World Applauds New Afghan Government as First Step Toward Peace

An anxious world welcomed the inauguration of Afghanistan's interim government as a first step toward peace on Saturday, with some countries also pledging economic aid and renewed diplomatic ties.

In neighboring Pakistan, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf congratulated Hamid Karzai, the 44-year-old Pashtun tribal leader who will preside over the new coalition government, and promised support for rebuilding the war-shattered nation.

"The people of Pakistan wish and pray for the success of the new administration," a Foreign Ministry statement quoted Musharraf as saying.

Pakistan has earmarked $100 million for reconstruction projects and humanitarian assistance and has removed restrictions on the export of goods that may be needed for rebuilding Afghanistan, it said.

Musharraf, who has supported the U.S. campaign against the Taliban militia, also said Pakistan will reopen its embassy and consulates in Afghanistan "as soon as possible."

India took that step Saturday, reopening its embassy in Kabul after a five-year hiatus.

Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, who represented India at Karzai's swearing-in ceremony in Kabul, hoisted the Indian flag atop the embassy building, which had been shuttered since the Taliban came to power in 1996.

Congratulations and promises of aid also came from Europe. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose country hosted a conference of Afghan factions that drew up the interim government, said Germany would help "to the best of its ability."

"Now the accord must be swiftly implemented so all women and men in Afghanistan can lead lives in freedom and dignity. I am confident that you will succeed in this," Schroeder said.

Italy's Foreign Ministry said it would reopen its embassy in Kabul in the next few days and that the first of 600 peacekeepers Italy has promised to contribure would arrive soon thereafter. Italy is home to Afghanistan's former king, Mohammad Zaher Shah, who went into exile after his 1973 ouster and is now expected to play the symbolic role in preparations for a more long-term government.

On the streets of Malaysia, a mostly Muslim country whose government has been critical of the war in Afghanistan, the inauguration was welcomed as a sign that Afghanistan's wounds might finally have a chance to heal.

"This is really a cause for hope and happiness," said Mohamad Faizal Adam, 27, a sales executive in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. "The people in Afghanistan have been suffering for so many years."

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has argued that innocent people are the main victims of the war in Afghanistan and that the fighting will not eradicate the roots of terrorism.

The inauguration made the front pages of Saturday newspapers in Japan, which has pledged to host an international conference in Tokyo next month to raise money for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"We want to see this as a sign of national reconciliation," said an editorial in the Yomiuri newspaper, Japan's most-read daily. "All factions have embarked together on a voyage toward rebuilding their impoverished country."

It also urged world leaders not to repeat the "indifference" that it said in the past was partly to blame for Afghanistan's instability and poverty.

China said its promised emergency aid of $3.6 million would help all factions to build on the peaceful transition of power.

"The Chinese side genuinely hopes that all parties in Afghanistan can, putting the country and peace first, really implement agreements and bring about reconciliation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said.

The Australian government committed $500,000 to the new interim government, and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer pledged to consider further assistance.

"This highlights the impressive progress that has been made in a very short time toward restoring that country to peace and stability," Downer said of Karzai's coalition.