Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has rejected a peace plan put forward by the United States and will instead suggest new presidential elections in the next 6 months.
Two senior government officials told Reuters that Ghani would reject the US proposal to replace his elected government with an interim administration, announcing the plan at an international gathering in Turkey next month.
The United States agreed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by May 1 last year after nearly two decades, and the US administration is currently pushing for a peace deal to end the war between the government and the Taliban. Talks between Afghan sides in Qatar have stalled.
US special envoy Zalmai Khalilzad proposed a replacement for the Kabul government, but Ashraf Ghani has strongly opposed any solution that would force his elected government to leave the government for unelected successors.
“We are going to make a counter-proposal at the Istanbul meeting that if the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire, then-presidential elections should be held as soon as possible,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity.
Another Afghan government official said the president would never agree to step down and believed that any future government should be formed through a democratic process rather than a political agreement.
A third senior official also said Ghani’s possible proposal would include early presidential elections but did not say when they would take place. He added that Ghani had already shared his roadmap with Zalmai Khalilzad.
The United States has only a few days left to end the long-running war it reached with the Taliban last year, and the United States is seeking regional support to ensure a partnership between the Kabul government and the Taliban in power.
But diplomats and foreign officials have said it would be difficult to move forward with US plans without Ashraf Ghani’s support.
During his visit to the region, Zalmai Khalilzad will also stay in Doha and Islamabad and insist on holding a UN summit in Turkey next month.
Afghan officials said that in response to Ashraf’s proposal, his government would ask the United Nations to closely monitor the new election to ensure that it was accepted by all parties.
A presidential spokesman declined to comment.
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha, have made little progress and the violence is escalating with each passing day.
The Taliban, ousted from power in late 2001 by Afghan opponents and US airstrikes, is battling a foreign-backed Afghan government, which has rejected a ceasefire, and he says he will not join the interim government directly.
Ghani was sworn in for a second five-year term in March last year after a disputed presidential election.
The new US administration, led by President Joe Biden, is reviewing its plans before May 1. Last year, the Donald Trump administration agreed with the Taliban that the remaining 2,500 troops in Afghanistan would be home by May 2021.
The Taliban have warned that if the United States does not meet the evacuation deadline, it will have serious consequences.