KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - The Afghan government will consider making a ``legitimate'' peace with insurgents only after national elections are held this month, an official told reporters 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 was 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 come only after holding the presidential election scheduled for Sept. 28. ``Legitimacy of peace cannot be achieved without elections,'' he said.
Sediqqi also suggested that there will be a ``big change'' toward improving security across the country ahead of the voting. The Taliban, who consider the Afghan government a U.S. puppet, have warned Afghans not to vote and have said 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.
Trump tweeted Saturday that the Taliban was being hit hard militarily in the wake of the U.S. pulling out of negotiations following the death of a U.S. soldier.
``The Taliban has never been hit harder than it is being hit right now,'' he said. ``Killing 12 people, including one great American soldier, was not a good idea. There are much better ways to set up a negotiation. The Taliban knows they made a big mistake, and they have no idea how to recover!''
Moscow has twice this year hosted meetings between the Taliban and prominent Afghan personalities.
Sediqqi said that the Afghan government has suspended its own peace efforts for now. After the elections, the ``progress of the peace process'' will be a priority, he said.
Bomb in Kapisa province
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 reporters.
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.