Surge in Afghan violence risks derailing peace process, warns top negotiator

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A surge in violence in Afghanistan, that has seen hundreds of security personnel killed in the last week alone, risks derailing the shaky peace process in the country, the head of peace efforts with the Taliban has warned.

Abdullah Abdullah, who until March served as Afghanistan’s Chief Executive but now leads the High Council for National Reconciliation, said the current level of violence had created an environment that makes political talks difficult between the Afghan state and the Taliban.

“Today we are taking stock of good and bad of the past 40 years, or four decades, and looking at the road ahead,” Mr Abdullah said during a webinar organised by the United States Institute of Peace.

“We are at the threshold between a unique opportunity for peace that is being defined as we speak or continuing the war – the cost of war, the agony of war – with less clarity into the future.

“Given our geography and existing threat assessment, it’s not just about Afghanistan, it’s also about the stability, connectivity, security from the Far East to Europe and beyond,” he said.

The Taliban struck a troop withdrawal agreement with the US in February to pave the way for talks with the Afghan government.

But the hardline group insisted a list of 5,000 prisoners be released, leading to months of delay as the Afghan government initially refused to set free that many prisoners before talks. In recent weeks, 3,000 have been set free but violence has still continued.

In May, gunmen attacked a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kabul killing 16 expectant women, although no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The clinic has since been closed.

Mr Abdullah said it was important Afghanistan no longer became a “hub” or “staging ground” for terrorism, and added that a peace settlement was the only way forward and that key actors were faced with an opportunity. He said four decades of war should “compel” Afghanistan to find an end to the conflict but he admitted he still had concerns.

Afghanistan's Abdullah Abdullah said the country had a unique opportunity for peace. Reuters
Afghanistan's Abdullah Abdullah said the country had a unique opportunity for peace. Reuters

“If there is a thinking in the other side, and hopefully that’s not the case, that ‘the US troops may withdraw and we may not have to come to a settlement, we might be overcome by force’, that will be a mistake. A great mistake. That will be another missed opportunity for the Afghans in the same way that in early Nineties we missed an opportunity, we didn’t make peace within the country.”

The government has signalled it wants talks with the Taliban to begin as soon as possible and Mr Abdullah insisted there were no red lines in negotiations. But there are believed to be fears of the release of some high-profile Taliban prisoners.

“We have communicated through different channels to the Taliban to our partners and different countries which have leverages, that while we are serious in the pursuit of talks and also preparing the ground for negotiations and expediting the exchange of prisoners in spite of the challenges which we’re involved in, at the same time the continuation of the current level of violence, which is not justified at all, makes the people worried and extremely concerned of, ‘Where are we leading?’” Mr Abdullah said.

Peace talks are expected to be held in Doha, Qatar.

A Pakistani soldier stands guard at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as it remains closed due to coronavirus, in Chaman, Pakistan, on March 20, 2020. EPA

Muslims wear protective masks and attend Friday prayers at a mosque, amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus, in Kabul, Afghanistan on March 20, 2020. Reuters

General view of the deserted Ghulam Haider Khan High school following Afghan authorities' orders to shut down schools for a month as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, in Kabul on March 19, 2020. AFP

A volunteer in a protective suit sprays disinfectant in the offices of a local police station to help curb the spread of coronavirus in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 23, 2020. AP Photo

A volunteer in a protective suit sprays disinfectant on a police truck outside a local police station to help curb the spread of coronavirus in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 23, 2020. AP Photo

A street vendor selling protective masks that could help curb the spread of the new coronvirus waits for customers in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 23, 2020. AP Photo

A worker disinfects area around a police station during a volunteered campaign of disinfecting areas and distributing face mask with gloves to fight against coronavirus in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 23, 2020. According to the ministry of health of Afghanistan at least one person has died and 44 others are confirmed to be infected with coronavirus in the country. EPA

An Afghan woman wearing a face mask sitting in a bus in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 23, 2020. EPA

Health workers screen people crossing into Afghanistan from Iran on March 22, 2020. EPA

Afghan men receive free rations distributed in Herat, Afghanistan, on March 24, 2020. EPA

Afghan women receive free rations distributed in Herat, Afghanistan, on March 24, 2020. EPA

People cross into Afghanistan from Iran on March 22, 2020. EPA

Afghan health workers measure the temperature of bus passengers in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as they enter Kabul trough the city's western gate, on March 22, 2020. AP Photo

A health worker wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant outside of a building during an awareness campaign for coronavirus, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on March 19, 2020. Reuters

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Updated: June 24, 2020 09:33 PM

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