The inauguration ceremony began at 11:30 a.m. when Karzai entered an ivory-colored reception hall in the presidential palace to a standing ovation from about 600 guests. Gathered beneath the cut-glass chandeliers were government officials, tribal elders in turbans and flowing beards, and about 150 foreign dignitaries, including delegations from Pakistan and Iran, which was represented by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.
Karzai was accompanied into the hall by Mohammed Zahir Shah, Afghanistan's 90-year-old former king, who was ousted in 1973 but remains a respected figure in this ethnically divided country of about 28 million people.
President Hamid Karzai, front left, prays during his swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace. Hundreds of Afghan and foreign guests attended, including Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
(Pool Photo Ahmad Masood Via AP)
Video: Hamid Karzai called for sustained help from the international community to aid in the fledgling democracy's fight against terrorism and drugs.
After a Koranic recitation, the playing of the national anthem and a patriotic song by schoolchildren wearing embroidered ceremonial dress, Karzai placed his right hand on a copy of the Koran and repeated the oath of office as read to him by Fazl Hadi Shinwari, a white-bearded cleric who is chief justice of the Supreme Court.
"Every vote that was cast in the elections was a vote for Afghanistan, whether I received it or another candidate," Karzai said in his 15-minute inaugural address, according to an English translation distributed before the ceremony. "I am confident, and proud, that this nation is determined to rebuild Afghanistan, and rebuild it fast; to live in security, and to stand on its own feet." Karzai delivered his address in Pashto and Dari, Afghanistan's two main languages.
Before the ceremony, a Taliban leader had warned Afghans to avoid government and military installations during the inauguration, stirring fears of possible rocket attacks on the capital. Although the day passed peacefully in the city, Taliban fighters staged an assault Monday night on an Afghan army post in Khost near the border with Pakistan, killing four soldiers, according to Patan, the provincial governor. Six Taliban fighters also died in the incident, he said.
On Tuesday morning, Rumsfeld reminded soldiers during a visit to Bagram air base near Kabul that their mission was not complete. "There are still groups, extremists, that would like to take this country back -- the Taliban, the al Qaeda -- and use it for a base for terrorist activities around the world as they did on 9/11," Rumsfeld told U.S. Special Forces soldiers. "But it's not going to happen."
Cheney, who also visited Bagram on Tuesday morning, echoed that theme. "Freedom still has enemies here in Afghanistan, and you are here to make those enemies miserable," Cheney told soldiers at the base.
Notwithstanding the successful election and peaceful inauguration, the process of establishing democracy in Afghanistan is far from complete. Within the next week, Karzai is expected to name members of his new cabinet, whose makeup will be scrutinized for evidence that he is moving to curb the influence of regional warlords, who continue to dominate much of the country.
The government also is making plans for the parliamentary elections. Before it can do that, however, it has to draw up voting districts, a process expected to produce tensions, because the outcome will determine the ethnic balance of the new legislature.