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Zardari, Karzai in display of unity

©

Latest update : 2008-09-10

Asif Ali Zardari was sworn in on Tuesday as Pakistan's new president. In a joint press conference with Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, Zardari vowed to fight terrorism.

Read Armen Georgian's commentary: 'Are Pakistan and Afghanistan really conjoined twins?'

 

  
Asif Ali Zardari took office as Pakistan's new president Tuesday, and immediately pledged to work with Afghanistan to fight terrorism which has claimed thousands of lives in both countries.
  
Zardari, the controversial 53-year-old widower of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, was sworn in at a closely guarded ceremony at the presidential palace in the capital Islamabad.
  
He becomes the 14th president in the short but often turbulent history of the world's only nuclear-armed Islamic state and frontline US "war on terror" ally, after a weekend win in elections among lawmakers.
  
Zardari -- who spent 11 years in jail on a variety of charges ranging from corruption to murder, but was never convicted -- succeeds Pervez Musharraf, the former army general who resigned on August 18 under threat of impeachment.
  
"I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan," Zardari said, reciting the oath of office administered by the country's chief justice in a ceremony broadcast live to the nation, as his three children looked on.
  
"May Allah Almighty help and guide me, amen," he concluded, sitting down to loud cheers of "Long live Bhutto," and "Bhutto is alive".
  
Afghan President Hamid Karzai joined top Pakistani officials, military top brass, judges, diplomats and high-ranking civil servants at the ceremony, which ended with Zardari receiving a military honour guard and reviewing troops.
  
Zardari kissed his son Bilawal -- the chairman of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) -- and bowed at the feet of his father, Hakim Ali Zardari, before being embraced by his daughters, Bakhtawar and Asifa.
  
Shortly afterwards, at a joint press conference with Karzai, Zardari -- who said he had become a "victim of terrorism" when Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and suicide attack in December -- pledged to fight terrorism with Karzai.
  
"Casualties of war are taking place," the Pakistani leader said.
  
"We cannot deny that the innocent are dying. I assure you if there are any weaknesses on this side or that side of the border, we shall stand together," Zardari told the Afghan leader.
  
Karzai told reporters he and Zardari had had "a very hearty meeting" to discuss cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and had pledged to work together.
  
"It is about fighting this menace in the right manner," Karzai said.
  
"I find in President Zardari a good will and vision not only for relations between the two countries but for the region that I have seen for the first time in this region."
  
Relations between the neighbours were strained under Musharraf, with Karzai often accusing Islamabad of not doing enough to curb cross-border militancy.
  
Zardari's inauguration comes amid mounting international concern about the stability of Pakistan, which under Musharraf backed the United States after the September 11 attacks in 2001, and in its subsequent invasion of Afghanistan.
  
Billions of dollars of aid flowed to Islamabad in return.
  
But around 1,200 people have died in bombings and suicide attacks across the country in the past year in violence attributed to a backlash against Musharraf's support for Washington.
  
The violence was underscored during Saturday's election when a suicide car bomber rammed a police checkpost in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 33 people and wounding more than 80.
  
Zardari has said he expects to be targeted by extremists such as those who killed Bhutto.
  
US President George W. Bush later Tuesday backed the new Pakistani leader, citing the fight against terrorism in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
  
In a phone conversation "I pledged the full support of America's government as Pakistan takes the fight to the terrorists and extremists in the border regions," Bush told an audience at the National Defense University in Washington.
  
The US leader's message came in the wake of multiple recent missile strikes inside Pakistan by US or international troops based in Afghanistan.

Date created : 2008-09-09

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