Afghanistan election postponement
Mohammad Hanif Atmar, a leading Afghan presidential election candidate and former national security advisor, has warned that President Ashraf Ghani and his National Unity Government (NUG) would lack legitimacy after their mandates expired on 22 May. His statement comes after the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on 20 March that the 2019 presidential election would be postponed to 28 September from 20 July - the second time that it has been delayed. Atmar also called for the formation of an interim government ahead of 22 May to avoid constitutional uncertainty from a continued Ghani presidency.
Atmar's warning indicates that momentum for the formation of an interim government is growing in Afghanistan, not least because of the Taliban's continued unwillingness to engage directly with the Ghani administration as part of the former's ongoing negotiations with the US government. However, the Taliban has signaled an openness to negotiate with or even form part of an interim government. The group also attended a summit with Afghan opposition leaders, including Atmar, in Russia in February 2019, and a follow-up meeting in Qatar is scheduled for April 2019. Ghani, however, is likely to resist calls for an interim government, increasing the likelihood of Atmar and other opposition leaders calling for protests against the Ghani administration. Protests would be likely primarily in Kabul, as well as in Afghanistan's northern provinces - most notably Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Faryab, and Sar-e-Pul - where Atmar's political support is strongest. They are likely to take place around government property, including at local IEC offices, and will entail a high risk of violence, including exchanges of small-arms fire with security forces and rival supporters. Widespread protests would isolate the Ghani administration and increase pressure on the US government, which is the Afghan administration's primary financial supporter, to support calls for an interim government. Ghani's relations with the US government have deteriorated since his current national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib criticised the chief US negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad. Mohib remaining in office would be a likely trigger for the US to abandon Ghani and support the formation of an interim government. If formed, an interim government would increase the likelihood of a ceasefire agreement in Afghanistan.
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