WASHINGTON: US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Wednesday emphasized the need for an inclusive government in Afghanistan as Kabul postponed the inauguration of President Ashraf Ghani’s second term.In a series of tweets, he also hoped that the postponement “will allow time for necessary consultations so that the best interests of Afghanistan and its people are reflected and preserved by the new government.”
Mr Ghani was scheduled to take the oath of office on Thursday, but the Afghan presidential palace announced on Wednesday the event would now be held on March 9.
The palace said “rumors about coronavirus” in Afghanistan caused the government to delay the inauguration, contradicting reasons cited a day earlier by the US government.
Statements and media reports in Washington indicated that the Trump administration wanted President Ghani to defer his inauguration because it could inflame an election feud with his political rival and jeopardize US-led peacemaking efforts. US and Taliban representatives are scheduled to sign a peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, on Feb 29 with the hope that it would restore peace in the war-ravaged country and pave the way for a peaceful withdrawal of US and Nato troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan will also attend the signing ceremony.Ambassador Khalilzad, who lead the two-year long peace talks with the Taliban in Doha, also referred to the complications that Thursday’s inauguration would have caused, ignoring Kabul’s claim that coronavirus caused the delay. “I welcome President Ghani’s decision to postpone the event until March 9,” he wrote. “As the electoral process has concluded, President Ghani, as the declared winner, and other leaders should ensure that the new government is inclusive and reflects the aspirations of all Afghans.”
Hours before the postponement was officially announced in Kabul, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus “thank(ed) the Afghan government for agreeing to postpone the presidential inauguration.”
The elections gave Afghan President Ashraf Ghani an edge over his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has refused to accept the results and deployed his own troops at various places in Kabul to protect his interests. Asked at the news briefing in Washington on Tuesday if the United States had a role in settling these election disputes, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “We want to make sure that those who want the status quo — bloodshed, tears, economic challenges … can’t spoil what it is that the Afghans so richly deserve.”
On Feb 18, the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan declared Mr Ghani the winner, almost five months after the Sept 28 election.
“Concerns have been raised about the election process. We expect these concerns to be handled in accordance with constitutional and legal procedures,” said Ms Ortagus while stating why Washington welcomed the postponement.
She also urged the country’s leaders and their supporters to “desist from destabilising actions, including purported efforts to establish parallel government structures inconsistent with the constitution and rule of law.”
Ms Ortagus asked Afghan leaders not to make “moves (that) call into question the country’s sovereignty and unity that the United States strongly supports.”
She reminded them that now as the “time to focus not on electoral politics, but on taking steps toward a lasting peace, ending the war with the Taliban, and finding a formula for a political settlement.”
Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2020