The UN Security Council has called on political rivals in Afghanistan to “rally together” and finalize talks with the Taliban to help end the country’s long, costly war.
Ingrid Hayden, the UN secretary-general's deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said on March 31 that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and political rival Abdullah Abdullah should take advantage of this key moment in the country’s history.
"Afghanistan appears to be reaching a defining moment. Almost two decades after the start of the [U.S.-led] coalition intervention, the question for the Islamic republic now is: Can its leaders rally together to engage in meaningful talks with the Taliban to achieve a sustainable peace?”
“The choice is made stark by the all-encompassing threat of COVID-19, which poses grave dangers to the health of Afghanistan’s population and, potentially, to the stability of its institutions,” she added.
U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad signed a deal with the Taliban in Doha on February 29 that Washington hopes will end the country’s nearly 19-year war and allow the Pentagon to begin pulling its troops out.
But a power struggle between Ghani and his main rival in Afghanistan's 2019 presidential election, former Chief Executive Officer Abdullah, has threatened to derail the peace process.
Both politicians have claimed to be the winners in the election, although official results gave victory to Ghani.
In addition, a variety of disputes between the government in Kabul and Taliban representatives have slowed progress.
The Taliban has until now refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan government in Kabul. Disagreements over prisoner releases and the Afghan government's negotiating team have stymied any further progress.
'Diverse' Negotiating Team
On March 27, Taliban forces took control of a district headquarters in Afghanistan's northeastern province of Badakhshan, then the next day announced that it would not negotiate with the 21-member team recently unveiled by the Afghan government.
The UN's Hayden indicated support for the Afghan negotiating team, saying she was heartened that, despite deep-seated differences, Afghanistan's leaders had agreed on a diverse selection of citizens.
She said that representatives come from all major ethnic groups and include five women -- which, she said, was an important recognition that women must be involved in efforts to bring about a lasting peace.
The UN mission “has encouraged the Taliban to reciprocate by including women in their delegation who have an empowered decisive voice at the table. Doing so would send a tangible signal that the movement has fundamentally reformed,” she said.
Under the agreement with the United States, the Taliban promised to reduce attacks targeting international forces. However, assaults against Afghan national defense and security forces have continued to plague the country, with civilians often being the victims, the UN said.
Hayden said the trend can be reversed and cited the “significant reduction” in violence ahead of the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement.
Despite the internal political standoff, Abdullah vowed on March 31 that he would ensure the dispute “does not overshadow peace efforts."
Abdullah said the team "represents the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and our national interests.”