Afghanistan delays crucial presidential vote for a second time

An Afghan man casts his vote during the parliamentary election at a polling station in Kabul on Oct. 21, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 21 March 2019

Afghanistan delays crucial presidential vote for a second time

KABUL: Afghanistan’s presidential election, which had been delayed once already, has again been pushed back and will now be held on Sept. 28 instead of July 6, the country’s election commission announced on Wednesday.

The poll was originally scheduled for April, but after mismanagement and allegations of fraud during the parliamentary elections in October, under the government-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC), it was moved to July.

Both delays have come as talks continue between the Taliban and US delegates in an attempt to find a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, and growing claims by some political parties about the alleged inability of the government to hold the vote in a fair and free manner. Some candidates even accuse President Ashraf Ghani, who is standing for re-election, of using the process in his favor.

Hawa Alam Nuristani took over as head of the IEC in March after the organization’s key commissioners were fired. While announcing the new election date in Kabul, she described last year’s parliamentary vote as the “worst and most controversial” polls held since the Taliban was ousted in 2001, and said the decision to delay the presidential vote had been taken to “ensure transparency of the elections and voter registration.”

Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Ghani, said the government respects the IEC decision. “According to information, the IEC, following consultation with the political parties and civil societies supervising the elections, has reached a decision to delay the elections,” he wrote in a message on Twitter. “Now the government with all its resources is prepared to cooperate with IEC so that we witness transparent elections in the country.”

Waheed Mozhdah, an Afghan political analyst, suggested that the latest delay was the result of pressure from the US which, he said, wanted the election pushed back to give the current talks with the Taliban a chance to succeed so that the militants can take part. He said Washington fears that if the elections are held before a breakthrough then the negotiations will be delayed for five years until the next round of elections, because the Taliban refuses to recognize the legitimacy of any polls held while the US military is still in Afghanistan.

“The issue of talks with the Taliban is important for America,” added Mozhdah. “I see the US role and pressure more relevant in the delay.”

US and Taliban delegates held the latest, intensive round of talks in Qatar less than two weeks ago. Both sides said progress was made on the withdrawal of troops and the Taliban’s assurance that it will not allow the country to be used as a base for attacks against any country or American interests. Both sides are expected meet again at the end of this month. Ghani’s government has been sidelined from the talks because the Taliban refuses to recognize it as legitimate.

Pakistan minister urges Iran to take action against terror camps inside its borders

Updated 3 min 35 sec ago

Pakistan minister urges Iran to take action against terror camps inside its borders

  • Pakistan doing ‘everything’ to facilitate peace process, says spokesperson

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has demanded that neighboring Iran take action against “terrorist camps” in its border regions following an attack in Balochistan that left 14 army personnel dead.

The move comes amid fears that the situation could escalate into a full-blown conflict between the two countries if it is not resolved.

On Thursday, gunmen disguised as Pakistani security officials forced passengers off buses on the Makran coastal highway in the southwestern province bordering Iran and killed 14 Pakistani army personnel.

“We have identified terrorist camps that exist in Iran’s border areas,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said. 

“We are hopeful Iran will take action against these terrorists. Today, I had a detailed conversation with the Iranian foreign minister in which I conveyed Pakistan’s sentiments and expectations,” the foreign minister added. 

“The Iranian foreign minister has guaranteed his country’s full cooperation in the matter.”

BRAS, an alliance of three Baloch separatist organizations, was behind the attack, Qureshi said.

Pakistan has identified the alliance’s training and logistical camps inside Iran’s borders and shared details with Tehran, he said.

The foreign minister said Pakistan expected Iran to take action.

The separatist alliance also has a presence and leadership in Afghanistan, he added.

Qureshi’s comments came on the eve of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two-day maiden visit to Iran which began on Sunday.

Retired Gen. Talat Masood, a security analyst, said that Islamabad has told Iran’s leadership that “its land was being used for terror activities within Pakistan.”

“Iran has been trying to strengthen its relationship with Pakistan to offset international pressure and sanctions over its nuclear program,” he told Arab News. 

“In this context, we can expect Iran to initiate action against terrorist outfits that are accused of (acting) against Pakistan.”

Another security analyst, Zaigham Khan, urged the Pakistani PM to raise the issue of terror camps with Iran’s leadership during his visit to Tehran.

“The use of Iranian territory by militants against Pakistan is worrying for our security institutions,” he told Arab News. 

“This could turn into a full-blown conflict if Tehran fails to initiate action against militants using its territory.”

On Friday, the foreign affairs minister lodged a formal protest with Iran for failing to take action against militant groups Islamabad believes use bases on Iranian territory to launch attacks against Pakistan.

“Pakistan awaits Iran’s response to its request for action against these groups, whose locations have been identified by Pakistan a number of times,” the Foreign Office said.

Giving details of Thursday’s attack, the foreign office said up to 20 gunmen in paramilitary uniforms stopped three or four buses at dawn on April 18 and, after identifying the passengers, killed 14 Pakistani troops.

“After the incident, the terrorists who arrived from border region (between Pakistan and Iran) returned to that area,” it said.

The Foreign Office said Islamabad had repeatedly shared “information about the hubs of these Baloch terrorist organizations in Iran.”

“Unfortunately, no action has been taken by Iran,” it said.

Separatist groups have been waging an insurgency in Balochistan for more than a decade, demanding an end to what they see as the exploitation of their resources by people from other parts of Pakistan.

In May 2015, gunmen wearing security forces uniforms killed at least 22 passengers after forcing them off buses traveling from the western city of Quetta to Karachi.

Militants and Balochi separatists frequently target civilians and security forces in Balochistan, which is at the center of the much-vaunted $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that Pakistan is building with Chinese loans.