Three years ago it was the most dictatorial and backward regime in the world. Now it boasts the only democratically elected head of state in its region. Afghanistan swore in President Hamid Karzai as hundreds of Afghan leaders and some 150 foreign dignitaries-including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld-witnessed the historic event Dec. 8.
Mr. Karzai, clad in the traditional striped silk coat and black lambskin hat, took his oath before the former king, 90-year-old Zaher Shah. The president then swore in his two vice presidents, Ahmed Zia Massoud and Mohammed Karim Khalili, who represent the two largest ethnic minorities, the Tajiks and the Shia Hazaras, after Mr. Karzai's own ethnic group, the Pashtuns.
"We have now left a hard and dark past behind us, and today we are opening a new chapter in our history, in a spirit of friendship with the international community," said Mr. Karzai, speaking in Pashto and Dari, Afghanistan's two main languages. Three years since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, Afghans have adopted a constitution, conducted national elections, and established a new government. Despite continuing violence (leading to 50 U.S. combat deaths in 2004), aid and development workers are assisting to rebuild the country's infrastructure. Farmers and nearly 1,000 agricultural students at Kabul University have the first electronic library in Afghanistan as a result of one U.S.-funded effort.
U.S. forces at year's end held groundbreaking ceremonies for a coffee shop named after NFL-star-turned-Army-Ranger Pat Tillman, killed in an April firefight, and received a surprise visit from comedian Robin Williams, who told soldiers that Afghanistan is "a lot like Palm Springs, except for the mines and the small-weapons fire."