Facing an intense resurgence by Taliban and global pressure to crack down on corruption, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the Afghan President for a second five-year term on Thursday and vowed to form a national unity government following a controversial poll marred by allegations of fraud.
51-year-old Karzai was administered oath of office by the head of the Supreme Court, Abdul Salam Azmi, at a grand ceremony at the heavily-fortified Presidential Palace in the presence of 800 guests, including External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In his first public address after being sworn-in for a second term, he invited his rival in the August 20 Presidential polls, Abdullah Abdullah, to join in the unity government.
The President also said that the Afghan armed forces would take over the country's security duties from the U.S.-led NATO troops in five years.
Mr. Karzai was declared re-elected to the Presidency on November 2 by the country’s independent Election Commission after Mr. Abdullah withdrew from the November 7 run-off, which was ordered following a UN-backed commission’s findings that nearly a third of the votes cast on August 20 were fraudulent.
Fearing Taliban strikes during the ceremony, Afghan and NATO forces put the capital city of Kabul under heavy security net, closing the international airport and advising citizens and foreigners to stay indoors.
"I swear to uphold the Constitution of the country and protect the people of Afghanistan," Mr. Karzai said as he took the oath flanked by Vice Presidents Mohammed Fahim and Abdul Karim Khalili.
Clad in a traditional hat and colourful cape, the President vowed to defend Afghanistan's territorial integrity and independence.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were also present during the swearing-in ceremony, ahead of which new checkpoints were erected in various parts of the city to inspect vehicles.
Born on December 24, 1957 in the village of Karz in Kandahar, Mr. Karzai was first sworn-in as the President of Afghanistan for a five-year term on December 7, 2004.
Mr. Karzai was a student of International Relations and Political Science at the Shimla University, from where he earned his Master's degree.
In 1982, he joined the struggle against the Soviets and became director of operations of the Afghan National Liberation Front (ANLF).
When the Taliban emerged on Afghanistan's political scene in the early 1990s, Mr. Karzai initially supported them.
However, by late 1994 he had become suspicious of the movement, fearing it had been infiltrated and was controlled by foreigners, including Pakistanis and Arabs.