Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took oath once again but his main rival Abdullah Abdullah has refused to recognise the inauguration, holding his own swearing-in ceremony, landing the nation into fresh political crisis.
Afghan local news channel TOLOnews reported international representatives, including US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, and US and NATO forces commander General Scott Miller, attended Ghani’s inauguration at the Presidential palace in the capital, Kabul.
Opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah rejected the presidential election results announced last month, saying Ghani’s win was invalid because of vote-rigging in a repeat of the 2014 elections marred by fraud.
He held his own ceremony coinciding with Ghani’s, suggesting talks between the two camps and Khalilzad, the US envoy aimed at brokering an agreement had not been successful.
Earlier on Monday, Abdullah agreed to suspend his swearing-in event on the condition that Ghani follow suit. But Ghani, who was declared the winner of September’s election, decided to go ahead with his inauguration.
The two men issued invitations last week to parallel swearing-in ceremonies on Monday, after Abdullah disputed the February 18 decision by the electoral commission and proclaimed himself the winner.
Meanwhile, the international community has sided with Ghani, legitimising his position as the president.
The political infighting in Kabul does not bode well for Afghanistan’s fragile democracy as US troops prepare to leave the country following an agreement with the Taliban armed group, with President Donald Trump committed to ending the US’s longest war.
US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly held meetings with Ghani and Abdullah until late Sunday to convince them to postpone the inauguration.
The crisis comes as the government is meant to be preparing for talks with the Taliban, to follow up on the February 29 pact between the US and the Taliban on the US troop withdrawal after 18 years of war.
Ghani and Abdullah held roles in the previous government under a US-brokered power-sharing agreement that followed the 2014 elections.
A former foreign minister, Abdullah held the specially created post of chief executive in the outgoing government.
Under election law, the swearing-in ceremony for president must be held within 30 days of announcing the winner.