Pompeo in Kabul to break deadlock

Both Ghani and Abdullah claim Afghan presidency

March 23, 2020 09:57 pm | Updated 10:20 pm IST - Kabul

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with former Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with former Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in the Afghan capital on Monday to help break a poisonous political deadlock that has further riven the country just as the Taliban is increasing attacks and a rise in COVID-19 cases threatens an already-floundering peace process.

Afghanistan has been enmeshed in a political crisis since elections last year left the country in disarray due to numerous fraud claims that ultimately saw two men claiming the presidency and holding separate inaugurations. Mr. Pompeo was to hold both separate and joint meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani — the election’s official winner — along with his arch-rival Abdullah Abdullah, who also claims the presidency .

“We have tried... for the last several weeks to try to find the formula and encourage them to come to an agreement,” a senior State Department official said, according to a pool report.

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Mr. Pompeo has come “to help push, to encourage and to point out what our expectations are and what that assessment is if they don’t do the right thing”.

Welcomed by Khalilzad

The top U.S. diplomat was welcomed by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — the lead U.S. negotiator in recent talks with the Taliban — after arriving at Kabul airport.

The visit comes just a day after the Afghan government and Taliban held their first discussion on prisoner exchanges — a key step in a broader push for peace following a withdrawal deal signed between Washington and the militants.The agreement established a framework for bringing to an end America’s longest war.

The spat between Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani , along with the world’s preoccupation with COVID-19, has sparked fears the window for a peace deal is closing fast.

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