The United Nations, in cooperation with Finland and the Trump administration, has taken a few small steps towards peace in Afghanistan, which if successful will make it easier for Joe Biden to find his way out of America’s long and fruitless war in that country.
These UN efforts could boost laborious Afghan-Taliban peace talks currently underway in Doha, Qatar, mediated by the Trump administration. This is the first time the two Afghan enemies hold face-to-face talks to try to end the country’s decades-long war.
In any case, the UN and the Doha talks face a high wall since terrorist violence continues unabated in Afghanistan. On Sunday, a truck bomb attack killed at least 31 soldiers at an Afghan army commando base in Ghazni province, adding to 50 people killed in separate attacks recently in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Afghanistan to save lives and “create a conducive environment for the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations in Doha – a major opportunity to realize the long-held aspirations of the Afghan people.”
The fragile positive steps to peace came at a UN-sponsored conference on Afghanistan when donors pledged at least US$ 3.3 billion as reconstruction aid for the first year of the upcoming 2021-2024 quadrennial. Further annual commitments expected to stay at the same level year-on-year.
Guterres is also worried about COVID-19 impacts on Afghanistan, which would greatly increase aid requirements. “As winter approaches, I am concerned that another spike in COVID-19 cases will further strain Afghanistan’s already fragile health system and economy, causing further suffering,” he said.
Guterres said the Afghan people face serious challenges, including conflict, poverty and the uneven application of the rule of law. Two major global crises, COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergency, are making life even more difficult, particularly for the most vulnerable.
In particular, the pandemic has exacerbated humanitarian and development challenges, impeded access to healthcare and education, and stymied economic growth, affecting millions of Afghans.
The pledging conference brought together about 70 countries and 30 international organizations, along with Afghan Government officials and a broad cross section of civil society representatives including women’s organizations.
According to UN assessments, the people of Afghanistan have made significant progress over recent years despite decades of conflict. Access to water, sanitation, electricity and health services has increased. Across the country, girls and boys are more likely to be in school.
The Afghan economy has diversified. Improved infrastructure and power supplies are connecting remote areas to national economic opportunities, and to neighboring countries.
More women are in government, and in legislatures at the national and local levels. Afghans have made remarkable progress in achieving their human rights, particularly those of women, minorities, and children.
Respect for such rights provides solid foundations for a peaceful future if they remain anchored in law and are protected in practice.
The Doha talks are part of Donald Trump’s efforts to withdraw significant numbers of US troops from Afghanistan before President-elect Biden takes over on January 20 next year.
Some think that the withdrawal will make Afghanistan more unmanageable for Biden because the Afghan government will not be able to stop conquest by Taliban fighters without American military help. Others see it as an unwitting gift to Biden from Trump.
Guterres emphasized the need for inclusive negotiations, in which women, young people and victims of conflict are meaningfully represented, because it offers the best hope of sustainable peace.
“Afghan women have paid a high price in the conflict. Some have been subjected to extreme violence; others have lost loved ones, homes and communities; many continue to be denied opportunities of all kinds, including education and basic rights to livelihoods, land, legal personhood, and a life free of violence,” he pointed out.