KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghans will elect a new president in the spring of 2014 in a ballot considered crucial for their country's stability and security after more than 11 years of war.
Afghan politicians and the country's foreign backers hailed yesterday's announcement as a step toward a peaceful transition of power. The Taliban, who could make or break the poll, denounced it as meaningless and vowed to keep on fighting.
The government-appointed Independent Electoral Commission set polling day as April 5, 2014, the year that most troops in the U.S.-led NATO coalition will have left in a withdrawal that has already begun.
The date is in line with the Afghan constitution adopted after the coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001. But the Taliban claimed the vote was an American ploy.
"These are not elections, they are selections," said spokesman Qari Youssof Ahmadi. "The U.S. wants to select those people it wants and who will work for the purpose of the enemy. The Afghans know the country is occupied by the enemy, so what do elections mean?"
The Taliban are the country's main opposition group, and President Hamid Karzai has in the past asked the insurgents to lay down their weapons and join the political process. But they have vowed to keep fighting.
Still, despite their rhetoric, it remains unclear what the insurgents will do ahead of the elections.
Prospects appear bleak. Peace talks are stalled and the Taliban show no signs of relenting. During Karzai's decade in office they have never recognized him as president and consider him an American puppet.
The 2009 election that gave Karzai a second term was marred by allegations of massive fraud, and vote-rigging, and by violence.