Doubts over Afghan election; Taliban threat raised
( 2003-12-10 09:09) (Agencies)
A senior U.N. official said on Tuesday next year's inaugural elections in Afghanistan may have to be postponed until conditions were right, as the U.S. warned that a resurgent Taliban was poised to step up attacks.
The U.N. Special Representative to the war-shattered country, Lakhdar Brahimi, said if security improved to a reasonable level, it would be possible to hold presidential elections "by the end of next summer."
But he said if the conditions were not right, the polls, supposed to take place next June, should be delayed.
"Elections are extremely important, absolutely indispensable, but they have got to take place at a time and in a manner that they do contribute to an improvement in the situation," said Brahimi, an architect of Afghanistan's 2001 peace plan.
"If you do them at the wrong time and in the wrong manner, beware that they do not take you backward."
Around 500 delegates will gather in Kabul this weekend for a Loya Jirga or grand assembly, which is expected to take several weeks to finalize a constitution to take Afghanistan to next year's first presidential elections.
But security fears hang over the crucial assembly.
The U.S. warned that militants from the ousted Taliban regime, Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the Hezb-i-Islami organization of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, would try to disrupt the meeting.
"I anticipate increased efforts on the part of those forces," U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in Kabul. "We anticipate that they will try to be more active to go after the Loya Jirga-related activities."
But Khalilzad said the assembly would go ahead, and said authorities would remain "very focused" to ensure security.
The Taliban have dismissed the Loya Jirga as a U.S.-sponsored "charade," and warned that anyone attending deserved to die.
Afghanistan has been rocked by a new wave of violence in the run-up to the Loya Jirga, with a series of incidents ranging from a bomb blast in the southern city of Kandahar last Saturday that wounded 18 people to the kidnap of two Indians working on the U.S.-funded road project.
In another incident Monday night, a Pakistani engineer working to rebuild schools was shot dead on the same road.
As part of its biggest ever drive against Islamic militants, the U.S. launched an airborne assault in Khost province on Tuesday.
The U.S. military says "Operation Avalanche," which was launched at the weekend, is aimed at denying sanctuary to militants throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan.
U.S.-led forces have been concentrating activities along the border with Pakistan, an ally in the U.S.-led war on terror which U.S. and Afghan officials say militants have nevertheless been able to use as a haven from which to plan and launch attacks.
U.S. troops from the 501st parachute infantry regiment were flown in by helicopter to the mountains of Khost close to the Pakistani border, after intelligence reports that militants were operating in the area, U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Hilferty.
"This is a simultaneous operation we are conducting throughout the whole of the southern, southeastern and eastern parts of the country," he said.
"We are going to press them all over the country," Hilferty said. "They have to react. We are also trying to get them before the winter season sets in."
Overshadowing the offensive are the deaths of nine children killed in a U.S. air strike on the village of Petaw in the southern province of Ghazni Saturday.
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