Afghanistan's new president Ashraf Ghani calls on Taliban to rejoin peace talks, says country tired of war

Afghanistan's new president Ashraf Ghani calls on Taliban to rejoin peace talks, says country tired of war

Afghanistan's new president Ashraf Ghani calls on Taliban to rejoin peace talks, says country tired of war

Updated 30 September 2014, 7:15 AEST

Afghanistan's new president calls for peace talks with Taliban

Afghanistan's new president has used his first day in office to call on the Taliban to rejoin peace talks, as the militant insurgency gains strength.

During the ceremony to swear in Ashraf Ghani, a bomb exploded in the capital Kabul, killing seven people.

The bomber targeted a security checkpoint near Kabul's airport, minutes before Dr Ghani was sworn in.

The bloodshed is a sign of the country's growing Taliban insurgency.

In recent weeks, militants have killed 100 people in Ghazni province, including an Australian Afghan dual citizen.

In his inauguration speech, Dr Ghani called on the Taliban to join peace talks, saying the country was tired of war.

Dr Ghani is expected to sign a deal today to allow a small number of foreign troops to remain in the country beyond the end of this year to help train local forces battling Taliban insurgents.

Dr Ghani succeeded Hamid Karzai, who had led Afghanistan from 2002.

Mr Karzai's relationship with the West had soured in recent years, particularly as the number of civilian casualties by US airstrikes grew.

He refused to sign an agreement to allow foreign troops to stay in the country beyond the end of this year, despite the deal having widespread support among the population.

The Afghan National Army has grown from zero to more than a quarter of a million troops over the past decade and many observers say it still requires training and support from foreign forces.

The transition of power was the first in more than a decade and followed months of uncertainty over allegations of vote-rigging during the presidential elections.

Dr Ghani will head a government of national unity with Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up in the disputed election.

Dr Abdullah will serve as chief executive officer of the government - a role similar to that of prime minister.

The United States has welcomed the agreement to share power, calling it a positive step.

The power-sharing deal was cobbled together only months after the election deadlock, which saw both candidates claim victory.

"We expect both to fulfil the promises they made to the people," Kabul man Mohammad Sharif said.

"We, the people of Afghanistan, are monitoring their performance to see whether they can serve the people or not."

How the new government works

The president will have clear seniority in the "national unity government" according to the deal signed by Dr Ghani and Dr Abdullah one week ago.

The document said that the government would be "a genuine political partnership between the president and the CEO under the authority of the president".

But the deal also said that Dr Abdullah, as CEO, would fulfil "the functions of an executive prime minister", including chairing weekly meetings of the council of ministers.

The CEO role may evolve into the formal title of prime minister in two years' time when a loya jirga (grand assembly) discusses constitutional change.

A major cause of contention between the two camps was over the power to appoint officials.

The agreement said that the president and CEO would have "parity" in awarding key senior security and economic jobs, with other officials nominated through a new "merit-based mechanism".

"Creation of the CEO post involves a substantial delegation of presidential authority," concluded the independent Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU).

Challenges for the new government

The new government inherits massive problems, including fighting an emboldened Taliban which in recent months has launched aggressive attacks as foreign troops withdraw.

Dr Ghani must also reset relations with the US, which have soured in recent years under Mr Karzai.

One of Dr Ghani's first acts as president is expected to be signing a bilateral security agreement to allow a small contingent of US forces to remain in Afghanistan after this year to train and assist the new Afghan army and police.

The new government will also immediately face a fiscal crisis.

Already heavily dependent on foreign aid, Kabul has asked the US and other donors for more than $600 million to pay its bills until the end of the year.

A finance ministry official acknowledged that the government was so broke that it has been forced to delay paying civil servants' salaries for October because the treasury did not have the money.

There are also hopes that Dr Ghani, a longtime World Bank official and former finance minister, will put his knowledge of international institutions and development to work in combating Afghanistan's tradition of corrupt and inefficient government.