Taliban vow to attack Afghanistan elections

The US and the Taliban are currently meeting in Doha for an eighth round of talks aimed at striking a peace deal. (AP)
Updated 07 August 2019

Taliban vow to attack Afghanistan elections

  • The latest Taliban warning may hinder the already slow pace of campaigning

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.

Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

Updated 19 September 2019

Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

  • Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela
  • Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup

CARACAS/WASHINGTON: Venezuela’s rival political factions will take their power struggle to New York next week, where representatives of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition chief Juan Guaido will each try to convince a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations that their boss is the country’s legitimate head of state.
The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the rightful president. Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency to Maduro, arguing the socialist president’s May 2018 re-election was a sham.
But the 193-member UN General Assembly still recognizes Maduro, who retains the support of the UN Security Council’s veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China, setting the stage for the two sides to air their public grievances as they battle for international backing.
A round of negotiations brokered by Norway in recent months, aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis, has failed.
Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela, as the United States has done.
Maduro, who has overseen a collapse of the OPEC nation’s once-prosperous economy and has been accused by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights of rights violations, wants to heap pressure on the United States to lift sanctions on state oil company PDVSA and members of his inner circle.
Critics say his government’s decisions this week to free a jailed opposition lawmaker and reform Venezuela’s electoral body, long accused of bias, were aimed at improving Maduro’s image before the UN gathering.
“They want to use the UN meeting to wash their face, because they are not reaching any real solutions for the Venezuelan people,” Carlos Valero, an opposition lawmaker who sits on the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, and blames Washington’s sanctions for Venezuela’s economic woes. Maduro himself said he will not attend the UN gathering, but he tasked two cabinet members with presenting a petition condemning the sanctions to Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“The UN Secretary General and all the UN agencies should raise their voice to condemn the aggression Venezuela is being subjected to, to condemn the illegal blockade,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters in Geneva last Friday. “We believe that a lot more can be done from the United Nations.”
’Until Maduro is gone’
Guaido has not yet decided whether he will attend, according to his US envoy Carlos Vecchio. Julio Borges, an exiled opposition lawmaker recently named Guaido’s chief diplomat, will be in New York for side events aimed at spotlighting Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis and Maduro’s alleged support for armed rebels in Colombia.
The events include a likely meeting of the signatories of the Rio Treaty, invoked earlier this month by a dozen members of the Organization of American States (OAS), including the United States. The treaty is a Cold War-era mutual defense pact that the countries said they had invoked in response to what they called Maduro’s threat to regional stability. The OAS, unlike the UN, recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
Maduro’s government denies supporting the Colombian rebels and says the Rio Treaty is a precursor to military intervention.
In April, US Vice President Mike Pence called on the UN to revoke the credentials of Maduro’s government and recognize Guaido, but Washington has taken no action to push the measure at the General Assembly. Diplomats said it was unlikely Washington would get the support needed.
Both Washington and Venezuela’s opposition are seeking to counter perceptions that their efforts to oust Maduro have stalled.
Though differences over Iran and Afghanistan policy were the main reasons for US President Donald Trump’s firing of his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton last week, Trump had also grown increasingly impatient with the failure of sanctions and diplomatic pressure to push Maduro from power.
Despite Trump’s vows that all options were on the table, he had resisted Bolton’s push for more military planning, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump’s aides have made clear that he is likely to impose further sanctions but the economic weapons at Washington’s disposal appear to be dwindling.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday that the United States continued to stand with Guaido and that sanctions “will not be lifted until Maduro is gone.”
“We look forward to coming together with regional partners to discuss the multilateral economic and political options we can employ to the threat to the security of the region that Maduro represents,” she said.