US diplomat pushes for timely Afghan polls

US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells is pushing for free and timely presidential elections in Afghanistan. (AFP / Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Updated 14 May 2019

US diplomat pushes for timely Afghan polls

  • The election has been delayed twice
  • Conducting elections under the current government is seen as controversial

KABUL: US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells on Monday emphasized the need for free and timely presidential elections in Afghanistan as the fate of Washington’s talks with the Taliban remained uncertain.

The election, slated for Sept. 28, has been delayed twice, partly because of Washington’s insistence on allowing its closed-door negotiations with the Taliban to succeed so that the militants can participate in the vote while US President Donald Trump insists on pulling American troops out of Afghanistan.

Wells on Sunday discussed the peace process and the polls with President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who share power in the National Unity Government as part of a deal brokered by the US following the fraudulent presidential elections of 2014.

She held separate meetings on Monday with officials of government-appointed election commissions, according to a statement issued by the US embassy.   

“She stressed the importance of a transparent, credible election process, of making swift preparations to complete voter registration, and hiring and training the staff needed to conduct the elections in a timely manner,” the statement read.

Conducting elections under the current government is seen as controversial, given that the political parties and Ghani’s rivals — who are standing against his re-election — do not believe that the divided and weak administration will be capable of holding the vote freely after the disorganized parliamentary polls in October.

The government could not hold the parliamentary polls in one province due to poor security measures. 

The results for Kabul province have not been announced yet, with parliamentary nominees routinely holding anti-government protests in various parts of the country.

Some foreign donors who bankrolled the parliamentary elections have shown a reluctance to contribute to presidential elections after the scandal that took place during the vote.

Wells’ trip comes a week after the sixth round of talks between delegates of Taliban and US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad ended abruptly in Qatar hours after the Taliban staged a brazen commando-style attack on a US-funded group in Kabul, resulting in the deaths of at least nine people.

During her trip, Wells is set to meet with men and women from civil society to hear their views on peace and reaffirm US support for a peaceful, stable Afghanistan, the US embassy statement added.  

In her meeting with Ghani on Sunday, Wells also discussed the US-Afghan Civilians Assistance Review to promote strong governance and self-reliance as proposed by Ghani in his letter to Trump, as well as other issues related to Afghanistan, presidential palace officials said. 

It was not immediately clear if she would meet with opposition figures and rivals of Ghani standing against the incumbent for his re-election.

Ghani’s rivals, who accuse the president of using government resources in his election campaign, want him to quit office when his term — on the basis of the constitution — ends in one week’s time.

They have been pushing for the formation of an interim government while Ghani, through a ruling of the Supreme Court, says he will remain in office until the polls are held.

Ghani’s rivals have warned of massive protests should he not leave office after one week.

Ahmad Saeedi, a political analyst, told Arab News that Wells had come to Kabul to evaluate Washington’s ties with Ghani.

“Americans feel badly hurt by the Taliban’s attack in Kabul and for now seem to have halted the talks with the Taliban. The US deputy foreign minister has come to reassess ties with Ghani to find out what Washington can do and what Ghani can do to find an understanding,” Saeedi said.

Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, several months ago in Washington publicly accused the Afghan-born Khalilzad of acting like a viceroy, alleging that he harbored ambitions to lead an interim government in Afghanistan.

Akbar Polad, another observer, said that holding the elections was now top of the agenda in Washington.

“There seems to be a change in the view of Americans and now they give credibility to convocation of the elections. We all know that there are shortcomings, but we cannot reverse to 20 years back and all seem to agree that elections are the only way for putting an end to the crisis,” he told Arab News. 

Monsoon flooding death toll rises to 152 in South Asia

Updated 28 min 30 sec ago

Monsoon flooding death toll rises to 152 in South Asia

  • At least 90 people have died in Nepal and 50 in northeastern India’s Assam state over the past week
  • South Asia’s monsoon rains, which hit the region from June to September, are crucial for the rain-fed crops planted during the season

GAUHATI, India: The death toll in monsoon flooding in South Asia has risen to 152 as millions of people and animals continue to face the brunt in three countries, officials said Saturday.
At least 90 people have died in Nepal and 50 in northeastern India’s Assam state over the past week. A dozen have been killed in Bangladesh.
Shiv Kumar, a government official in Assam, said 10 rare one-horned rhinos have died in Kaziranga National Park since the Brahmaputra River burst its banks, flooding the reserve.
Some 4.8 million people spread over 3,700 villages across the state are still affected by the floods, though the frequency of rains has decreased in the past 24 hours, the Assam Disaster Response Authority said. More than 2.5 million have also been hit by flooding in India’s Bihar state.
Amid the flooding, 20-year-old Imrana Khatoon delivered her first baby on a boat in floodwaters early Friday while on her way to a hospital in Assam’s flooded Gagalmari village, locals said. The woman and the newborn were brought back to their home without getting to the hospital.
Community health worker Parag Jyoti Das, who visited the family, said there were no post-delivery health complications. However, the mother and the child were moved to a hospital on a boat to the nearby town of Jhargaon because of unhygienic conditions due to floodwaters, Das said. The health center in Khatoon’s village was flooded and closed.
“I would have felt happier if the baby’s father was here,” said Khatoon, whose husband works in a hotel in the southern state of Kerala.
More than 147,000 people have taken shelter in 755 government-run camps across Assam, officials said.
Authorities warned they would take action against suppliers who were reported to be distributing poor quality rice and other essentials to marooned people and inmates of temporary shelters at some places.
“We have ordered the arrest of those unscrupulous elements supplying substandard materials and playing with the lives of the affected people,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s finance minister.
In Nepal, the Home Ministry said about 36,728 families were affected by the monsoon rains. The flooding and mudslides forced some 13,000 families to flee their homes.
In at least two of Nepal’s districts, helicopters were used to transport emergency food supplies, while other transport means were being used to move tents and other supplies to the victims.
South Asia’s monsoon rains, which hit the region from June to September, are crucial for the rain-fed crops planted during the season.