ISLAMABAD - An international rights group Friday demanded that peace talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban must include a commitment by both sides to end all attacks on civilians in line with the laws of war.
Amnesty International lamented in a statement that civilian casualties remain at near-record levels in Afghanistan, blaming them on both pro-government forces, including U.S.-led coalition partners, and Taliban insurgents.
“They must commit to protecting civilians, and all attacks on civilians must be investigated and prosecuted,” it stressed.
Qatar talks stall
The statement came as American and Taliban representatives have been holding closed-door meetings in Qatar for the past few weeks, trying to resume their stalled negotiations to conclude a long-anticipated deal. But there has been no progress so far because both of the adversaries in the 18-year-old Afghan war seem to be sticking to their guns.
Washington wants a “significant and lasting” drop in insurgent violence before a deal is signed, followed by a reduction in hostilities by all sides to pave the way for starting Taliban-Afghan negotiations over a nationwide cease-fire and power-sharing.
The insurgent group, however has offered to scale back battlefield attacks for a brief period, reportedly up to 10 days, to sign the U.S.-Taliban deal, saying an extensive cease-fire with Afghan government forces would be one of the topics in intra-Afghan negotiations.
The Taliban in a statement earlier this week accused Washington of wasting time by making new demands, saying they had already “shown flexibility” and “now the ball is in their [the Americans'] court.”
“In a conflict marked by attacks on civilians, the term ‘violence reduction’ is an absurdity. There can be no acceptable level of violence,” said Omar Waraich, the South Asia director at Amnesty International.
The United Nations recently announced that the Afghan war had killed or injured more than 100,000 civilians in the last 10 years alone. Nearly, 34,000 Afghans have been killed during that period, most of them children.
“Claims of peace cannot be taken seriously as long as combatants continue to target civilians. … Peace talks must not, under any circumstances, become a license for impunity,” Waraich stressed.
A U.S. State Department official, who had seen reports of recent violence in Afghanistan, said Friday during a background briefing, “The violence continues. It obviously underscores why there needs to be a peace process, on why the Afghan people seek peace. It also underscores the violence and the Taliban’s lack of inhibition in attacking civilians.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has rejected the Taliban’s offer of a limited reduction in violence, saying his government would require a comprehensive insurgent cease-fire before participating in intra-Afghan negotiations.
The proposed U.S.-Taliban deal seeks insurgent counterterrorism assurances in return for international forces' gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the Taliban statement issued Tuesday ruled out the possibility of declaring a prolonged nationwide cease-fire until the foreign troop withdrawal deal was signed with the U.S.
“So long as the sovereignty of Afghanistan is under threat, the Islamic Emirate [Taliban] … will never deal on single point nor will it bend under the pressure of anyone,” it insisted.
U.S. President Donald Trump, however, in a meeting with Ghani in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum Wednesday stressed again a lasting reduction in Taliban hostilities was key to moving the Afghan peace process forward.
“Trump reiterated the need for a significant and lasting reduction in violence by the Taliban that would facilitate meaningful negotiations on Afghanistan’s future,” the White House said after a meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.
VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.