The US Ambassador in Kabul, John Bass, who visited the northern province of Balkh on Saturday, said that both election and peace are important but peace in Afghanistan is the “highest priority” for the United States because it is the highest priority for the Afghan people as well.
The ninth round of peace talks between the US and the Taliban began on Thursday, August 22, with the hope that the two sides will reach a final agreement on four key issues under debate, mainly the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country and intra-Afghan negotiations.
The Afghan presidential election is scheduled for September 28, but some presidential candidates and politicians have recently expressed their skepticism on whether the polls will be held on its scheduled time.
Mr. Bass said the Afghan election should be held on its scheduled time if there is a hurdle in the way of the peace process.
“Both are important for the United States. Peace is our highest priority because it is also the highest priority of the Afghan people. And every day, we have Afghans telling us that peace is their highest priority,” Mr. Bass said. “So, we are working very hard to create that opportunity for Afghans to sit together, to negotiate, to work out their differences and to try to achieve a durable peace agreement which is accepted by most of the people of this country and is therefore implemented.”
In response to a question about US forces withdrawal from Afghanistan, Mr. Bass said that the United States and its allies will have confidence that there will be no threat against other countries from Afghanistan.
“My government and other governments have a confidence that we will not face terrorist attacks from inside Afghanistan in the future and if the Talibs want to see intentional forces depart, then they are going to have to demonstrate how it is that they will help ensure that there are no future terrorist threats against the United States or our allies and partners from Afghanistan,” he said.
Meanwhile, Balkh governor Mohammad Ishaq Rahguzar said that the peace talks, the election, and security were the main agenda of his meeting with the US ambassador.
“We discussed how to increase our operations against militants and undertake plans to prevent the militants from disrupting the elections or the security of the province,” he said.
The US envoy’s trip to Balkh comes as the residents of the province recently expressed their concerns over the security of the province and said it will not allow them to show a wide presence in the upcoming presidential election.
This comes as a former member of the Taliban says the agreement between the US and the Taliban will be finalized within the next few days as the ninth round of the negotiations began in Doha on Thursday.
Abdul Salam Zaeef, who served as Taliban’s ambassador for Pakistan when the group ruled the country in the late 1990s, told TOLOnews on Friday that the deputy leader of the group, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will sign the peace agreement with the US.
Mr. Zaeef said the US negotiators want to mention in the agreement that the Taliban will not have any relations with terrorist groups after the peace agreement.
The two sides in Doha are expected to discuss ways to implement the peace agreement. A Taliban spokesman said that the US forces top commander Gen. Scott Miller was also present on the first day of the talks in Doha.
Mr. Zaeef said the US and the Taliban have agreed on a full withdrawal of foreign forces in 15 to 24 months and on counterterrorism assurances.