August 11, 2019 / 11:26 AM / a month ago

Afghan president says peace coming but outsiders can't decide future

KABUL (Reuters) - President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday peace would come to Afghanistan, but he appeared to question an expected deal between the United States and the Taliban, saying his nation would decide its future, not outsiders.

People take part in morning prayers to celebrate the first day of the Muslim holiday of the Eid al-Adha, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 11, 2019.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Ghani and his U.S.-backed government have not been involved in months of negotiations between Washington and the Taliban on an agreement for U.S. troops to leave in exchange for a Taliban promise that Afghanistan will not be used by militants to plot attacks.

While the pact is expected to include a Taliban commitment to open power-sharing talks with their Afghan rivals, it is not expected to include a Taliban ceasefire with the government, leading to fears the insurgents will fight on when U.S. forces leave.

“Peace is a desire for each Afghan and peace will come, there shouldn’t be any doubt about it,” Ghani told a gathering for prayers marking the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival.

“But we want a peace in which each Afghan has dignity ... We don’t want a peace that would cause our people to leave their country.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran Afghan-American diplomat leading negotiations with the Taliban for Washington, said he hoped this would be the last Eid that Afghanistan was at war.

“I know Afghans yearn for peace. We stand with them and are working hard toward a lasting & honourable peace agreement and a sovereign Afghanistan which poses no threat to any other country,” he said in a post on Twitter.

The Taliban and the United States have both reported significant progress in their negotiations, with one Taliban official saying a pact could be signed after the Eid holiday.

An agreement would allow U.S. President Donald Trump to achieve his aim of ending a war launched in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The Taliban do not recognise the Kabul government and have refused to talk to it.

Ghani made no reference to the United States or to the expected U.S.-Taliban pact but said Afghans should decide their fate, not outside powers, even if they were allies.

“Our future cannot be decided outside, whether in the capital cities of our friends or neighbours. The fate of Afghanistan will be decided here in Afghanistan,” he said.

He also said a presidential election, scheduled for Sept. 28, in which he hopes to win a second term, was essential.

The Taliban have denounced the election as a sham and threatened to attack rallies. There has been speculation the vote could be postponed if the United States struck the deal with the militants, but Ghani said it was vital.

“The Afghan people want a strong, efficient and responsible government, and this is not possible without elections,” he said.

Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Susan Fenton and Andrew Cawthorne

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