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‘Well-founded’ hopes for Afghanistan peace: UN

AT Monitoring Desk-KABUL: Hopes for peace in Afghanistan are better than they have been in many years, despite a grave humanitarian crisis and persistent violence, a senior United Nations official said Friday.

The UN’s humanitarian chief in the country, Toby Lanzer, told reporters that even though some 3.6 million people are “one step away from famine” and the worst drought in decades has devastated crops, the situation was not entirely bleak.

“Despite all of this, there are new-found opportunities in Afghanistan, and there are very well-founded hopes for peace,” Lanzer said in Geneva, ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in the Swiss city next week.

“It sounds like a paradox, but there are better opportunities today then there have been in many years for Afghanistan,” he added.

Lanzer did not spell out why he believed the Taliban may be ready to negotiate an end to its 17-year insurgency.

But he said “there is more coordination amongst the international community than I think we have witnessed in recent times.

“And there is more openness in certain sectors of the international community to make sure that everyone is part of the conversation, and those are two very important changes,” he added.

Hopes for progress in negotiations with the Taliban have also been raised by President Ashraf Ghani and Western diplomats.

Ghani said earlier this month it was “not a question of if, but when” an agreement would be reached with the Taliban, while the US envoy to the country raised the possibility of a breakthrough even before presidential elections in April.

Lanzer seemed to cast doubt on chances of an imminent breakthrough.

“I think after 40 years of instability it would be a bit much to ask for tremendous progress in a matter of months. I do think this is going to take time,” he said, adding that “spoilers” will try to derail any peace push.

Next week’s meeting in Geneva is officially centred on showcasing the Ghani government’s reform efforts, but Lanzer said peace will feature on the sidelines.

“In the margins of the conference there are going to be a lot of bilateral conversations, bilateral meetings. I think that the issue of peace and stability will be quite central to those,” he said.

Lanzer spoke shortly after the latest deadly attack in Afghanistan, that saw at least nine soldiers killed in a suicide blast inside a packed mosque on an army base during Friday prayers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the Islamic State group has previously claimed most suicide attacks on mosques in the country.

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