US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, left, meets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace in Kabul. File/AP
The Taliban on Wednesday rejected a proposal by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to hold elections later this year, after months of peace talks between the two warring sides have made little progress.
Although he hasn’t made details public, Ghani will announce the election plan at a stakeholder conference in Turkey next month, according to two government officials.
The move is likely an attempt to undercut a US proposal — supported by Russia — for the formation of an interim government involving the Taliban to rule the country once the last US troops withdraw.
“The government will go to Turkey with a plan for an early election which is a fair plan for the future of Afghanistan,” one senior official told AFP.
The Taliban immediately rejected the proposal.
“Such processes (elections) have pushed the country to the verge of crisis in the past,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said of Ghani’s plan.
“They are now talking about a process that has always been scandalous,” he told AFP, saying any decision on the country’s future must be hammered out in ongoing talks between the two sides.
“We will never support it.”
The United States is due to withdraw the last of its troops by May 1 under a deal hammered out with the Taliban last year, although President Joe Biden said earlier this month the deadline would be “tough” to meet.
That deal also paved the way for the Taliban and Afghan government to negotiate a peace plan and hammer out an agreement on how the country should be ruled, but those talks — held since September in Doha, Qatar — have made little headway.
Afghanistan has a troubled history at the polls, with elections beset by rampant fraud, low turnout and insurgent violence.
The Taliban’s response comes hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NATO that Washington is still weighing up whether to withdraw its troops by the May 1 deadline.
The Afghan government is keen to keep US forces in the country for as long as possible for the vital air cover they provide, with violence raging in recent months.
The United States, Russia and other stakeholders however want to see some form of transitional government take power in Afghanistan, but Ghani has insisted leaders can only be chosen at the ballot box.
Having made enormous gains on the battleground, the Taliban appear to have little to gain from either strategy.
Taliban co-founder and deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar told a Moscow conference last week that Afghans “should be left to decide their own fate”.
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