KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The government of Afghanistan has rejected recent media reports stating that Washington may push Kabul to postpone the country’s upcoming presidential elections in order to advance negotiations with the Taliban.
The first hints of such a deal came from a Wall Street Journal report that said the Trump administration was looking at the postponement of the polls, scheduled for April 20, as “one of several options” for bringing an end to the United States’ longest-ever foreign incursion, which began in 2001 with the goal of eradicating the Taliban.
Shortly after the story’s publication, Afghan officials issued statements addressing the issue head on.
Haroon Chakhansuri, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, tweeted that the government “is fully committed to hold the 2019 presidential elections as per the Afghan constitution … Continuity in a democratic process is a must and any other proposal than the will of Afghans which is outlined in our constitution is simply not acceptable.”
The Afghan Government is fully committed to hold the 2019 presidential elections as per the Afghan constitution, and the date determined by IEC.
— Haroon Chakhansuri (@hchakhansuri) November 13, 2018
Fazel Fazly, chief adviser and close ally to the president, tweeted that the country “is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process. Any other proposals that runs contrary to the Afghan constitution and people’s will not be acceptable to our people.”
#Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process. Any other proposals that runs contrary to the Afghan constitution and people’s will not be acceptable to our people.
— Fazel Fazly (@FFazly) November 13, 2018
Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of the current national unity government, was equally as pointed in his rejection of the claim. During a meeting with U.S. ambassador John Bass on Tuesday, Abdullah said elections will be held on time because elections and peace are two entirely separate issues.
Though there is no direct evidence that would suggest a fundamental change to the presidential election, in which Ghani has already said he will seek a second term, sources familiar with the situation have said that they have picked up on signals that an unexpected political change may be coming soon.
A source involved in aid and development who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said that, at a recent meeting of international donors and agencies in Kabul, he had heard officials from foreign embassies and two international bodies refer to such a change.
“They said things like ‘a change may come’ and ‘we may have to change all of our plans,’” when discussing issues related to service delivery, peace, and development, the source told ThinkProgress. He added that he recalled the officials making the comments immediately after bringing up the matter of negotiations with the Taliban.
Other sources familiar with the matter said they had heard similar comments, in relation to a possible inclusion of the Taliban, at similar gatherings around the Afghan capital, including references to a transition to a “post-Ghani” Afghanistan, possibly a “broad-based government,” that did not include talk of elections.
Over the last few days, Zalmay Khalilzad, the recently appointed U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan’s Reconciliation, has met with several influential Afghan politicians and warlords, including acting foreign minister and head of the Jamiat-e Islami political party, Salahuddin Rabbani, as well as Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and former governor of the Northern province of Balkh Atta Mohammad Noor. These meetings, along with a sit-down with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-e Islami party, were all said to have focused on peace negotiations. Some observers say the meetings could indicate a new government structure.
These inklings seem to fall in line with recent comments by members of the High Peace Council (HPC), the body established to hold negotiations with the armed opposition, who said that Washington has given Khalilzad a short deadline for brokering a negotiated settlement for the 17-year-long conflict.
At a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday, Haji Azizullah Din Mohammad, who headed a recent HPC delegation to a peace conference in Moscow, said that Khalilzad “Has been given six months to show results to his administration and based on that we are hungry for peace and support any effort to achieve peace.”
The appointment of Khalilzad, an Afghan-born ambassador who served as the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq during the Bush administrations, along with the recent reports, show an eagerness within the Trump administration to end a war that has befuddled three separate administrations.
During his tenure, President Trump has taken several different tones on Afghanistan and the possibility of negotiations with the Taliban.
In February, Trump seemed completely opposed to any talks with the Taliban, saying, “I don’t see any talking taking place … Innocent people are being killed left and right … So we don’t want to talk with the Taliban.”
However, as has been the case with Trump throughout his two years in office, the U.S. president has changed his tone on the possibility of talks with Afghanistan’s largest armed opposition movement.
In July, the Taliban held their first-ever direct, face-to-face talk with U.S. officials, something the group had sought since before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that continues with the nation’s current conflict. The Taliban’s insistence on talking directly with U.S. officials stems from their belief that the ultimate decision-making body in terms of the current Afghan government is not in Kabul, but in Washington. But negotiations with the group all but confirm that the United States has lost its nearly two-decade long war, which aimed to oust the Taliban.
Afghan officials speaking to ThinkProgress since the talks began have stressed that any talks between U.S. and Taliban officials are merely intended to lay the groundwork for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.