Kabul: Afghanistan will host a grand presidential inauguration tomorrow, with former US-based academic Ashraf Ghani taking power as NATO troops end their 13-year war without defeating the fierce Taliban insurgency.
Ghani succeeds outgoing President Hamid Karzai after a three-month standoff over disputed election results that fuelled the insurgency and worsened Afghanistan's dire economic outlook.
The ceremony will be the country's first democratic transfer of power -- a benchmark seen by international donors as a key legacy of the costly military and civilian intervention since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
Both Ghani and his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter, claimed to have won the fraud-tainted June 14 run-off election, tipping Afghanistan into a crisis that threatened to trigger nationwide unrest.
But, under heavy pressure from the US and UN, the two candidates eventually agreed to form a national unity government, and Ghani was declared president after an audit of all nearly eight million ballot papers.
Abdullah will also be inaugurated tomorrow as chief executive, a new role similar to a prime minister, in a government structure far different to Karzai's all-powerful presidency.
Karzai has had a rocky relationship with the US-led NATO military coalition and other international backers who pumped billions of dollars into the war-wrecked country, but he struck a conciliatory tone in his final days in office.
"I can say with confidence that Afghanistan will soon witness peace and stability, and the new president and his government will have your support," he told ambassadors at a farewell meeting yesterday.
"Now we see children going to school, roads reconstructed, progress in the health sector and the Afghan flag proudly waving around the world -- these are all because of international support and assistance."
Under the Taliban's 1996-2001 regime, girls were banned from education and women were not allowed outside unless wearing a burqa and accompanied by a man.
Television and music were also outlawed, and men were beaten for not growing a beard.