Taliban denounces Afghan presidential election and threatens attacks

The comments come after Nato's leader said a peace deal was closer than ever

Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani delivers a speech during an election campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. President Ghani is seeking a second term on promises of ending the 18-year war but has been largely sidelined over the past year as the U.S. has negotiated directly with the Taliban. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

The Taliban on Tuesday denounced as a sham a presidential election due next month, saying their fighters would do everything they could to block it, while urging people to stay away from rallies that could be attacked.

Instead of the Sept. 28 election, the Taliban said, the focus should be efforts to negotiate a deal with the United States that is expected to see a U.S. commitment on the withdrawal of its troops in exchange for a Taliban promise the country will not be used to plot terrorist attacks.

"This election process is nothing more than a ploy to deceive the common people ... for satisfying the ego of a limited number of sham politicians," the Taliban said in a statement.

"To prevent losses ... from being incurred by our fellow compatriots, they must stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets," the militants said.

The warning came after Nato's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that there was a real chance for peace in Afghanistan as US-Taliban peace talks continue in Qatar.

"We now see a real chance for peace in Afghanistan, we are closer to a peace deal than ever before," Mr Stoltenberg told reporters at a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand.

The optimism was shared by US special representative to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, who concluded another round of talks with the Taliban on Monday, and spoke of “excellent progress”.

Mr Khalilzad, the first US official to lead talks with the militant group, concluded three days of negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar before he left for India on Monday.

“I’ve spent the past few days in Doha, focused on the remaining issues in completing a potential deal with the Taliban that would allow for a conditions-based troop withdrawal," he tweeted.

"We have made excellent progress."

The Taliban said they were expecting a positive outcome.

"Extraordinary progress has been made," said Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban political office in Qatar.

Mr Shaheen said "a complete Islamic system" had been the goal over 40 years of war and the question of elections would be discussed in so-called intra-Afghan dialogue, which is meant to take place after a deal is struck with the United States.

Mr Ghani and his government are not involved in the peace talks because the Taliban refuse to deal with a government they say is a US puppet.

In next month's election, President Ashraf Ghani is widely expected to win a second term and has insisted the vote must go ahead as scheduled.

The US-trained former World Bank official came to power in 2014 after winning a bitterly disputed election marred by accusations of cheating.

But the Taliban called for a boycott and said fighters would do all they could to block the vote.

Foreign backers of the election should focus on "ending the occupation of Afghanistan and establishing true peace so that ... the ongoing peace process in these critical moments is not sabotaged for a few figures", they added.

Despite the talks, there has been no let-up in violence in the country.

Four people were killed and 25 wounded in a bomb blast in the western city of Herat on Monday, provincial authorities said.