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Afghanistan/UN, Sep 5 (Canadian-Media): The UN’s top official in Afghanistan has warned that with the formal launch of direct peace negotiations imminent, near-record violence in the country is creating an atmosphere of mistrust that risks derailing long-sought talks between the Government and the Taliban.
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High stakes “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 Security Council on Thursday.
The 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, she exhorted parties to place a humanitarian ceasefire atop the agenda, and pressed all countries to amplify this call as the talks begin.
Thanking Qatar, the United States and Pakistan for their intense diplomacy to bring the parties to this point, she said the pre-talks phase has already raised difficult issues related to prisoner releases, which have taken five months to resolve.
No battlefield solution “Eventually, the negotiations will have to tackle a range of profound questions about the kind of country Afghans want.” Solutions cannot be found on the battlefield or imposed from the outside.
At the same time, she 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 a central theme 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, she 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.
Media matters 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, she 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.