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.

UN chief lauds Pakistan’s ‘generosity’ at Afghan refugee summit

Updated 1 min 5 sec ago

UN chief lauds Pakistan’s ‘generosity’ at Afghan refugee summit

  • Pakistan is the world’s second-largest host of refugees with over 2 million Afghans living in different parts of the country

ISLAMABAD: UN General-Secretary Antonio Guterres has urged the world to support Pakistan in its efforts to shelter Afghan refugees.

He made the comments during a UN conference, which started in Islamabad on Monday.

“I not only saw compassion in words, but in deeds,” Guterres said at the “40 years of Afghan Refugees Presence in Pakistan” summit, organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We must recognize that international support for Pakistan has been minimal compared to other national efforts,” Guterres said, as he acknowledged Islamabad’s efforts to provide access to education and health care to the refugee community, despite limited resources and international support. 

Pakistan is the world’s second-largest host of refugees with over 2 million Afghans living in different parts of the country since 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

“We have come together to recognize a remarkable story of solidarity and compassion ... it is important to do so because it is a story that spans over decades,” the UN chief said and observed that Pakistan’s compassion toward the displaced Afghans is “missing from much of the world.”

Top politicians and officials from 20 countries attended the conference, including UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, and Afghan vice presidents Yunus Qanuni and Sarwar Danish.

In his opening remarks, Grandi said that “for Afghans, the story of their exile has been a long and painful one” and it “will not be complete until solutions can be found back in their own country.”

Only 8,000 refugees were able to return home through the voluntary repatriation program, he said. “For some refugees, nonetheless, solutions can be possible, even in these difficult circumstances. And I commend the commitment of the government of Afghanistan to the return and reintegration of its nationals.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Pakistan wanted “honorable repatriation,” while it was doing its best to provide all the necessary facilities to the refugees as well as “the best-ever support” to the Afghan peace process.

In reference to comments by Danish, Afghanistan’s second vice president, who during the conference accused Pakistan of allowing insurgents to recruit fighters from Afghan refugee camps in the country, Khan said Pakistan is no longer a “safe haven” for militants.

“Whatever the situation might have been in the past, right now, I can tell you ... there is one thing we want: Peace in Afghanistan,” he said.