KABUL:To everyone’s surprise the ceremony began on time, Afghan president Hamid Karzai walking up a stained, blotchy red carpet to the sound of a rough

brass band. Looking immaculate, as he always does, Karzai’s striped green silk Uzbek cloak stood out in the cold sunshine of a Kabul winter’s morning. Even his dress was calculated: items from around the country assembled in a show of national unity.

What followed was part splendid, part shabby and awkward for everyone.

An event to be endured not necessarily enjoyed. “Sober not triumphant,” said the UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, after the inauguration.

Afghan eyes darted around the long hall to see who was invited and who was not. Western officials sat judging whether the president had said enough about a less corrupt future to excuse the disgrace of his rigged re-election.The verdict was that he had, just about, passed the test.

His language about corruption was expected - “the ministers of Afghanistan must possess integrity” - though it said much about the degraded state of the government that such a banal statement could be taken as progress. The west will now want to hold him to the promise. “Deeds, not words,” became the catchphrase of the day.

But Karzai went further than some had predicted. He said he wanted security control of Afghanistan within five years. He also called for full reconciliation among its people. Yesterday’s event was an edgy affair in a city sealed off for the day against a feared insurgent attack that did not materialise. Any merchant trying to enter Kabul was turned away and the airport was shut. The declaration of a public holiday kept people indoors; the streets were quiet, some Afghans at least following the presidential speech as it was covered by a discussion panel on state television.

The event mattered at least as much to western powers who have thrown billions, and many lives, into Afghanistan and need a return on their investment.

In the hall Miliband, wearing headphones for simultaneous translation, sat to the side, his fingers on his lips. Hillary Clinton looked regal, outshining everyone apart from Karzai. Before the president arrived everyone wanted a word: Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, and the Afghan women’s minister circled her. America’s decision on troop numbers matters more than anything else here. A couple of comic moments broke the mood: the wobbly Pashto of the two vice-presidents - both former jihad leaders from the north - as they were being sworn in and the late arrival of the United Arab Emirates foreign minister midway through Karzai’s speech, when every seat, but the president’s, was full. He broke into English to direct the minister to his own prominent position on the front row, “you can even sit there permanently”.

Suicide blast claims 13 lives

Kabul: A suicide bomber on a motorcycle has killed at least 13 people, including a policeman, in south-west Afghanistan on Friday. The attack in a crowded market in Farah city, capital of Farah province, also wounded 36 people, police said.

Farah, a mainly desert province on the Iran

border, has seen a rise in insurgent attacks this year as Taliban have become active in new areas. The attack came after President Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a second term as the country’s elected leader on Thursday. The bomber struck in an area where heavy trucks were being loaded with goods to be taken to the province of Herat, police said. “A suicide bomber with a motorcycle carried out a suicide attack in the centre of Farah town in the area of Ada Herat,” said Farah police chief Faqir Ahmad Askar,

Several dozen people, mostly civilians, were wounded in the attack. “The death toll may rise,” said provincial governor Rohul Amin. “The bomber riding on a motorcycle detonated himself at a main square near my working office in my home,” he added.— Agencies