KABUL: The Taliban on Tuesday said it will target Afghanistan’s crucial presidential election due on Sept. 28, warning Afghans to “stay away from gatherings and rallies or risk becoming targets.”
The threat of extremist violence follows US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s claims of major progress in talks with the militants.
Security has been regarded as the main obstacle to the poll, which has been delayed twice because of divisions in the government and mismanagement.
The latest Taliban warning may hinder the already slow pace of campaigning, though lack of enthusiasm for the poll has been linked mainly to a possible further postponement because of talks between the Taliban and the US government.
Militants have targeted elections in the country since their ouster in late 2001. In its latest statement, the Taliban said the poll will have no legitimacy while the country is “under occupation” of US-led troops.
The Taliban threatened to “exert utmost efforts” to halt the election.
“To prevent losses, God forbid, from being incurred by our fellow compatriots, they must stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets,” it warned.
“This election process is nothing more than a ploy to deceive the common people because all understand that ultimate decision-making power lies with those (foreigners) funding and managing this process, and not with the public,” the statement said.
“Negotiations are underway to bring an end to the occupation and arrangements for intra-Afghan understanding are being put into place.”
The Taliban described the Sept. 28 elections as an attempt to “satisfy the ego of a limited number of sham politicians, wasting time, money and resources.”
Fazel Fazly, an adviser for President Ashraf Ghani, tweeted on Tuesday: “Like previous elections, we are confident millions of Afghans will line up at the polling stations on Sept. 28 despite threats issued by Taliban.”
On Monday, a rally for one of the 18 candidates was canceled on the outskirts of Kabul after government warnings of a possible attack.
After the launch of the election campaign last week, the Kabul office of Ghani’s running mate, Amrullah Saleh, was attacked, leaving 20 people, including some of Saleh’s bodyguards, dead.
Saleh, a former spy chief and leading critic of the Taliban, blamed the militants for the attack.
The presidential palace has yet to comment on the latest Taliban warning, but a spokesman for the interior ministry said the government will use all its “resources for the protection of the candidates and the election process.”
Amnesty International criticized the militants, saying: “The Taliban’s threats to attack campaign rallies demonstrates a chilling disregard for human life. The targeting of civilians is a war crime.”
Zakia Wardak, a politician and women’s rights activist, said that the warning showed that the “Taliban have not changed.”
“Just because the US engages with them does not mean they will alter their actions,” she said.
While some Afghan and US officials have spoken out against the hasty departure of US troops, Taliban delegates in talks in Qatar have insisted on a timetable for the withdrawal of troops before the group takes part in direct talks with Ghani’s government.
Ahead of his visit to India to build a regional consensus on Afghan peace, Khalilzad spoke about progress in talks with the Taliban.
“I’ve spent the past few days in Doha focused on the remaining issues in completing a potential deal with the Taliban that would allow for a conditions-based troop withdrawal. We have made excellent progress,” he said in a tweet.