Afghanistan’s Ghani postpones his presidential inauguration

KABUL: Ashraf Ghani has postponed his presidential inauguration ceremony to March 9, the Afghan presidential palace said on Wednesday, amid a bitter dispute with his chief election rival.
Ghani, after consultations with political figures from across the country and international partners, decided the delay will be “advantageous”, the statement said.
The election commission declared last week that Ghani had won reelection for a second term in the vote held in September.
His main contender, Abdullah Abdullah, did not accept the results, declared his own victory and said he will form his own government.
Since then, Abdullah has introduced new governors for a few provinces, moves which Ghani’s spokesperson called “unconstitutional”.
Ghani’s inauguration was set for Thursday.
Abdullah’s team had also started to plan a rival inauguration ceremony.
The fight between Ghani and Abdullah comes shortly before the planned signing of a US-Taliban agreement that Washington is prepping to take place on Saturday – depending on the success of a current phase of “reduced violence” the Taliban are supposed to adhere to.
The US-Taliban agreement, which is to start a phased withdrawal of US troops from the country, shall also initiate intra-Afghan peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Observers fear the political stand-off in Kabul might derail the long-awaited process.
US special envoy for the Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said he welcomed the postponing of Ghani’s inaugural ceremony.
“This will allow time for necessary consultations so that the best interests of Afghanistan and its people are reflected and preserved by the new government,” he said.
Khalilzad said Ghani and other leaders should ensure that the new government is inclusive and reflects the aspirations of all Afghans.
Meanwhile, with porous borders, creaking hospitals and large illiterate populations, Afghanistan and Pakistan face a potentially devastating health crisis after the new coronavirus erupted in neighbouring Iran.
Islamabad has closed official border crossings while Kabul has suspended all travel to the Islamic republic, which has reported 15 deaths out of nearly 100 infections — making it one of the hardest hit countries outside the virus epicentre China.
But experts fear the measures could prove ineffective with thousands of people — refugees fleeing violence, pilgrims, smugglers and migrants looking for work — likely crossing the long, poorly patrolled frontiers every day. — dpa/AFP