UNITED NATIONS, Sep 04 (APP): The United Nations top envoy in Afghanistan has told the UN Security Council that formal negotiations between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban will take place in “the coming days, not the coming weeks,” and lauded the role of Pakistan and some other countries in setting the stage for the peace process.
“The stakes could not be higher”, said Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), describing the intra-Afghan talks as a historic moment in the country’s history, as she briefed the 15-member Council on Thursday.
“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,” Ms. Lyons said.
“For our part,” she added, “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, Ms. 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. ”
Ms. Lyons said 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”, she assured.
As such, Ms. 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 realize 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 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, “I consider this work to be of utmost importance,” she said.