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

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.


German court convicts Syrian over stabbing that triggered Chemnitz riots

Updated 4 min 34 sec ago

German court convicts Syrian over stabbing that triggered Chemnitz riots

DRESDEN, Germany: A German court sentenced a Syrian asylum seeker to nine and a half years in prison on Thursday over the fatal stabbing of a man in the eastern city of Chemnitz last year that triggered the worst far-right riots Germany had seen for decades.
The verdict handed down in the city of Dresden in the high profile case comes barely a week before elections in the region in which the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to make big gains. The AfD welcomed the verdict.
It is almost exactly a year since the stabbing which led to thousands of right-wingers, including neo-Nazis and soccer hooligans, marching through Chemnitz and clashing with left- wingers and police.
Images of skinheads or far-right demonstrators chasing migrants, performing the Hitler salute and attacking a Jewish restaurant, raised questions about how Germany should deal with its far-right, especially after the 2015-16 migrant crisis.
The 24-year-old Syrian, identified only as Alaa S., according to German rules, was convicted of manslaughter. The Cuban-German victim, Daniel Hillig, died of his injuries after being stabbed in Chemnitz on the sidelines of a local festival.
The Syrian was also convicted of inflicting serious bodily harm on another victim, Dimitri M., who was injured but survived.
“The accused was today found guilty of joint manslaughter and grievous bodily harm. He has therefore been sentenced to a jail term of nine years and six months,” a spokeswoman for the court said.
Prosecutors had called for a 10-year prison sentence.
Defense lawyers, who had called for their client to be acquitted, argued there was no evidence that their client had helped stab the victim and said they would appeal.
German authorities have also issued an international arrest warrant for an Iraqi suspect who has been on the run since the incident. They believe he was the main culprit in the killing.
The AfD said on Facebook it hoped the Iraqi suspect would be found soon and added that Chemnitz had been unfairly “branded as a playground for right-wing radicals.”
“No verdict will return Daniel H. to his family and friends but at least it brings some justice in a reality that claims new victims every week,” it said.
Opinion polls show that the AfD could become the biggest party in the two eastern states of Saxony and Brandenburg, which hold elections on Sept. 1.
The trial took place in Dresden, the capital of Saxony state rather than in nearby Chemnitz because of the high level of public interest in the case.