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U.S. Envoy Calls On Afghan Leaders To End Election Standoff, Seize ‘Historic Opportunity’ For Peace

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad attended the inauguration ceremony for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace in Kabul on March 9.

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has called on Afghan leaders to end their standoff over a disputed presidential election and seize a “historic opportunity” for peace.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan by telephone from Kabul on March 12, Khalilzad said the time had come for all Afghans, including the Western-backed Kabul government and the Taliban, to “join hands and learn from the terrible lessons” of decades of conflict.

Khalilzad’s remarks come days after President Ashraf Ghani and his main election rival, former Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, held dual and competing inauguration ceremonies on March 9.

Last month, Ghani was declared the winner of a bitterly disputed September 28 election, which was married by voting irregularities, historic low turnout, and militant attacks. Abdullah called the result a “coup” and vowed to create a parallel government.

Last minute shuttle diplomacy by Khalilzad failed to resolve the dispute and prevent the parallel inaugurations. Khalilzad told RFE/RL that he was hopeful of an agreement “that is accepted by both sides.” “It’s a very bad thing that two governments or two presidents exist in Afghanistan,” he said. “This poses a great danger, not only to the peace process, but to the future of Afghanistan.”

Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, said U.S. officials are “very active” in trying to mediate an agreement between Ghani and Abdullah on the “creation of a cabinet that is broadly accepted in Afghanistan” and which includes Abdullah and his allies.

Observers have warned that the dispute could descend into violence and derail a historic deal between the United States and Taliban militants aimed at ending the nearly 19-year war. As part of that agreement, direct peace talks between the Western-backed Kabul government and the Taliban were scheduled to begin on March 10. But the political crisis in Kabul has thrown those plans into disarray.

Khalilzad said Washington was trying to start the intra-Afghan talks “as soon as possible.”