Kabul: Afghanistan's president marked the official start of the country's election season Sunday by insisting "peace is coming" and that pivotal talks with the Taliban would take place.
Ashraf Ghani is hoping to fend off challenges from 17 other candidates to score a second term at twice-postponed presidential elections now slated for September 28.
"Peace is coming, and the negotiations will take place," Ghani said at a rally marking the start of two months of campaigning.
His comments come a day after his peace minister, Abdul Salam Rahimi, said direct talks would take place with the Taliban within two weeks as part of a larger, US-led push for peace.
Such a development could be crucial, as the Taliban who now control or influence about half of Afghanistan have so far refused to speak to Ghani's government, as they consider the Kabul administration illegitimate.
War aside, the country faces a host of major issues ahead of the election, including rocketing crime, a lacklustre economy, soaring unemployment, and crumbling infrastructure.
Voters are despondent about the prospects of a fair election, and many worry about a repeat of the sort of violent attacks on previous polls by the Taliban and other insurgent groups trying to undermine Afghanistan's fragile democracy. Ghani insisted this year's election would be "clean".