Mike Pompeo dashes to Kabul to break Afghan elections impasse

Mike Pompeo attempted to forge a compromise between rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center right, and Abdullah Abdullah the main political rival of President Ashraf Ghani, center left, walk at the Sepidar palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, March 23, 2020.
Mike Pompeo (r) held several meetings with Ashraf Ghani and his challenger Abdullah Abdullah (l) Credit: AP

Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, made an urgent visit to Kabul on Monday to try to move forward a US-Taliban agreement, amid fears deadlock over Afghanistan's election results will thwart any chance of peace.

The trip - at a time when global leaders are halting travel and focusing on domestic efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic - highlighted Washington's concerns about the lack of progress since last month's agreement.

The deal signed in Doha set out a US withdrawal, in return for Taliban negotiations with the Afghan government to find an eventual political settlement to the country's four decade conflict.

Yet hopes of quick talks between the sides have been blocked by a row over whether Kabul would release Taliban prisoners ahead of talks, as well as the fall out from last year's disputed presidential election.

Ashraf Ghani, the incumbent, was declared the winner of a second term following a drawn out and contested voting process, only for his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, to reject the result.

Both men have since held inaugurations and the stand-off has paralysed the political system.

“We are in a crisis," a state department official told reporters accompanying Mr Pompeo. "The fear is that unless this crisis gets resolved and resolved soon, that could affect the peace process, which was an opportunity for this country that (has) stood in this 40-years-long war. And our agreement with the Talibs could be put at risk."

Violence has also escalated as Kabul and the Taliban have argued over whether the agreement included the release of 5,000 militant prisoners.

America was forced to intervene in contested Afghan presidential elections in both 2009 and 2014. Crisis was only averted in 2014 when a compromise was brokered creating a new chief executive role for Dr Abdullah in a power sharing government.