Strange snub to US at inaugural ceremony

The new government
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The Independent Online

They thanked the UN, the EU, each other and even the Chancellor of Germany. But when Aghanistan's new interim government took power yesterday, at a colourful ceremony at the Grand Hall of the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul, there was no mention of the US, the country that had made it all possible.

To add to the surreal note, American representatives overwhelmed those of every other country at the inauguration ceremony. There was General Tommy Franks - who might have expected a victor ludorum after vanquishing the Taliban - the US ambassador, State Department officials, secret service men and armed uniformed soldiers.

Speech after speech passed without any reference to the Americans and how they had changed Afghanistan. Even Hamid Karzai, the new American-backed leader, made only fleeting reference to the 11 September attack.

The one name mentioned constantly, to roars of "Bismillah" and "Allahu akbar", was a man who was not there, but whose memory overshadowed the proceedings.

A huge portrait of Ahmed Shah Masood, the murdered leader of anti-Taliban forces, loomed over the stage. The chair in the centre was not given to Mr Karzai; it was draped in black, with another portrait of the absent leader.

Security was tight, with Northern Alliance soldiers and police, and British Royal Marines, on duty. In the Grand Hall, Uzbeks and Tajiks in tribal costumes, with Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, mingled with Kabulisin western clothes and Pashtuns.

A uniformed guard of honour practised their drill, marching out of step to a band playing out of tune, until they were forced to run for cover because the fire brigade decided to try out one of their hoses, soaking the red carpet.

The 1,000-capacity hall was crammed with around 1,500 guests. Rows of military commanders in battle fatigues sat behind the foreign dignitaries. The Afghan soldiers wept as they sang their national anthem, a mujahedin battle hymn written during the war against the Russians; old enemies of the civil war, now friends, hugged each other.

Mr Karzai said he would be only a caretaker leader and prepare for a loya jirga (grand council) to decide the future of the country. To cheers, he promised that the rights of women would be respected. There are two women in the interim government.

He proclaimed that the days of strife were over, and that the political process would be smooth. Behind him sat the disparate elements who make up his allies: warlords such as General Dostum, young technocrats like Dr Abdullah Abdullah, and other Tajiks, Pashtuns and Uzbeks.

Apart from the few big names, the main attraction for the international media were the women delegates. A car bringing five of them was soon surrounded. Fahima Adi, headmistress of Mariam High School in the city, said: "I knew there would be interest in us, but not so much. If they ignore us next time, I'll know progress has been made."

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