Former president Hamid Karzai says Saturday's presidential election threatens Afghanistan's best chance of making peace with the Taliban and ending 18 years of war.
Karzai, still one of the most important political figures in Afghanistan, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that the vote could destabilize the country. Previous elections in Afghanistan were plagued by violence and fraud allegations.
"I am saying instead of an election we must begin peace talks," he said.
Karzai has pressed for a resumption of U.S.-Taliban talks, which collapsed earlier this month after President Donald Trump said a deal that seemed imminent was "dead."
He believes the best path forward is a resumption of peace talks — if not between the U.S. and Taliban, then among Afghans, including the Taliban. He said Afghans should plot their own course out of war.
Holding elections now, Karzai said, "is like asking a heart patient to (run) a marathon."
"This is no time for elections," he said. "We should first come to peace in Afghanistan and then conduct elections. ... We cannot conduct elections in a country that is going through a foreign-imposed conflict. We are in a war of foreign objectives and interests. It isn't our conflict. We are only dying in it."
Holding elections is a gamble, with some warning that a messy vote marred by violence and fraud allegations could trigger a political crisis and further disrupt chances of getting back to talks on peace.
Proponents of holding the vote argue that only elections can bestow the needed legitimacy on a new government to be able to claim a place at the negotiating table. During months of peace talks over the past year, the Taliban refused to negotiate with the outgoing government, which was cobbled together by Washington after 2014 presidential polls were mired in massive fraud and dismissed by the militant group as a U.S. puppet.
Karzai called for an immediate resumption of talks, urging U.S. President Donald Trump to restart negotiations but this time he demanded transparency and openness. He sharply criticized the secrecy that had enveloped the year-long talks between the United States and Taliban.
Previous elections were deeply flawed and in the run-up to Saturday's vote, candidates have alleged that President Ashraf Ghani, a front-runner, is abusing his power by using the resources of government to help his election campaign.
Until two weeks ago, it wasn't even certain that there would be elections as a peace deal between the United States and Taliban seemed imminent. In the Afghan capital of Kabul, only a smattering of election posters was plastered on walls. Campaigning began in earnest 10 days ago.
While 18 candidates for president will be on the ballot, the majority are not campaigning and although none have officially withdrawn some have thrown their support behind other candidates.
Security has many worried. The Taliban are opposed to elections and have threatened Afghans who go to the polls. Many supporters of candidates are also heavily armed, adding to fears that a deeply contested election could result in violence.
The last presidential elections in 2014 were so mired in allegations of massive fraud that the United States stepped in, decided a winner would not be declared and instead divided power between Ghani and his leading rival, Abdullah Abdullah to form a unity government.
Abdullah is challenging Ghani again this time.