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THE U.N. TAKE ON AFGHANISTAN: STRUGGLE AND HOPE FOR PEACE

By Javier Delgado Rivera 

In late June, Deborah Lyons, the U.N.’s top envoy in Afghanistan, briefed the UN Security Council via teleconference on the situation in the country. Ms. Lyons told the world’s highest multilateral authority that for many Afghans life is still a daily struggle for survival, and that “when it comes to civilian casualties, Afghanistan remains one of the deadliest conflicts in the world.” 

The Canadian diplomat made sure that the Council grasped the cruelty of last month’s attack on a maternity ward in Kabul, which “established a new low […] this was truly a moment when new life was taken from the womb,” she lamented.

This indignation is also shared by António Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General. In his most recent report on Afghanistan he stated that “attacks against civilians are unacceptable. Hospitals, medical facilities and personnel have special protection under international humanitarian law. Those who attack them must be held accountable.”

A plea for justice also echoed by the entire Councilin a press statement issued by the President of the UN Security Council for the month of June, France’s Nicolas de Rivière.

In his 15-page review on the situation in Afghanistan, Mr. Guterres draws attention to one of the most-employed modi operandi by terrorists in the country. “The use of improvised explosive devices remained the second most common type of incident [after armed clashes], with a 22 per cent increase compared with the same period in 2019,” notes the U.N. chief. On June 27th, one of such devices killed two employees of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC).

Fatima Khalil, one of the victims, was only 24 years old, what shows how young age does not serve as a deterrent in the targeting of civilians by armed groups in the country.

“Afghanistan also remains the deadliest conflict in the world for children. Last year alone, 874 children lost their lives as a result of the conflict and many, many more were injured,” stressed Ms. Lyons in her briefing, what was also joined by Adela Raz, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the U.N., and Shaharzad Akbar, IHRC chairperson.

The deterioration of security in the country was also one of the key messages contained in the report of the U.N. chief. “The disturbing increase in violence since March has continued to take the lives of civilians, among them women, children and newborns. Internal displacement, deprivation and insecurity further endanger the population,” reads the document, that is meant both for the U.N. Security Council and the Organization’s General Assembly, and gets updated and issued every three months.

Ms. Lyons, who holds the posts of Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General and Head of UNAMA, warned that a reduction in violence is essential to an environment conducive for peace talks and to pave the way for an eventual permanent ceasefire. But, she admits, “the recent spiraling levels of violence threaten this process.” 

On his side, Mr. de Rivière also stressed that the U.N. Security Council is concerned “over the significant increase in the cultivation, production, trade and trafficking of illicit drugs in Afghanistan, which continue to pose a threat to peace and stability in the region and beyond.”

And then, the pandemic hits

In her address to the Council, the UNAMA’s head talked the long-lasting socio-economic impact of weeks of lockdown, reduced economic activity and loss of remittances in Afghanistan; just when the country “faces the daunting  challenge  of  seeking  continued international financial support at a time of unprecedented financial uncertainty, including in many of the traditional  donor  capitals.”  The World Bank estimates that Afghanistan Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will decrease by 17 percent this year.

The U.N. Security Council recognizes “that the spread of COVID-19 is having a devastating impact in Afghanistan and that it requires the support of all Afghan parties and the international community to address short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic, including a safe and unhindered access to medical services and humanitarian aid,” stated Mr. de Rivière.

Ms. Lyons, who was appointed to her role in Kabul in March, reminded the Council of the need to support the country’s future ahead of the Afghanistan Pledging Conference, that will be co-organized by Finland in November.

Cautious optimism

Both the U.N. chief and Ms. Lyons consider that the prospective peace talks must build on the gains of the past, and set the foundation for a more prosperous future. In addition, the UN stresses that the talks must include women, youth, minorities and victims of war to reflect the aspirations and concerns of all citizens. 

I am cautiously optimistic that the talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban negotiation teams will indeed start in the next few weeks […] I have encouraged them to show the necessary flexibility and foresight, the commitment to peace, and most importantly, compassion for their people that will be needed to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion,” Ms. Lyons, who recently met Taliban’s deputy chief in Qatar, told to the 15 member states of the Council.

A call shared by the world’s top diplomat. “Direct talks are essential to paving the way towards a lasting political settlement and a permanent ceasefire, and to advancing sustainable development throughout the country,” voiced Mr. Guterres in his report to the 193 countries of the UN. The Council itself urges the sides for “the rapid release of remaining prisoners in the coming days.”

“Afghanistan now has the unique opportunity to turn the corner to a brighter, more stable future after four decades of war,” was the takeaway that Ms. Lyons wanted Council diplomats to stick with. Indeed, hope in the intra-Afghan negotiations is also Mr. Guterres’ mantra when it comes to the future of the country. 

It is now high time for Afghan leaders to prove that such levels of hope are not misplaced.  

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Javier Delgado Rivera is a New York-based freelance journalist writing about the United Nations. His articles have appeared in Carnegie Council, Huffington Post, South China Morning Post, Middle East Eye, Diplomatic Courier, Asia Times, Modern Diplomacy, Open Democracy and Jakarta Globe, among others.

Prior to moving to New York, Javier lived in China, India and Brussels, where he worked as communications advisor for several think tanks and advocacy groups. Javier holds an MA in Conflict Resolution from the University of Coventry (UK). He also runs @TheUNTimes on Twitter, and you can reach out to him at editor@theuntimes.org.

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