- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2019

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday rallied support ahead of his country’s upcoming presidential elections and declared that international actors would not “intervene in our affairs.”

In a speech following prayers for the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Adha, Mr. Ghani insisted that “the fate of Afghanistan will be decided here in this homeland,” The Associated Press reported.

“Our future cannot be decided outside, whether in the capital cities of our friends, nemeses, or neighbors,” he said.

According to the AP, Mr. Ghani claimed the election — which will be held at the end of next month — is “essential” for the country’s leaders to take hold of its direction in the wake of war.

The president’s comments come as U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the special envoy to Afghanistan, nears the end of talks with the Taliban and the Afghan government that center on a cease-fire and as the United States withdraws its forces from the longest war in U.S. history.

President Trump campaigned on ending wars abroad and bringing American troops home. He has begun drawing down the number of U.S. forces inside Syria, and has made no secret about wanting to do the same in Afghanistan.

Roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel remain inside the country, according to the Pentagon. There are 38 countries contributing a total of about 6,500 troops to the NATO-run advisory mission in Afghanistan, dubbed Operation Resolute Support.

Mr. Khalilizad has said he intends to strike a deal by Sept. 1, which would come less than a month before the election.

“I hope this is the last Eid where #Afghanistan is at war,” Mr. Khalilizad tweeted Sunday.

“I know Afghans yearn for peace. We stand with them and are working hard toward a lasting & honorable peace agreement and a sovereign Afghanistan which poses no threat to any other country,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Taliban on Friday told the AP they expect an agreement “at the end of this round of talks.

Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman at their headquarters in Qatar, tweeted Sunday: “It is hoped that all the Afghan people will celebrate the future under the umbrella of the Islamic system, without occupying a space of permanent peace and unity.”

Despite domestic momentum heading into the September 28 election, some believe the vote may not happen due to fierce opposition from the Taliban, who has been reluctant to participate in negotiations with the Afghan government.

The Taliban has slammed the election for being a “sham,” according to the AP, and threatened to target campaign events and polling stations.

On Wednesday, 14 people were killed after the Taliban detonated a car bomb in a Kabul neighborhood that was aimed at Afghan security forces. Four officers were among those killed.

Although the number of Afghan security forces is at the lowest level since 2015, according to a recent Pentagon report, the troops remain a high target for the organization that has been deemed a terrorist group by a number of nations — but notably not the U.S.

Of the 18 candidates running for president in Afghanistan, most have been hesitant to publicly campaign.

The Taliban recently targeted Mr. Ghani’s running mate on the day they launched their campaign in an attack that killed at least 20 people.

The vice presidential hopeful, Amrullah Saleh, who has been outspoken about his anti-Taliban views, was not hurt in the attack.

He has insisted the elections will take place regardless of the attacks.

“Allow no poisonous propaganda to disturb your patriotism,” Mr. Saleh tweeted Friday.

“The link between elections and peace process is very direct & crucial,” he added. “No one without a mandate from the people can negotiate settlement.”

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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