Withdrawing US troops in May could derail the Afghan peace process. So, what can the new US administration do?
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said his government is ready to discuss the possibility of holding fresh elections in a bid to push forward peace talks with the Taliban.
“Transfer of power through elections is a non-negotiable principle for us,” Ghani said at the opening of the parliament session in Kabul on Saturday.
“We stand ready to discuss holding free, fair and inclusive elections under the auspices of international community. We can also talk about the date of the elections and reach a conclusion.”
President Ghani met US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul last week to discuss ways to inject momentum in the stalled peace negotiations with Taliban representatives being held in Qatar. After his talks in Kabul, Khalilzad went to Qatar.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has begun a review of its strategy for Afghanistan, including an agreement reached with the Taliban in early 2020 that paved the way for talks between the armed group and the Afghan government.
Afghan officials and Western diplomats said that during his visit to Kabul, Khalilzad had floated the idea of establishing an interim government after bringing Afghan and Taliban leaders together for a multilateral conference outside the country.
But Ghani said the only way to form a government should be through an election.
“I advise those who go to this or that gate to gain power is that political power in Afghanistan has a gate, and the key is the vote of the Afghan people,” he said.
“Any institution can write a fantasy on a piece of paper and suggest a solution for Afghanistan. These papers have been written in the past and will be written in the future. Our guarantee is our constitution.”
Elected two years ago, Ghani is not yet midway through his five-year term.
On Saturday, Taliban spokesman Naeem Wardak confirmed a meeting between the armed group, Khalilzad and General Scott Miller, the head of US forces and the NATO-led non-combat Resolute Support mission.
“Both sides expressed their commitment to the Doha agreement and discussed its full implementation. Likewise, the current situation of Afghanistan and the rapidity and effectiveness of the intra-Afghan negotiations were discussed,” Wardak said.
Violence and targeted killings have surged since the Afghan government began US-backed negotiations with the Taliban last September, and Western security officials say the armed group, already holding large swaths of rural areas, has begun to gain ground around towns and cities.