Afghanistan Swears In Historic New Parliament

Afghanistan inaugurates its first elected parliament in three decades. Foreign dignitaries, including U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, attend the opening session of the national assembly.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

It was an historic day in Afghanistan. The nation swore in its first elected parliament in three decades. Foreign dignitaries, including Vice President Dick Cheney, were on hand for the opening session of the National Assembly. NPR's David Greene is traveling with the vice president and filed this report from Oman, where the vice president landed after his day in Afghanistan.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

The National Assembly building in downtown Kabul is small and simply built, and was the scene of chaos this morning. An elected legislative body hadn't convened here since 1973, and things got off to a rocky start. Vice President Dick Cheney landed by helicopter on a downtown street right outside the assembly hall. His security aides surrounded an SUV that took him past gun-toting Afghan security officials and to the front door. A few White House aides, though, didn't make it through and scuffled with Afghan officials who wanted to do extra body searches on them. And there was the sound system. Organizers worked overtime to arrange news coverage of this big day, but when journalists gathered in an assigned room to listen to the session on a sound system, all they heard...

(Soundbite of sound system static)

GREENE: ...was static. Tohiera Shearsday(ph), who returned to her country from Connecticut to serve as director of public affairs to the National Assembly, couldn't stop talking about her disappointment.

Ms. TOHIERA SHEARSDAY: Yes. This made us really--myself especially--very upset because everything else was fine here last night, and this morning, early morning, they came to check and they were kind of--they were not very responsible. I mean, they took the cameras out. They checked everything. They couldn't put things back.

GREENE: But reporters finally got their audio, security guards calmed down and an assembly hall filled with lawmakers from around the country. Many paid for their travel to the opening session using aid money from the United States. Men and women, warlords, tribal leaders and former refugees all sat in their seats, each with a copy of the Koran. The room was a sea of different types of headdress, various length beards and excited chatter. But it fell quiet when President Hamid Karzai, who was sworn in last year, delivered opening remarks. It didn't take long for him to sound like an executive talking to a legislature. He said through an interpreter that if his government is to defeat terrorism, it needs money.

President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): (Through Translator) In order to eliminate this phenomena, we require adequate resources and basic infrastructures.

GREENE: `For too long,' Karzai said, `outsiders have come to the country and destabilized it.'

Pres. KARZAI: (Through Translator) Afghanistan will not be the place of terrorists. And with the grace of God the Almighty, it will be saved from foreign invasion as well.

(Soundbite of song)

Group of Girls: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: Young girls dressed in brilliant colors closed out the ceremony by singing a patriotic song and spreading flower petals around the crammed assembly hall. When all was said and done, the room emptied and legislators were left to ponder some tough questions, such as whether they can solve their differences inside that assembly hall inside of in the kinds of tribal wars and bloody clashes that long dominated this country.

After leaving, Dick Cheney made his way from Kabul up to Bagram air base, where he spoke to US troops and reflected on what he had seen.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: Just the morning, we witnessed another milestone as newly elected representatives took their place as members of the Afghan parliament. Once again, in free elections, the Afghan people have shown the world their determination to chart their own destiny.

GREENE: But he also reminded the troops that Afghanistan, at least for now, isn't charting its destiny without help.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: There's still a terrorist element in this country and some Taliban die-hards who apparently are slow learners.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Vice Pres. CHENEY: The job of the task force is to find these enemies, to confront them directly and to take them out of commission.

GREENE: He did not mention, of course, that some former Taliban leaders have been elected to the new National Assembly, which Afghan officials hope is only a sign that their new democratic government is all-inclusive. David Greene, NPR News, Muscat, Oman.

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