New Afghan leader gets down to business
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Newly sworn in Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has begun the job of rebuilding his shattered land, with a meeting of his cabinet the first order of business.
Chairman Karzai promised Saturday to fulfill his mission to bring peace to Afghanistan after years of war.
But U.S. warplanes continue to patrol the skies and U.S. Special Forces teams are still scouring caves in the Tora Bora area, searching for Osama bin Laden and members of his al Qaeda network.
Saturday, a former Taliban commander agreed to hand over his weapons Sunday and asked his troops to do the same.
he weapons handover was brokered by the former Afghan king's envoy to Afghanistan, Said Ismail Gailani, and the Taliban's commander in Jalalabad, Salam Abdullah Rockety.
It was scheduled to take place in Qalat, in the southeastern Afghan province of Zabol.
So far Sunday, one truckload of weapons -- said to be those of Taliban fighters -- had arrived in the town.
A Taliban co-commander has pledged to bring some 12,000 men and their weapons into Qalat later Sunday.
Meanwhile, the search is on for bin Laden and any of his followers.
Pakistani troops are monitoring the border, but no one is certain of bin Laden's whereabouts or even if he is still alive after blistering U.S. warplane attacks on caves and tunnels in the region.
Meanwhile, in an early political test for Karzai, local Afghans are contesting U.S. assertions that its planes had attacked a convoy of al Qaeda leaders, telling Reuters at the scene on Saturday that the dozens of dead were innocent villagers and tribal elders.
Residents of Asmani Kilai in eastern Paktia province said the strikes, lasting seven hours from Thursday night into Friday, killed 50 to 60 people and destroyed 15 vehicles from a convoy of tribal elders bound for Kabul for Saturday's swearing in of Karzai.
The dead included several local residents, the villagers told a Reuters Television team in the first independent account of the bombing.
"The people who got hit were going to congratulate Karzai on the transfer of power," said villager Khodai Noor.
"There are no members of al Qaeda or supporters of bin Laden here."
The U.S. has said it is investigating the attack but that its initial findings were that the dead were members of the ousted Taliban or fighters from bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
"I will tell you, having been in touch with my headquarters, that at this point we believe it was a good target," U.S. General Tommy Franks said in Kabul after the swearing in.
A U.S. diplomat in Kabul said the convoy carried al Qaeda members and opened fire on the aircraft.
Karzai, speaking at a news conference in Kabul before the villagers' account emerged, said he would check the reports.
The new interim government was sworn in Saturday, bringing together members of Afghanistan's various factions and bringing to an official end five years of Taliban rule.
Hundreds of people packed into the Interior Ministry hall on what Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special representative on Afghanistan, called a "momentous day" for the country and the world.
Outgoing president Burhanuddin Rabbani said Afghanistan was now linked with modern civilization and that he was hopeful the international attention showered on the country would help it build a bright future.
"My view is that the problems and hard days of our people are coming to an end," said Rabbani, moments before handing power over to Karzai.
The task ahead for the new administration is enormous. Despite international backing and financial support, rebuilding the conflict-riddled nation remains a daunting task.
Maintaining a harmonious balance of the various Afghan factions will be difficult; prior to Taliban rule, the country's politics were dogged by bickering and power struggles between groups.
Representatives of those various groups were brought together on stage Saturday, shaking hands with one another in a symbolic show of unity. "They should hear the voice of brotherhood, peace, and security," said Yunis Qanuni, the new interior minister.
The ceremony began and ended with a reading from the Koran. Those gathered also heard the Afghan national anthem, which was written in 1989 following the fall of the communist regime.
Female delegates -- who only weeks ago were forbidden to appear in public without the burqa head covering -- wore scarves to the ceremony and sat in a special, roped-off section.
The interim administration will be in power for six months, preparing the way for a provisional government that will rule for a year and a half. After that time, Afghanistan will hold democratic elections to choose new leadership.
Karzai, a Pashtun leader, was chosen as the interim chairman earlier this month at a meeting in Germany of Afghan opposition groups. He thanked the Afghan people for placing their trust in him.
"I would like to promise you that I will fulfill my mission to bring peace to Afghanistan," Karzai said, acknowledging the heavy burden now placed on the country's new leaders.
Karzai also thanked Rabbani, the former president, whom he called "my teacher."
Both men paid tribute to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance military commander assassinated just two days before the September 11 attacks.
Karzai began his speech by remembering the slain leader "and all others who lost their lives for Islam." Rabbani called him the "national hero of the Afghan jihad."
Karzai laid out his priorities for the new government, focusing on respecting rights and freedoms and rebuilding the country.
The administration, he said, would work on establishing a national army to replace the individual tribal fighters. It would also focus on rebuilding the educational system, which he said was destroyed in years of war.
"First, we respect all Islamic rules for our country," Karzai announced to cheers of support. He promised to ensure the security of the Afghan people and continue fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, and he vowed to respect the rights of women.
"We should put our hands together to be brothers, to be friends, to be together -- to forget the past, the painful past," said Karzai. "As brothers and sisters, go to a new Afghanistan together. And hurry."
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