US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

In this Nov. 6, 2018, photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, listens during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at the presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

  • Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process

KABUL: A US newspaper report that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering asking the Afghan government to postpone the presidential election has drawn backing from some in Afghanistan’s political quarters, while others have criticized it.
The report comes amid speculation that the presidential poll will be delayed and that instead an interim government will be formed involving the Taliban leaders in a effort to end the 17-year-long conflict.
It comes after last month’s long-delayed and chaotic parliamentary elections and the renewed US efforts for peace talks which involved the appointment of special US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad in recent weeks has spoken with leaders of the regional powers, Taliban emissaries and the Afghan government as well as regional strongmen, some of whom fear that the outcome of presidential poll in a fractured government at this time may push the country into deeper chaos.
On Tuesday, citing US officials, The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was looking into postponing the vote.
“The possibility of such a step, one of several options being considered by US officials, is a sign of the urgency the administration sees in trying to broker a political breakthrough in a conflict that has bedeviled three successive American presidents,” The Wall Street Journal said.
The current administration of the joint National Unity Government (NUG), where the power is shared by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah, was formed as a result of allegedly rigged polls held in 2014.
Public frustration has mounted over the NUG’s failure to curb the crime rate, alleviate poverty and stop the deadly attacks by militants in the past four years.
Some politicians push for formation of an interim government, while others, including former President Hamid Karzai, deem the convocation of a traditional assembly, known as Loya Jirga, as a solution for the political and security crisis the country faces.
Officials close to Ghani, who is standing for re-election in the April 20 vote, said the poll will have to take place.
“Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process. Any other proposal that runs contrary to the Afghan constitution and people will not be acceptable to our people,” Fazel Fazly, an adviser to Ghani, said.
Abdullah, following the Wall Street Journal report, met on Tuesday with the US Ambassador to Kabul, John R. Bass. Abdullah in a tweet said he discussed the parliamentary and presidential elections with Bass, who told him that “the upcoming presidential election will take place on time.”
Later in the day, Bass said the US was helping Afghans to hold the elections based on the time stipulated, but added that the Afghans themselves can choose the time
for it.
“We remain committed to helping the electoral commissions and the Afghan government to prepare for the presidential elections in April 2019. Timing of the Afghan election is for the Afghans to decide,” he said in a statement. Bashir Bezhen, a lawmaker in President Ghani’s government, argued that delaying the polls goes against the constitution and it will damage the credibility of the US as well.
“This issue (the US option for delaying polls) is in violation of the constitution and it will also be a blow to US prestige because Afghanistan’s fate has its impact on the US as it has been fighting here for over 17 years,” he told Arab News.
However, he said there is no guarantee that a proper time will come that can pave the way for fair elections.
“We do not have the hope for a democratic, free, transparent election under this government and the current situation, but to hope that things will get better is a merely a dream.”
He said if the election is not held on time, then one solution would be an interim government or convocation of Loya Jirga and either way, Ghani will lose.
“Ghani is keen to hold the poll so he can win by fraudulently stuffing the ballot boxes. We feel worried about the future both if the election is held or delayed, but we have to know... what will happen if the polls are not held.”
Mohammad Nateqi, a politician, former diplomat and member of the government-appointed High Peace Council, said delaying the poll is necessary if it can lead to peace with the Taliban.
“If an interim administration or postponing of the election can help a comprehensive peace process, then it (delaying the poll) will not be a problem,” he said.


US charges against Russian Butina ‘unfounded’

Updated 1 min 24 sec ago
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US charges against Russian Butina ‘unfounded’

  • The Russian foreign minster said he had “reasons to believe” Butina had been kept in conditions designed to break her will and lead her to enter a false guilty plea
  • Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to not register as an agent of a foreign government, a charge often used against foreign spies

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Friday rejected as unfounded the US case against Russian national Maria Butina, who has pleaded guilty to acting as an illegal foreign agent in the United States.
“We consider the accusations against her as absolutely unfounded,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had “reasons to believe” the Russian had been kept in conditions designed to break her will and lead her to enter a false guilty plea.
“As far as I understand, this plea bargain — the likes of which are common in the US — is part of a deal to get free and return home as soon as possible,” Lavrov said in comments reported by agencies.
Butina — the first Russian convicted in the sprawl of cases arising from Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election — faces likely deportation after a potential sentence.
Prosecutors said she launched a plan in 2015 to develop ties with the Republican Party with the aim of influencing US foreign policy.
The plot was allegedly guided and financed in part by Alexander Torshin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin who was deputy governor of the Russian central bank until his retirement on November 30.
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the week said he had asked Russian security services who Butina was.
“Nobody had heard anything about her. The only thing was that she did some work in the upper house of parliament for a while,” Putin said.
Butina was arrested in July this year and became a minor cause celebre in Russia, with the foreign ministry putting her picture at the top of their Twitter account with the hashtag “#FreeMariaButina.”
She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to not register as an agent of a foreign government, a charge often used against foreign spies. But there was no evidence presented that she worked for any of Moscow’s espionage agencies.
The conspiracy charge, and prosecutors’ vouching for her cooperation in a broader investigation, suggested others could be charged in relation to her case.
She is due to remain in US custody until her sentencing in February or later.