Taleban vows to target security forces in Afghan polls

KABUL • The Taleban yesterday vowed to target government security forces in upcoming parliamentary elections, as US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met Afghan leaders to discuss ways to end the 17-year war.

Describing the polls as a "malicious American conspiracy", Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants would pull no punches to disrupt the long-delayed ballot scheduled for Oct 20.

"People who are trying to help in holding this process successfully by providing security should be targeted and no stone should be left unturned for the prevention and failure" of the election, the spokesman said in a statement published in English. It added that the United States was using the elections for the sole purpose of legitimising its presence and authority.

"The real solution of the ongoing Afghan crisis lies in the complete withdrawal of all foreign occupying forces and the restoration of a pure Islamic sovereignty," it said.

The Taleban statement coincided with the visit of Mr Khalilzad, who has been appointed to lead peace efforts with the Taleban. Mr Khalilzad met President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul to strategise ways to hold Afghan-led peace talks with the Taleban, whose 1996-2001 rule was ended by US-led troops.

"Peace is a holy process, and the US government and people are united with the Afghan government and people in this process," Mr Khalilzad was quoted by Mr Ghani’s office in a statement as saying.

Mr Khalilzad - a high-profile former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the United Nations - is on a 10-day regional trip that also includes Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

With less than two weeks to go before the long-delayed Afghan elections - seen by international partners as a dry run for presidential elections due next year - the Taleban and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have ramped up attacks across the country.

The fighting has underlined the struggle security forces face as the insurgents have steadily extended their control over the countryside, even though they have been unable to take and hold a major city.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2018, with the headline 'Taleban vows to target security forces in Afghan polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe