Responding to reports on the US pushing for Afghanistan to postpone presidential elections next year, the US department of state spokesperson Heather Nauert said that Washington is committed to the election process and any decision to move out the date would be at Kabul’s discretion.
Addressing a press conference early Wednesday morning (Kabul time), Nauert said: “One of the things that is important to us is we’re committed to the overall electoral process. If there were to be any changes made to the scheduling, that would entirely be a decision on the part of Afghanistan, one in which we would not interfere."
In reference to the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad’s visit to the region, Nauert stated that Khalilzad’s trip, the second since last month, shows the US’ “commitment to a lasting peace agreement.”
She said Washington was hoping to “facilitate the Afghans and the Taliban coming to some sort of lasting peace agreement. Our officials have long said, including the DOD, that we don’t see a military solution to this outcome – to this in Afghanistan.
“Ambassador Khalilzad has been hard at work. I think he’s spent more time on an airplane or traveling overseas than he has back in Washington in the past month and a half or so since he’s taken on these duties.
“I can tell you that our support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process is our policy. In terms of elections and if they were to make any changes, that would entirely be up to the government of Afghanistan and not the United States government,” she said.
On the issue of last week’s meeting in Moscow on peace in Afghanistan, Nauert said: “With regard to the Moscow meetings, we see Russia, the Russian Government doing this, where they will hold meetings related to hot topics around the world. That is certainly their right to do so. The United States government sent a representative simply at the working level, not to participate but just to observe in those discussions.”
Nauert’s comments not only come on the heels of the Moscow summit and during Khalilzad’s latest trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan the UAE and Qatar – but the comments also come amid rumblings of a possible political shakeup in Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal on Monday morning reported that the US was pushing for the Afghan government to postpone next year’s elections. This appears to be hinged on Khalilzad’s apparent six month deadline to broker peace with the Taliban.
However, the Afghan government immediately rejected the allegations and President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman was quick to say that government was committed to holding presidential elections as per the Afghan constitution and the date determined by the Independent Election Commission (IEC).
Ghani’s spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri, tweeted that “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.”
Fazel Fazly, a presidential adviser, also immediately took to twitter and said the Afghan government’s commitments to holding the 2019 presidential vote was unwavering, as dictated by the country’s constitution. “We will stick to the election date announced by the IEC and follow the timeline once determined.”
However, not all politicians necessarily want elections to be held. Some have said a postponement, in favor of peace, would be a welcome move.
The coalition of political parties said polls should be held off and an interim government should be established – especially as the current National Unity Government’s tenure ends in just a few months – and that a Loya Jirga should then be convened.
The Wall Street Journal on Monday stated that in order to make progress in the peace process, US is assessing an option like the Bonn conference, but one which the Taliban attends.
“If an interim administration or postponing the elections can help a comprehensive peace process, then it (delaying elections) will not be a problem. But people in some parts of the country should not be subjected to mass killings and displacement because of peace,” Mohammad Natiqi, the head of the political committee of the political parties said on Monday.
Shahzada Massoud, who is close to former president Hamid Karzai, also said holding presidential elections at this time was not recommended and an interim government should be established.
“In five months this government’s term will finish and after that it is better that an interim administration should be established which should be acceptable for both sides and they should be able to pave the way for an inclusive and transparent election,” said Massoud.
In a meeting with the US ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass on Tuesday night, the CEO Abdullah Abdullah discussed some of these issues with him. However, after the meeting Abdullah tweeted that the scheduled elections would go ahead as planned.
Bass in turn responded and said: “We remain committed to helping the electoral commissions and the Afghan government prepare for presidential elections in April 2019. Timing of Afghan elections is for Afghans to decide.”
HPC Also Weighs In
However, the High Peace Council (HPC) also weighed in on Tuesday and said under the current circumstances the peace process is more important than other issues.
"As we get closer to peace, it will be good for the nation and it should be put first. By having peace, we then will have good elections," Azizullah Din Mohammad, HPC deputy head said.
Despite government’s rejection of such claims, the former chief of the Independent Election Commission Fazl Ahmad Manavi has said Afghan and foreign politicians have started discussions about postponing the presidential elections and establishing an interim administration and that the US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad has shared his views on this with President Ashraf Ghani.
“We knew that the elections will not be held. And today (Tuesday) when the issue was mentioned by the Americans, it is natural that no place will remain for questions and the elections will be postponed,” said Manavi.
The Presidential Palace however rejected claims of a possible delay and said the presidential elections will go ahead in April 2019.
"Afghan government is completely committed to holding 2019 elections based on the law and the schedule announced by the election commission," President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri said.
This comes after a report Tuesday morning in the Wall Street Journal stated the United States is considering pushing the Afghan government to postpone the April 2019 presidential election while it tries to reach a peace deal with the Taliban to end the 17-year war.
The issue of presidential elections has however gathered a sense of momentum in the past two days especially as reports increase about possibilities being considered on how the country will move forward.
In Tuesday’s report in the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper stated that that holding off on elections is one of several options being considered by US officials, and that there is a sign of the urgency in terms of brokering a political breakthrough in the conflict.
Sources told the WSJ that a suspension of the April election is on the table - an idea reportedly raised by Khalilzad. However, this would be a contentious move after the US has long promoted democracy in Afghanistan.
The WSJ report stated that the idea of a postponement has received a frosty reception in Kabul and many Afghan officials have expressed opposition to any suspension, but the plan has the quiet backing from some in President Ashraf Ghani’s government along with other political figures and influential individuals.
The WSJ reported that another alternative being discussed would allow the election to go forward with the understanding that the new government would serve on an interim basis while the warring parties try to create a governing coalition that would include the Taliban.
A third approach, reported the WSJ, was that of a special assembly of Afghanistan leaders that would choose a new interim government to run the country while the warring parties work on a plan to end the war.
Afghan power brokers, including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, have been pressing for such an assembly, known as a Loya Jirga.