Time running out for Afghan peace, US envoy warns

Special Time running out for Afghan peace, US envoy warns
US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 29 October 2020

Time running out for Afghan peace, US envoy warns

Time running out for Afghan peace, US envoy warns
  • Deadlocked Doha talks, spike in violence spark dismay, anger

KABUL: The US special representative for Afghanistan has voiced his dismay at a stalemate in Afghan peace talks, warning that the “bloodshed must end” and the chance for a political solution to the country’s prolonged conflict “will not stay open forever.”

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Zalmay Khalilzad said: “I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, this has not happened.” 

Taliban and Afghan government negotiators gathered in Doha on Sept. 12 to begin US-sponsored peace talks as part of a historic deal between Washington and the Taliban signed in February this year.

However, almost two months on, the two groups have failed to agree on even a basic plan for the peace process, let alone engage in serious negotiations.

Meanwhile, officials from both sides blame each other for a spike in lethal attacks in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

“Too many Afghans are dying,” Khalilzad said, reiterating that both sides “urgently need an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.”  

In a report released on Tuesday, the UN said that almost 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in the first nine months of this year, blaming heavy fighting between the Taliban and government forces for the spike in violence.

The report said that from January to September, 2,117 people had been killed and 3,822 wounded in fighting.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world,” the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in its quarterly report.

While civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year, the report added that violence had failed to slow since the start of the Qatar talks.

Without naming any foreign country, Khalilzad said that Afghans were dying at a “high rate” and that “regional spoilers” were using the population as “cannon fodder for their illegitimate objectives.”

However, President Ashraf Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, on Wednesday rejected Khalilzad’s comments, saying the government “took all necessary steps to ensure lasting peace and a cease-fire be maintained.”

Seddiqi told Arab News that “the Afghan government is focused on ending the senseless war and creating a common future for all Afghans.” 

Arab News could not reach the Taliban for comment.

Khalilzad’s warning comes ahead of next week’s US presidential elections, with analysts saying any success in the Afghan talks could give Trump an edge over his rival, Joe Biden, amid plans to recall US troops from Afghanistan.

The US accord with the Taliban followed months of secret negotiations which did not include Afghan government representatives. 

Emboldened by Washington’s announcement of a troop withdrawal, the Taliban have refused to enforce a truce — a major demand of the Kabul government — which has been one of the main stumbling blocks during the Qatar talks.

Experts say that Khalilzad’s comments “are a clear sign of Washington’s frustration over the talks.”

Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News that the US government “is in a hurry to sign a deal between the Taliban and Kabul.” 

However, with the election looming, “it has no other alternative or a good option, and is talking publicly about its frustration and the fact that Afghans are losing a golden chance for peace.” 

Torek Farhadi, a former government adviser, said that Washington’s political options are “drying up.” 

He said that the Taliban believe that in the event of a Biden victory, Khalilzad will no longer be the US representative in Afghanistan.

Farhadi added that with the US envoy’s departure, the “peace drive will fizzle out, and violence and political instability will further deepen in Afghanistan.”