Hamid Karzai has been inaugurated as Afghanistan's first elected president. As Ahmed Khan, an Afghan shopkeeper, told the Associated Press news service, "We hope he brings peace, stability and employment for us."
Eighteen candidates, including one woman, ran in the October election. Voting took place at more than twenty-thousand polling stations throughout Afghanistan. Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran also cast their ballots.
Monitors and support teams from the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the U.S., and the Asian Network for Free Elections joined Afghan observers to ensure that the electoral process was fair.
President George W. Bush says that in Afghanistan, the remnants of the Islamic extremist Taliban regime "did everything they could to intimidate the long-suffering people of that country":
"Yet men and women lined up at the polls, some of them waiting hours to have their first taste of democracy. The success of Afghanistan's election is a standing rebuke to cynicism and extremism, and a testimony to the power of liberty and hope."
In his inaugural address, President Karzai alternated between Dari and Pashto, the two main languages spoken by Afghans. "We have left a hard and dark past behind us," said Afghanistan's president, "and today we are opening a new chapter in our history.
Mr. Karzai pledged to work on reducing poverty and corruption and disarming regional militias. He also promised to crack down on the growing of opium poppies used to produce illegal narcotics. The inauguration of Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan's first democratically elected president is an event of signal importance. Next year, Afghans will take another major step in charting their future when they vote in parliamentary and local government elections.