Appalling figures released by the UN in a report recently portray the horrific circumstances that Afghan civilians are enduring. About 1,366 civilians were killed in acts of violence in the first six months of this year while, surprisingly, more than 700 of these casualties were the result of airstrikes and night raids carried out by Afghan and foreign forces. Whereas the Taliban, as well as the so-called Daesh group, took the lives of 531 Afghans. Ironically, the intensification of civilian casualties is happening at a time when the peace negotiations with the Taliban are on an upward trajectory. The negotiations give hope to the peace-thirsty Afghans while simultaneously deteriorating insecurity diminishes their dreams and draws a bleak picture for their future. The most recent of these violent acts came on Wednesday when 34 passengers were killed as an IED went off targeting a bus in western Farah province. One can conclude that this curious paradox – talking and fighting at the same — of the belligerent parties is aimed at demonstrating the superiority of power in order to supposedly negotiate on a level playing field and thus take the lion’s share in the peace negotiations. While in fact targeting non-combatant doesn’t do any good to the warring parties other than revealing their contempt for innocent lives. Afghans have pinned high hopes on the peace negotiations and wish to witness tranquility by Eid-ul-Adha because the Taliban showed flexibility to sit on the table with Kabul administration – which also formed a 15-member negotiating team on Wednesday – after a deal with the US. But at such a time of increased violence, the fifth columnists and some war-mongers are exploiting the aggravated unrest – which civilians bear the brunt of – and strive to derail the peace efforts. The meeting held in Doha last month, members of the Taliban, civil society figures as well as Afghan politicians attending the event in their ‘personal’ capacity pledged to bring civilian casualties down to zero. However, the situation on the ground is in complete contrast to what is said. At this crucial stage of peace negotiations – as US Envoy Khalilzad is in Doha to open the eighth round of talks with the Taliban – a conscious and decisive effort needs to be made by all sides to live up to their pledges of protecting civilians and reducing collateral damage. The warring parties should walk the talk and pay heed to innocent lives. Now, in the first step for sustainable peace – which has remained elusive for Afghans for decades – the parties into conflict should pledge not to kill civilians along the peace parleys in order to win hearts. This has to be the target for Kabul, for the Americans as well as for the Taliban. Otherwise, if that doesn’t happen, such ostensible peace efforts coupled with the loss of innocent civilian lives would prove to be merely a pretext; for the US to stage face-saving withdrawal from Afghanistan; for the government to keep power; and for the Taliban to take power.