Afghan Government Says Elections First, Peace Deal After - NBC Bay Area
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Afghan Government Says Elections First, Peace Deal After

Moscow has twice this year hosted meetings between the Taliban and prominent Afghan personalities

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    Afghan Government Says Elections First, Peace Deal After
    Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
    Afghan Presidential Spokesman Sediq Seddqi gives a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. Seddqi said that the priority for his government is to hold national elections later this month - rather than reach a peace deal with insurgents.

    The Afghan government will only consider making a "legitimate" peace with insurgents after national elections are held this month, an official told reporters on Saturday, despite the atmosphere of political uncertainty following the sudden halt in U.S.-Taliban peace talks.

    President Donald Trump abruptly called off talks to end American's longest war last week. The Afghan government was largely shut out of the negotiations and concerned that any finalized U.S.-Taliban deal would delay the elections while a national unity government was formed, forcing the exit of President Ashraf Ghani.

    "Nothing will impede the presidential election from happening," said the Afghan presidential spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi.

    He said that a peace deal with the Taliban could only come after holding the presidential election scheduled for Sept. 28. "Legitimacy of peace cannot be achieved without elections," he said.

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    Sediqqi also suggested that there will be a "big change" toward improving security across the country ahead of the voting and fears over more violence. The Taliban, who consider the Afghan government a U.S. puppet, have warned Afghans not to vote and that polling stations will be targets.

    Sediqqi pointed to a Taliban delegation's visit to Russia, just days after Trump called off talks, to say the insurgents are faced with a "political failure" of their own. He added that the Taliban should hold talks directly with the Afghan government — which they have refused to do — rather than foreign powers.

    On Friday, a Taliban negotiating team visited Russia, where they held consultations with Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin's envoy for Afghanistan.

    The Interfax news agency cited an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the meeting underlined the necessity of renewing talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, and that the Taliban confirmed their readiness to continue dialogue with Washington.

    It was the Taliban's first international visit following the collapse of talks with Washington. The team was led by Mullah Sher Mohammad Stanikzai.

    Moscow has twice this year hosted meetings between the Taliban and prominent Afghan personalities.

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    Sediqqi said that the Afghan government has suspended its own peace efforts for now. After the elections, the "progress of the peace process" would be a priority, he said.

    Separately in eastern Kapisa province, a bomb killed at least three civilians who had gathered to watch a volleyball game, said Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

    Rahimi added that two other civilians were wounded when Friday's blast occurred in the Tagab district. No group immediately claimed responsibility.

    Also in southern Kandahar province, in an insider attack, two policemen turned on their colleagues and shot dead at least nine police officers at a checkpoint, according to a provincial official who spoke on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to talk to media.

    The attack happened in the Shah Wali Kot district late on Friday night and both attackers fled the area, the official said.

    A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for the attack.

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    Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist Malala Yousafzai returned to her native Pakistan for the first time since she was first shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for her advocacy work with educating girls. In a brief, tearful speech from Islamabad, Yousafzai said "I still can't believe that this is actually happening, that it's true. I have dreamt of coming back to my country for the past five years. Whenever I travel by plane, by car, I see the cities of London, New York. I was told "imagine you are in Pakistan," "you are traveling in Islamabad," "you are in Karachi." It was never true. But now I am in Pakistan. I am very happy."

    (Published Thursday, March 29, 2018)