Sunday 7th of July was a bittersweet day for Afghanistan’s peace process. Taliban officials were meeting with a delegation of over 50 Afghan activists, negotiators, and politicians in Qatar’s capital, Doha, for peace talks. As talks progressed, a car bomb was set off in Ghazni City in Afghanistan, roughly 150 miles from the capital city, Kabul, killing eight security personnel, six civilians, including one child, and left 180 people injured. Of the 180 injured, around 60 were children as the car bomb was detonated in close proximity to a local school. The intended target was the National Directorate of Security which is Afghanistan’s intelligence service.
Responding to the attack, U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad wrote: “Getting reports of a horrific attack in Ghazni in which schoolchildren were again victims. It is unfathomable to endanger children in this way. I strongly condemn this attack. Peace has never been more urgent and is the only path to ending terror and violence.” Khalilzad has played a key part in ongoing negotiations between the Taliban and the United States. On the chance of a ceasefire agreement being reached, Nadir Naim, a member of the delegation and part of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council said, “We believe they are very near. A lot of the differences are being resolved. So, it’s just a matter of time.”
The very fact of getting Taliban representatives and Afghan politicians to meet should be seen as a positive step. The Taliban have never before shown willingness to interact with the Afghan government, denouncing them as illegitimate. The politicians who did attend were, therefore, officially present in a personal capacity, but this is the sort of progress that must occur for peace to be achieved. Tentative steps towards peace are still steps in the right direction.
However, what cannot be ignored and must be condemned is the apparent unwillingness of the Taliban to show genuine commitment to cease killing innocent civilians in acts of terror. Indiscriminate killings like these are reprehensible and can never be tolerated whilst making the peace process even harder to traverse. If the Taliban are serious about ending the conflict, they must stop their violence.
The intra-Afghan negotiations were the third of their kind in 2019, the previous two being held in Moscow. This round of talks was mediated by Qatar and Germany with a view of having more talks in the near future as part of the process to end the violent struggle for control over the country. The UN reported that 3,804 civilians including over 900 children were killed in 2018, making it the deadliest year for civilians since the start of the conflict in 2001. Al Jazeera reports that the Taliban is currently at its most powerful since 2001, effectively controlling half the country. The intra-Afghan talks are running separately from but closely linked to U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Qatar about the withdrawal of American troops from the country, with the U.S. negotiations put on hold for two days to facilitate this round of talks.
The next step towards a conflict-free Afghanistan must be an effective ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan forces. This can act as the springboard for creating trust between the negotiating parties. With the first official ceasefire of the entire conflict in 2018 having only lasted three days, a prolonged period of peace would mark huge strides forward. After that, there may be hope for discussions on how Afghanistan’s civil society could function including universal rights and equality for women and minority groups in a new era for Afghanistan.
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