- The Washington Times
Sunday, April 1, 2018

After a three-year delay, Afghan authorities say the war-torn nation will hold parliamentary elections next October — a development that could reshape Kabul’s posture toward potential peace talks with the Taliban.

While security challenges and infighting over voter registration and other logistics have brought repeated postponements of the elections, the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Sunday the vote will be held on Oct. 20.

The announcement, according to a report by Reuters, follows pressure from international partners, desperate for signs of progress some 17 years after the ousting of the Taliban from Kabul.

Officials in the Afghan capital — the scene of increased attacks by the Taliban and other militant groups, including Islamic State and the Haqqani Network — had previously said the parliamentary election would be held in July. With it now set for October, Reuters described it as a dry run before an even more important presidential election, which is expected to occur in 2019.

It was not immediately clear how Sunday’s announcement might impact the prospects for potential peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban — or Washington’s posture toward such.

The Trump administration signaled last week that it supports a push by the Ghani government to pursue peace talks with the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, alongside the Taliban, in an effort to end the 17-year-old war.

The prospect of talks is sensitive and potentially controversial, since Haqqani has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan and has since 2012 been listed by Washington as a terrorist group.

White House officials say Kabul’s push to reconcile with elements from Haqqani won’t detract from an ongoing U.S. strategy to pressure the government in neighboring Pakistan to degrade and eliminate the Haqqani Network and its hideouts there.

“Our Afghan allies believe that a workable peace process that ends decades of war must include all elements of the Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, willing to accept peace. This war in Afghanistan must be settled among Afghans,” a Trump administration national security council official told The Washington Times.

“The United States will support the Afghan government and all parties ready to make peace,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Carlo Muñoz contributed to this report.

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