliban, is from southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was based.
The new chairman is expected to unite the Pashtun-dominated south with minority tribes who make up the Northern Alliance.
Mr. Karzai's weaknesses, however, include criticism that he is relatively unknown and suddenly came to power amid the U.S. bombardment.
Afghans distrust any leader they perceive as foisted upon them by foreigners. That viewpoint now may be overshadowed, however, by a widespread thirst for peace after more than 22 years of war.

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