Ashraf Gani
Afghan President Ashraf Gani speaks after a few rockets were fired during his speech after he was sworn in at an inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul on Monday. Image Credit: AP

Kabul: Afghan President Ashraf Gani was sworn in for a second term on Monday but his main rival refused to recognise the inauguration and held his own swearing-in ceremony as a rival president.

Both Gani and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah say they are Afghanistan’s rightful leader following a disputed election last September, a stand-off that threatens political chaos days after the United States and the Taliban signed a deal on the withdrawal of US-led international forces.

Gani’s ceremony was disrupted by the sound of two rockets hitting the edge of the compound of the presidential palace compound in the capital Kabul, witnesses said, but there was no word of any casualties and he continued his speech.

Planned morning ceremonies were postponed, and guests kept waiting, while US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tried to broker a last-minute deal between the longtime political foes, but there was no immediate word of a breakthrough.

Abdullah Abdullah
Afghanistan's former CEO Abdullah Abdullah gestures during a swearing-in ceremony of the new Afghanistan President Ashraf Gani, in Kabul on Monday. Image Credit: Reuters

Television footage showed Gani taking an oath at the presidential palace in a ceremony attended by foreign diplomats including Khalilzad and NATO forces commander Scott Miller.

Inclusive government

Gani said in a speech that the government he was forming would not include only members of his political camp though he would continue with the previous cabinet for two weeks.

“Then we will form an inclusive government after consultation,” he said.

He plans to finalise a negotiating team for talks with the Taliban on Tuesday and to make a further announcement on demands by the Islamist militant group for the release of 5,000 prisoners.

The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and has been waging an insurgency since shortly after its fall from power, has made their release a condition for talks but Gani said last week he had rejected the demand.

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Diplomats are now waiting to see whether Abdullah appoints rival ministers and governors, and whether they take up office by force, said two diplomatic sources who declined to be named.

Gani and Abdullah have been holding talks with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as he tries to secure a deal between the two camps, an official for Gani said earlier on Monday.

“We have been in serious negotiations with the Abdullah team since last night, and it is still underway,” the official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media. Details of the talks were not made available.

Rival leaders

The Election Commission last month announced that Gani had retained power by winning the September 28 election. But Abdullah rejected that and proclaimed himself winner.

Gani and Abdullah both held roles in the previous government under a US-brokered power-sharing agreement that followed the previous election in 2014.

The government is meant to be preparing for talks with the Taliban, to follow up on the February 29 pact on the withdrawal of US troops after 18 years of war.

Abdullah had offered to postpone his ceremony if Gani did the same, Abdullah’s spokesman, Omid Maisam, said. Gani’s team later said he had postponed his inauguration until the afternoon.

Four diplomatic sources said the negotiations led by Khalilzad were not going well and the chance of reaching a solution was fading. The US embassy declined comment on the negotiations.

Abdullah called for what he described as a fraudulent votes to be ruled invalid.

“No one should have underestimated our commitment to genuine democracy,” he said on Twitter. “Invalidation of all fraudulent votes is the way out.”