By Asma Nemati
A day before President Hamid Karzai's inauguration on November 19, traffic -- incoming and outgoing -- on all major roads in Kabul was at a standstill. I left my house to get to a clinic via a route that normally takes twenty minutes, but due to the numerous presidents and other VIPs flying in, I had to take a long detour across and around Kabul, so the trip took nearly two and a half hours.
Security is tight; at least one fully equipped Afghan National Army soldier could be seen today every 100 meters on major roads out of the airport. From the airport, lines of SUVs with red government license plates filed into the city nearly every hour. On the actual inauguration day, two districts surrounding the presidential palace will be completely closed for security purposes.
The pre-inauguration mood in Kabul is tense. Television ads this week have been warning Afghans to stay home and limit movements on November 19. Threats of attacks are piling higher and higher as organizations scuttle to advise caution to Afghan and international workers alike.
Besides that, media access to the inauguration ceremony is quite limited as even major news agencies are struggling to sneak one or two of their reporters on the guest list, while the rest will be sent to a media center where they can watch the inauguration live on television. In fact, provincial governors are also not allowed to observe the inauguration ceremony; I was talking with a governor a few days ago and he was disappointed at not being able to meet with the honored guests, among them Hillary Clinton, Asif Ali Zardari, Bernard Kouchner, and David Miliband.
Regardless of who is watching, Karzai has a lot to address in his big inauguration speech. Pressure is mounting from all sides -- U.S., Afghan, international -- on the president to get a grip on corruption in order for the international community to continue aiding Afghanistan. Even as Karzai vows to stamp out corruption, he has yet to reveal how and whether the international community will play a big role in that effort. But, of course, this is also a critical point in Karzai's second term as he's still in the process of mapping out his political cabinet.
Most in Afghanistan today will be glued to TV screens or radio speakers. In general, Afghans would like the inauguration to be over with so that they can continue their lives. Let's just hope Karzai keeps at least some of his promises to improve security and combat corruption.
Asma Nemati, a researcher from Kabul, is an instructor at the American University of Afghanistan.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images