The process of submitting nomination papers for the upcoming presidential vote in Afghanistan concluded Sunday, with President Ashraf Ghani and his ruling coalition partner Abdullah Abdullah among the candidates seeking the country’s top office.
Ghani and Abdullah, who was appointed chief executive in a deal mediated by the United States after the disputed 2014 election, filed their nomination papers just hours before the Independent Election Commission (IEC) closed the proceedings.
The election activity comes as an early morning suicide car bombing of a government convoy in eastern Afghan province of Logar killed at least eight security forces, underscoring serious security challenges facing the country in the wake of a raging Taliban insurgency.
The presidential vote, scheduled for July 20, is also under scrutiny because of the lack of serious reforms to prevent a repetition of previous fraud-marred Afghan elections.
IEC officials, however, dismiss concerns and insist their rescheduling of the polls from the original April 20 date has given them enough time to fix the problems and to lay the ground for a better organized vote.
“Our [candidates’] goal should be to work toward ensuring this election process results in a strong government and nation. Whatever consensus regarding any reforms is required must be achieved now to remove any doubts about the election outcome,” Ghani said in televised comments after formally registering his candidacy with IEC.
The IEC was heavily criticized for failing to prevent mismanagement and alleged rigging in the October parliamentary election. The final results are still awaited, fueling traditional mistrust and suspicions among voters about the upcoming election.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former ethnic Pashtun warlord accused of war crimes and once listed as terrorist by the U.S., has also joined the presidential race.
Hekmatyar stopped his Hizb-i-Islami group from waging insurgent attacks against foreign forces and returned to Kabul from years of hiding in 2016 after signing a U.S.-backed peace deal with President Ghani’s government.
Hekmatyar’s fighters have been blamed for committing atrocities during the Afghan civil war that enabled the Taliban to capture most of Afghanistan in 1996.
Several former officials of the Ghani-led National Unity government are also among the contestants. They include Hanif Atmar, former national security adviser; Rahmatullah Nabil, ex-chief of the Afghan intelligence agency; Zalmai Rassoul, a former foreign minister who came third in the last presidential election; and Shaida Abdali, a former diplomat.
Peace talks with Taliban
The United States, meanwhile, has intensified efforts to seek a politically negotiated settlement to the 17-year-old conflict with the Taliban, which control nearly half of the country and maintain battlefield pressure on U.S.-backed Afghan forces to capture more territory.
Chief American peace negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team spent several days in neighboring Pakistan, where authorities tried to arrange the next round of U.S.-Taliban talks.
A U.S. Embassy statement announced Sunday said Khalilzad visited Islamabad from January 17-20 where he met with Pakistani civilian and military leaders. It said that “both sides reaffirmed their commitment to advance the Afghan peace process.”
Khalilzad highlighted that all countries in the region will benefit from peace in Afghanistan, the statement concluded, though it was not clear whether Pakistani efforts to bring the two sides to the negotiating table succeeded. (VOA)
The year long efforts of Zalmay Khalilzad – US representative holding talks with Taliban to hammer out some sort of ‘Peace Accord’ between the two – primarily to facilitate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan – have come apart with President Donald Trump rejecting the diplomatic exercise following a fresh terror attack by the Taliban in Kabul.
Khalizad has been recalled to the US and there is a new situation now in Afghanistan as that country’s General Election draws close. Taliban has been exposed as an incorrigible set of Islamic extremists wedded to jihad to achieve their objective and so has been the collusive role of Pakistan in sheltering a whole lot of Taliban leaders of Afghanistan on its soil- as given out now by Taliban leadership itself.
President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo realised it once again how the diplomatic moves did not work against terrorists and gave up on Zalmay’s initiatives- they were even considering a continued strong military presence in Afghanistan. The US President was never too trusting of the Islamic militants wherever they were and the abandoning of the negotiation with Taliban would hopefully lead to a re-evaluation by him of Pakistan as the hub of Islamic terror groups.
Mohammad Suhall Shaheen spokesman of Taliban came on TV in Kabul to say a few things- in response to Donald Trump’s decision -that established how nothing had changed to the advantage of the US in the face of the creed of faith- based violence Taliban was committed to.
He confirmed the widely known fact that Taliban derived sustenance from Pakistan for pursuing ‘Islamic interests’. Shaheen’s statement demonstrated how Islamic radicals can never be expected to leave the path of violence and how Zalmay might have allowed himself to be duped by the Taliban – Pakistan combine on the questions of ‘ceasefire’ and Peace Agreement- this axis was all the time working for restoration of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan relegating the democratic rule of Ashraf Ghani to the background.
It was a strategic error on the part of the US interlocutor to hold talks with Taliban totally at the back of the present democratic regime in Afghanistan. Diplomacy can never succeed if it handles only the peripherals without tackling the main problem. In the absence of a ‘ceasefire’ US troops had rightly kept up their counter-terror operations and the Taliban revealed its true colour as a violent Islamic force by carrying out a suicide attack on a US army truck at Kabul killing an American soldier.
Apparently this happened when Zalmay had already submitted the draft ‘peace pact’ to the US President without sorting out the vital issue of ‘ceasefire’. The Taliban spokesman justified the retaliatory act at Kabul showing how the Taliban was totally recalcitrant about not accepting the cessation of its violent methods as a precondition for peace accord.
These developments in Afghanistan underscore the need for the democratic world to wake up to the continuing threat of Islamic terror emanating out of the Muslim world. Zalmay’s mission is a telling example of how diplomacy runs into limitations when dealing with advocates of violence blinded by fanaticism.
The world must call for an express denunciation of Jehad as an instrument of pursuit of political objectives in today’s world, by individual Islamic countries and by the Organisation of Islamic Conference chaired by Saudi Arabia itself. It goes to the credit of Trump’s presidency that the artificial distinction- promoted earlier by narrow political interests — between ‘ good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ had been abolished and to the great relief of India , Pakistan was called out by the US upfront for providing safe haven to Islamic militants across the spectrum — from Al Qaeda to Lashkar-e-Taiba.
India, the US, Russia and European countries that see the menace of this new terror must work together in Afghanistan to install a democratic regime there. The world must take the ‘war on terror’ to its logical conclusion. It is becoming difficult to get any voice from the Muslim world that upholds a Democratic Republic as the obvious preference over an Islamic State.
The inherent political asymmetry between a democratic India — that houses more Muslims than their number is in Pakistan — and the Islamic state of Pakistan is a fundamental roadblock between the two countries and the situation is becoming worse with Pakistan projecting Kashmir as a Muslim issue and openly calling for jihad there to bolster its sinister game plan against India. The case of Afghanistan shows how diplomatic instruments will not succeed against those who had taken to terrorist violence to get their way on political issues.
India must firmly stick to the policy of ‘terror and talks do not go together’ and use its diplomatic prowess to convince the democratic nations- and this is not difficult- that the challenge for India in Kashmir was to protect the Kashmiris from the onslaught of hardened Pak terrorists of Lashkar-e-Taiba infiltrated from across the LoC who were destroying the cultural values of Kashmiriyat and browbeating the law abiding Kashmiris into submission to the oppressive Salafism.
As the terrorists are beaten back the people in the valley would be willing to come out in freedom and markets would start opening up -overcoming the sense of fear of the militants. The world should know that during this short period of prohibitory orders in Kashmir there have been no casualties.
The Centre has taken the direct responsibility for providing development and security to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that they were kept from- because of the Pakistan sponsored cross border terrorism. India is committed to restoring the statehood of J&K in course of time. Kashmir is all about people falling victim to terror and not a case of denial of Human Rights. Pakistan’s failed attempt to muster any strength in UNHRC vindicates India’s transparent stand on Kashmir. (IANS)