The Taliban on Monday vowed to target government security forces in upcoming parliamentary elections, as US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Afghan leaders to discuss ways to end the 17-year war.
Describing the polls as a ‘malicious American conspiracy’ and urging voters to boycott them, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants would pull no punches to disrupt the long-delayed ballot scheduled for October 20.
While the Taliban would take care to avoid civilian casualties, ‘people who are trying to help in holding this process successfully by providing security should be targeted and no stone should be left unturned for the prevention and failure’ of the election, Mujahid said in a statement published in English.
The interior ministry dismissed the Taliban's statement as ‘words fed to them by their foreign backers’ and said security would be provided for voters.
The Taliban -- Afghanistan's largest militant group that was toppled from power in the 2001 US-led invasion -- typically issue inflammatory and hyperbolic statements about the Afghan government and its international backers.
But this latest declaration comes just days before the parliamentary election, which is seen as a crucial dry run for next year's presidential vote and has already been marred by deadly violence.
It also comes as Khalilzad meets with Afghan leaders for the first time since his appointment last month to steer peace efforts with the militants.
Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's equivalent of prime minister, welcomed the visit by Afghanistan-born Khalilzad in televised remarks on Monday.
‘We believe if more attention is paid to the (peace) process, there is a good chance of success,’ Abdullah said.
Khalilzad -- a high-profile former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the United Nations -- is on a 10-day regional trip that also includes Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
He met with President Ashraf Ghani and other top leaders on Sunday night to discuss ‘an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process’, Ghani's office said in a statement.
‘I will use my experiences in the international arena and connections in the region to reach this goal (of peace),’ Khalilzad told Tolo News.
Afghan and international players have been ratcheting up efforts to hold talks with the Taliban.
An unprecedented ceasefire in June followed by talks between US officials and Taliban representatives in Qatar in July fuelled hopes that negotiations could bring an end to the fighting.
But a wave of attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State group in recent months has poured cold water on the nascent optimism.
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