The U.N.’s top official in Afghanistan warned Tuesday that time is running out to prevent a “worst-case scenario” and urged the warring parties to abandon violence and make peace.
“There is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan – one acceptable direction – away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table,” Deborah Lyons told a high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
She appealed to the council, as well as regional countries, to push the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators to resume U.S.-brokered peace talks in Doha, Qatar, which began in September, but then stalled.
Turkey, Qatar and the United Nations had planned to host a conference in Istanbul in April in order to get those negotiations restarted, but the Taliban ignored the invitation.
Instead, Taliban-driven attacks and violence has surged. The U.N. says civilian casualties are up by nearly 30% in the first three months of 2021 over the same period last year, and there have been multiple attacks on schools, aid workers and minority communities.
Surge in fighting
Lyons said that more than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts have fallen to the Taliban since early May.
“Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” she said.
The United States announced in mid-April that it plans to withdraw its remaining troops by mid-September. The drawdown began on May 1 and is likely to end ahead of schedule, in July. NATO forces are also leaving Afghanistan. Since the withdrawals have begun, fighting has intensified between Afghan security forces and the Taliban.
Lyons said the announcement of the departure of international troops “sent a seismic tremor” through the Afghan political system and society. She said that while the decision to leave was expected, its speed was not.
“All actors have had to adjust to this new reality that is unfolding,” she said.
Lyons warned that if the Taliban continue their military campaign it would lead to increased and prolonged suffering and violence, and risk gains.
“It should be emphatically clear that any efforts to install a militarily imposed government in Kabul would go against the will of the Afghan people, and against the stated positions of the regional countries and the broader international community,” she said.
US pledges continued support
The U.S. ambassador said that Washington’s commitment to Afghanistan’s safety and security would continue.
“We will use our full diplomatic, economic, and assistance tool kit to support the peaceful, stable future the Afghan people want and deserve,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told council members. “And we will continue to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in securing their country.”
Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister said his government was not a party to the agreement signed by the United States and the Taliban in Doha in February 2020, but has engaged in good faith, while the Taliban have not.
Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said the group has not cut ties with international terrorism or reduced violence, and has not pursued any serious engagement with the government.
“This situation calls for a serious review and assessment as to where we, as the international community, are with the peace process,” he told the council.
Council members expressed support for a continued U.N. role in Afghanistan after the foreign forces leave. They will consider the U.N. Assistance Mission’s (UNAMA) mandate in September.