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Taliban Threatens Violent Disruption Of Afghan Presidential Election

An Afghan man casts his vote during the parliamentary elections in Kandahar in October 2018.

The Taliban has denounced the Afghan presidential polls set for September as a "sham" and said that its fighters would do all they can to disturb the election process.

In a statement on August 6, the militant group warned Afghans to stay away from polling stations as well as "gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets."

The warning comes as U.S. and Taliban negotiators say they are nearing an agreement to end the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan.

President Ashraf Ghani, who is widely expected to win a second term in the election scheduled for September 28, said the country's security forces were "fully prepared" to protect voters against Taliban threats.

"Participation in elections and choosing a leader through direct voting is the religious and legal right of the Afghan people," Ghani said in a statement.

The Afghan government has made "all preparations to hold a free, fair, and transparent election," he also said.

Presidential candidates have expressed concern over their security after at least 20 people were killed in a bomb attack that was followed by a gunbattle at the office of Ghani's running mate, Amrullah Saleh, on July 28.

Some of them have threatened to boycott the vote, alleging that Ghani is manipulating the election process in his favor.

Previous elections in the war-ravaged country have been delayed and marred by violence, technical and organizational problems, and allegations of widespread fraud.

Amnesty International criticized the Taliban for its latest election threats, saying they demonstrated a "chilling disregard" for human life despite the group's participation in peace talks.

"At a time when the Taliban claims to be pursuing peace, it is threatening to carry out war crimes by attacking civilians at election rallies," Zaman Sultani, a South Asia researcher at the London-based human rights watchdog, said in a statement.

Following an eighth round of talks with Taliban negotiators in Qatar, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted on August 5 that the sides had made "excellent progress."

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the negotiators "are discussing the final remaining points," according to AFP.

"With that, the peace agreement will be completed and then we will decide on the announcement of the date of the agreement," Shaheen said.

A bilateral U.S.-Taliban agreement would cover the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for guarantees by the Taliban that Afghanistan would not become a haven for other extremist groups.

Such as deal would be followed by intra-Afghan peace negotiations on a political settlement and a permanent cease-fire.

The Taliban has so far refused to negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul, calling it a "puppet regime."

Washington has said it wants a peace deal finalized by September 1, and some U.S. officials have hinted at the possibility that the vote could be canceled in the event of a peace settlement and the formation of an interim government that the Taliban would join.

In an interview with RFE/RL in Kabul on July 31, Khalilzad said the vote "depends on the outcome of the negotiations among the Afghans."

"We support any outcome that is reached," he said. "But until that outcome is reached, we support [holding] the election."

Extremist-related violence continues to plague Afghanistan despite the peace talks.

On August 6, at least five people were killed and seven injured in the capital, Kabul, when a bicycle loaded with explosives was detonated near a government vehicle.

The Interior Ministry said a "bomb placed on a bicycle exploded while a vehicle carrying personnel of the counternarcotics directorate was passing."

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, Tolo News, and AP
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