The United Nations top envoy to Afghanistan has lauded the role of Pakistan in setting the stage for the peace process for the war-torn country.
Briefing the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Deborah Lyons welcomed the prospect of intra-Afghan talks, saying it is a historic moment.
She called for a humanitarian ceasefire in the country as the negotiating teams of Afghanistan and the Taliban prepare to sit in Doha for talks.
“We thank member states, including Qatar, the United States, and Pakistan, as well as so many others who have engaged in intensive diplomatic efforts to get us to this point,” Lyons added.
“For our part,” she said, “the UN will be working with international partners to support both parties and the host countries throughout the process.”
The Afghan conflict, which has raged for four decades, continues to kill hundreds of people each week and has displaced millions over the years – most of whom have no prospects of return.
With the negotiations, hosted by Qatar, set to launch, Lyons exhorted parties to place a humanitarian ceasefire atop the agenda, and pressed all countries to amplify this call as the talks begin.
At the same time, she said the pre-talks phase has already raised difficult issues related to prisoner releases, which have taken five months to resolve. “Eventually, the negotiations will have to tackle a range of profound questions about the kind of country Afghans want,” the UN envoy said. “Solutions cannot be found on the battlefield or imposed from the outside.”
Lyons said that all parties must do their part to ensure the ground is prepared for peace to flourish.
The UN has initiated a dialogue with the two sides on the inclusion of victims’ voices in the peace talks and mechanisms for incorporating victim-centred justice.
“This is a difficult topic, but an essential one”, she said, stressing that only when victims’ grievances are acknowledged and addressed will true reconciliation be possible.
Women’s rights are also emerging as among the most difficult issues confronting the parties as they enter negotiations – and one around which any compromises will pose a difficult dilemma for Member States. “This issue will be more central in the Afghan peace process than we have ever seen in any other peace negotiation in recent memory.”
As such, Lyons has initiated meetings with a country-wide network of women who are providing insight into avenues for greater engagement.
“It is women’s representation at the peace table that offers the best opportunity to ensure their own rights are upheld and their vision for a peaceful Afghanistan is reflected in all aspects of the talks”, she emphasized.
As of now, her office is not aware of any women’s representation for the Taliban, but she is hopeful negotiators will find a way to include women on the team.
A vibrant media will also be crucial in fostering an inclusive peace, she said. Next week she will host a meeting with a consortium of national media companies to discuss how to best engage civil society in a dialogue during the negotiations.
More broadly, the UN envoy said that by deepening regional relationships in the areas of trade and transit, infrastructure connectivity, counter-narcotics, people movements and knowledge transfer, Afghanistan can realise its enormous untapped potential and take full advantage of its strategic location at the heart of Asia.
She welcomed the “overwhelming” response to UNAMA’s Ambassadors Working Group meetings by China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
On the national stage, she welcomed the government’s formation of its cabinet last week, as well as appointments to the High Council of National Reconciliation. Her office continues to call for a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy and an independent anti-corruption commission.
The pledging conference in November and intra-Afghan talks will together set the course for the country’s future.
She said that the UNAMA is engaging regularly with the Taliban to ensure they are well-informed of Afghanistan’s obligations as a member of the global community, notably through discussions on development and governance issues, and an ongoing human rights dialogue.
With 38,000 Covid-19 cases reported and more than 1,400 deaths attributed to the virus, she said: “I consider this work to be of utmost importance.”