ISLAMABAD - Officials in Afghanistan have delayed the country's presidential election for a second time, setting Sept. 28 as the new date. They also announced Wednesday that provincial council elections in all 34 Afghan provinces would be held on the same date.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said recent amendments to election laws and the pending resolution of "numerous problems and challenges" facing the voting system prompted it to push back the polls.
The presidential election originally was scheduled for April 20, then was delayed to July 20 mainly because of security concerns and widespread skepticism about IEC's ability to organize a fair ballot in the wake of last October's controversial Afghan parliamentary polls.
The parliamentary ballot was set up in 33 provinces; security concerns and local political disputes prevented IEC from holding elections in Ghazni province.
Question of finances
IEC Chairperson Hawa Alam Nuristani, speaking to reporters, described the October polls as "the worst elections in the last 15 years." She cautioned, however, that her institution would be able to hold the elections in time, provided "all relevant sides, especially the government and the international community," provide the IEC with the required finances.
The rescheduling of the presidential vote comes as the United States is trying to find a political settlement to its 18-year-old war with the Taliban. But it is not clear whether the dialogue has anything to do with the rescheduling of the elections.
A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, who is seeking re-election and completes his mandated term in May, said the government was determined to cooperate with and fully supported the IEC's decision to delay the polls.
Ghani's main challengers in the elections will be his coalition partner, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and former National Security Adviser Mohammad Haneef Atmar.
The U.S.-Taliban peace talks have excluded the Ghani government because the insurgent group is opposed to engaging in any talks with Kabul. Afghan officials say the move has undermined the legitimacy of the elected government, and they caution that no sustainable peace can be initiated without involving them.
Ghani's national security adviser last week launched blistering public attacks on chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad for allegedly sidelining the government and giving the Taliban legitimacy.
Hamdullah Mohib, while speaking to reporters during his visit to Washington, went on to accuse the Afghan-born U.S. diplomat of trying to create "a caretaker government [in Afghanistan] of which he would then become viceroy," a title used for the colonial administrator of British-ruled India.
The following day, Robert Palladino, the deputy spokesman of the State Department, told a news conference that Mohib was "summoned" and told "attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad are attacks on the department and only serve to hinder the bilateral relationship and the peace process."
Media reports later quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying they had conveyed to Ghani that his national security adviser would no longer be welcomed in Washington and that U.S. officials would no longer do business with Mohib.