WASHINGTON – The Trump government is discussing whether the Afghan government should be urged to suspend the upcoming presidential election, the people who were informed about the discussions, while the US is the Taliban in negotiations to end the 17-year war try to get involved.  The possibility of such a move, one of several options that is being considered by US officials, is a sign of the urgency the government sees when trying to achieve a political breakthrough in a conflict successively affected by the three American presidents.
In order to call for a suspension of the April election, this idea was raised by US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in talks with various interest groups and intermediaries. This would be a controversial step after the US has long promoted democracy in Afghanistan. Khalilzad's office refused to comment on his efforts.
The idea would be rejected by a key player: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who is expected to seek a second term of five years. "Continuity in a democratic process is a must, and any suggestion other than the will of the Afghans outlined in our constitution is simply unacceptable," said Ghani spokesman Haroon Chakhansoori.
Most recent parliamentary elections In a week in Kabul, Ghani stressed that the presidential election will expire on April 20 as planned. "On the basis of free elections, including full elections, people will decide on their future leadership," he said.
Urging Afghanistan to postpone elections would likely create a gulf between Washington and Kabul. Since the Afghan government needs US financial and military support from the US, the Trump government has significant influence, but the final decision would be made by Afghan leaders who guard against undue American influence.
The rationale for discussing a possible suspension includes elusive peace talks with the insurgent Taliban. Some American officials fear that the irregularities and ongoing political turmoil routinely accompanying the Afghan elections could paralyze or destroy any peace process that Khalilzad has successfully passed.
Afghanistan has held a long-delayed parliamentary election. WSJ Kabul bureau chief Craig Nelson explains why this is a crucial moment for the US-backed efforts to open peace negotiations in the war-weary country. Photo: AP
US. Officials are considering other ways to bring the Taliban into a political process with the Afghan leaders in Kabul quickly, but they have not yet found enough common ground among competing parties to move the process forward, these people said. Neither the Taliban spokesman nor his political representatives in Qatar were able to reach an opinion.
President Trump has challenged America's role in Afghanistan, while reluctantly adopting a new strategy last year that has raised US troops to 15,000. Mr Khalilzad told his colleagues that he would probably have six to twelve months to break the presidency, said the people who were briefed on the discussions.
Khalilzad is a "hurried man," said Robin Raphel, a former American diplomat who had worked for years in South Asia.
The idea of a displacement was frostily received in Kabul, where Khalilzad met Afghans on Sunday, officials and politicians.
A woman votes on October 27 in parliamentary elections in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Many Afghan officials have also opposed any suspension, but the plan is quietly supported by some members of Mr. Ghani's government. A high-ranking Afghan politician said he would not oppose canceling the vote if there was a chance for a deal.
"For a peace solution you have to be flexible," said the political figure. "The (presidential) elections are no bigger than peace."
Another alternative being discussed would allow the elections to reach an agreement that the new government would serve on an interim basis, while the warring parties are trying to create a governing coalition. According to a Western diplomat, this would include the Taliban.
"There is no simple scenario," said the diplomat.
Another approach would be to create a special assembly of Afghan leaders who would elect a new interim government run the country while the warring parties are working on a plan to end the war. Afghan mediators, including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, pushed for such a gathering known as Loya Jirga.
The Trump government quietly engaged in direct talks with the Taliban earlier this year as the US military's efforts to dull the insurgents' progress were weakened. Mr. Trump's decades-long strategy to end the war has led to few positive results.
The control of the Afghan government over districts across the country has fallen to its lowest level since the US Special Representative for Afghanistan started rebuilding in 2015 to assess the information. The Ghani government depends on the US and other foreign donors for most of its funding, including billions a year to train and equip the army and police.
Last month's parliamentary elections were adversely affected by Taliban violence, delays and voting irregularities, which raised questions about the legitimacy of Mr. Ghani's trial and ability to reach the spring season when the annual fighting season traditionally begins, to supervise a workable presidential election.
This has sparked concerns among some Americans and Afghan leaders who fear Trump will abandon its South Asia strategy while preparing for a second term.
"I do not think Trump wants to go to reelection with more troops in Afghanistan than when Obama left office and no idea what they are doing there," said a longtime political observer from Afghanistan based in Kabul.
The sense of urgency has fueled the efforts of Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, who took up the new job in September.
Mr. Khalilzad is expected to be next He also talks to Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar, about how Taliban leaders have told them about his travel plans, and he also talks to members of the Taliban in Dubai, an official who taught the discussions.
The Political Commission the Taliban in Doha was strengthened by the addition of senior figures in Guantanamo Bay who could influence the group's decision-makers. Based in Afghanistan and Afghanistan Pakistan, Western officials said.
These so-called "Taliban Five" were released in 2015 in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army sergeant arrested by militants. The Taliban Five included former Taliban army chief Mohammad Fazl, who helped bring the group's ruling military wing into the peace process.
Barriers to talks include the extent and status of future US military presence in Afghanistan and the Taliban have refused to contact the Ghani government so far. Mr. Ghani has offered to open unrestricted talks with the Taliban, but the Taliban have repeatedly described and rejected his government as a US puppet.
Encouraging the Taliban to begin substantive talks, Mr. Khalilzad has suggested a postponement of the election could be part of the peace process, "a former US government official said on the developing talks.
Related to a shift The elections will be discussed as an option in a conference similar to the one held in Bonn, Germany, which cobbled together a post-Taliban government in Kabul in 2001. This time, however, the Taliban were represented at the table, and Khalilzad played a key role in Bonn 2001 Conference.
While Khalilzad is considering the option of suspending the election, other US officials are working with Ghani to prepare for the April vote.
"Our focus is on the presidential election and we are getting ready on them, "said a senior US official who worked in Afghanistan.
– Said Sha h in Islamabad contributed to this article.
Write to Jessica Donati at email@example.com, Craig Nelson to firstname.lastname@example.org and Dion Nissenbaum to email@example.com