Shaharzad Akbar, Chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, briefed the UN Security Council on Tuesday and warned that rushing the peace process could tip the balance and set off a full-scale civil war.
In her address, she also said the country’s peace talks remain dominated by a group of elite men, some of whom have themselves been responsible for perpetuating violence.
According to her, any settlement that excludes the wider public will almost certainly be short-lived and is unlikely to lead to lasting peace.
“Building peace takes more than a deal among elites,” she said, calling for a more inclusive national endeavour that ensures the participation of women, minorities, youth, civil society and the vibrant Afghan media, as well as victims.
She said a minimum of 30 percent of the participants in the peace talks should be women, and more steps are needed to achieve full gender balance in the future.
“At the recent conference in Moscow, I, like many Afghan women, was shocked and angered to see only one Afghan woman, Dr. Habiba Sarabi, in a room full of men discussing the future of my country,” she said.
She said Afghan women have fought for their human rights for many decades, and have made considerable progress in education, employment and political participation. They are experts everywhere, from the fields of politics to public administration, security, business, science and information technology.
Excluding or marginalizing them from the main discussions about the future of Afghanistan is not only unjust and unacceptable but unwise and unhelpful to a lasting peace, she said.
Emphasizing that Afghans are exhausted by war and yearn for peace, she underlined the urgent need to bring the population relief from relentless violence. The peace process must reflect the concerns and aspirations of all people, with citizens’ fundamental rights recognized and upheld — not violated or “bargained off”.
Peace in Afghanistan will contribute to peace in the region and the world, she stressed, welcoming the heightened role of the United Nations and the Security Council in that process.
As Council members took the floor, many pledged their unwavering support for the people of Afghanistan but some emphasized the need to ensure that the ongoing talks in Doha and elsewhere remain both Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, while stressing that no solution to the country’s problems can be imposed from the outside.
Several delegates also pointed to the potential imminent withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan as a move that must be very carefully considered, as it may have serious security implications or risk reversing hard-won gains already achieved.
Targeted killings labelled War Crimes
The representative of Estonia declared: “With the violence and attacks on civilians, the need for humanitarian assistance and the COVID-19 pandemic, the conditions now in Afghanistan are looking worse than they have in a decade.”
It is particularly troubling to hear that the security situation in the country has deteriorated to its worst level since UNAMA’s inception, and the recent wave of deliberate attacks targeting civilians is indefensible, he said.
Emphasizing that such assassinations may be war crimes and that they must be investigated and perpetrators held to account, he said the increasing violence is also impeding the work of humanitarian actors at a time when nearly half the population of Afghanistan requires assistance.
Echoing other speakers’ calls for an immediate, permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, he went on to note that the soaring violence has contributed to diminished public confidence in the peace process.
The representative of Norway said her country’s four overarching priorities in the Council — peace diplomacy, the equal participation of women, the protection of civilians, and climate change and security — are all highly relevant to Afghanistan, and she intends to bring these issues to the forefront.
Welcoming initiatives towards securing international support for the Afghan peace process, including the recent meeting in Moscow and the upcoming meeting in Turkey, she said these initiatives must complement and build on the Doha talks.
She also said the full, equal and meaningful participation of women is also essential, not only at the negotiating table but in every room where decisions about the future of Afghanistan are being made.
The representative of Niger said attacks and other acts of intimidation against civilians should not be used as a means of pressure to obtain concessions from the other party in the negotiations. He said any good negotiated solution must include the protection of constitutional rights of Afghan women and youth.
He also stressed the need to address the question of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, as well as security sector reform.
The representative of Vietnam urged all parties to fully respect international humanitarian law and allow unhindered humanitarian services, while also calling for stronger efforts to combat the threats of terrorism, drug trafficking and crime.
The representative of Tunisia expressed regret that the negotiations taking place in Doha have not yet brought about the expected results and said all parties must abide by their responsibilities under international law and protect civilians.
He called on the Taliban in particular to end its attacks, honour its counter-terrorism commitments and engage with the government.
He agreed with other speakers that violence must end in order for Afghans to regain confidence in the peace process and that women must be fully and meaningfully included in all aspects of those negotiations.
The representative of France said the full, active and effective participation of women in all formats of the peace process is essential for its long-term success and said peace will not be sustainable as long as drug trafficking continues to gain ground.
The representative of Kenya expressed grave concern that terrorism persists in Afghanistan as a means for political ends, and urged all parties to cease hostilities while welcoming regional and international efforts to support the peace process. He said women remain underrepresented in key bodies, including both negotiating teams, as well as the High Council for National Reconciliation.
Other Council Members also emphasized the need to end the violence and for women to have a greater role in the peacemaking process.
The representative of India said that an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan is “the need of the hour”, while the representative of Russia stated there is a need to consolidate all international and regional efforts and new initiatives must be carefully contemplated.
Mexico’s representative of Mexico meanwhile expressed concern that women remain underrepresented at all levels of decision-making.
It is notable that out of 46 members of the newly created Afghan Commission on Women’s Affairs, only nine are females, he said.
Women must be fully and meaningfully included and their voices must be heard, he added.
The representative of Ireland also voiced concern over the low levels of female representation at last week’s meetings in Moscow, and shared the opinion expressed there by the sole female delegate, Habiba Sarabi, that “51 per cent of people should not be ignored”.
The representative of the United States, Council President for March, speaking in her national capacity, said for peace agreements to be durable and just, the universal human rights of all, including women and minorities, must be respected.
It is also critical to do more to support women and girls in Afghanistan. Violence was meant to silence.
“I will not be silent,” she said, adding that Afghan women will not be either. Their strong voices must be included in discussions on their future.
Pakistan’s peace envoy arrives in Kabul for talks
Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul Mansoor Ahmad Khan said Sunday that a high-ranking delegation led by Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan officials.
“Muhammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation, arrived in Kabul this morning for discussions with Afghan officials on peace,” Khan tweeted.
During his visit Sadiq will also discuss security and related matters, the ambassador confirmed.
Sadiq’s visit comes just two weeks after a scheduled visit by another Pakistani delegation was canceled due to security threats.
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, Asad Qaisar, and his accompanying delegation were forced to turn back to Islamabad after entering Afghan airspace following the reported discovery of explosive materials at the airport.
At the time, Qaisar’s flight was turned back after NATO warned they had found explosives on the runway at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul city.
Qaisar had been scheduled to visit Kabul for three days.
According to officials at the time, the explosives had been planted on one of the runways years ago.
CENTCOM chief in midst of ‘detailed planning’ for counterterrorism ops
Carrying out airstrikes against terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan without a US troop presence in the country will be difficult but “not impossible”, the commander of US Central Command General Frank McKenzie said on Tuesday.
Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, McKenzie said he is in the midst of “detailed planning” for options for so-called “over the horizon” forces, or forces positioned elsewhere in the region that could continue counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan.
He said he plans to give Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin those options by the end of the month.
“If you leave Afghanistan and you want to go back in to conduct these kinds of operations, there are three things you need to do: you need to find the target, you need to fix the target, and you need to be able to finish the target,” McKenzie said.
“The first two require heavy intelligence support. If you’re out of the country, and you don’t have the ecosystem that we have there now, it will be harder to do that. It is not impossible to do that.”
McKenzie’s testimony comes almost a week after President Joe Biden announced he was withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan and that they would all be home by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
According to The Hill, Biden’s decision came despite repeated statements from US military officials that the Taliban was not yet upholding its end of a deal made during the Trump administration to reduce violence and break from al-Qaeda, as well as warnings about the potential for chaos in Afghanistan that could allow an al-Qaeda resurgence should US troops withdraw.
Meanwhile, McKenzie’s comments about the difficulty of intelligence gathering without a troop presence echo comments last week from CIA Director William Burns, who told senators the ability to collect intelligence on threats in Afghanistan will “diminish” with a US military withdrawal, the Hill reported.
On Tuesday, McKenzie also said he continues to have “grave doubts” about the Taliban’s reliability in upholding its commitments under the deal signed last year.
McKenzie declined to tell lawmakers how he advised Biden as the president deliberated the withdrawal, but said he had “multiple opportunities” to provide Biden with his perspective.
The Hill reported that speaking broadly about options to continue strikes once US troops leave, McKenzie said surveillance drones could be positioned in a place where they can reach Afghanistan “in a matter of minutes” or ”perhaps much further away.”
“We will look at all the countries in the region, our diplomats will reach out, and we’ll talk about places where we could base those resources,” he said.
“Some of them may be very far away, and then there would be a significant bill for those types of resources because you’d have to cycle a lot of them in and out. That is all doable, however.”
Right now, McKenzie added, the United States does not have any basing agreements with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or other countries surrounding Afghanistan.
McKenzie also said there are a “variety of ways” to strike targets, including long-range precision fire missiles, manned raids or manned aircraft.
“There are problems with all three of those options, but there’s also opportunities with all three of those options,” he said.
“I don’t want to make light of it. I don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses and say it’s going to be easy to do. I can tell you that the U.S. military can do just about anything. And we’re examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it in the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can.”
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley are also scheduled to brief the full House and Senate behind closed doors later Tuesday on Biden’s plan for Afghanistan.
Khalilzad wraps up 4-day trip to Turkey ahead of Summit
Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has wrapped up a four-day visit to Turkey to discuss the upcoming Istanbul Summit on the Afghanistan peace process.
In a statement issued by the US Embassy in Turkey, the planned Istanbul Summit “is meant to help Afghan negotiators accelerate their efforts to end the war in Afghanistan and agree to a political settlement and a permanent ceasefire.”
The conference will complement peace talks currently ongoing in Doha, the statement read.
Khalilzad, who was in Turkey from March 26 to 29, met with a number of Turkish officials during this time, including Presidential Advisor Ibrahim Kalin, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal.
According to the embassy’s statement, American and Turkish officials consulted on the timing, format, and overall objectives and agenda of the conference to ensure that it will be well prepared and organized.
“They agreed that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned conference, supported by high-level attendance from the international community, provides the best means to accelerate the peace process.
“They also agreed to urge the Afghan parties to prepare for constructive participation in this conference.”
This comes after Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), said last week he hopes “tangible progress will be made towards a peace settlement at the Istanbul meeting”.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview, Abdullah said the presence of decision-makers expected to attend the meeting needs to be utilized to push to accelerate the settlement of issues in Afghanistan.
“There have been a lot of discussions between both sides in the past few months in Doha. The Doha process will continue and then we have the Istanbul meeting. The Istanbul meeting will be held at a high level.
“There will be top leaders of Afghanistan and Taliban — that’s how it is anticipated,” Abdullah said.
He also urged that the Istanbul opportunity should not be used to give speeches; instead, it should focus on working for tangible progress.
“The final, final, final agreement, of course, it takes time, but we should at least agree on few principles. And an agreement on a ceasefire will be very, very important,” Abdullah added.
Anadolu reported that Abdullah said it’s time to move beyond the US-Taliban deal, which stipulates the May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops, and stated it was time to forge an agreement directly between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
He also stated the Taliban’s readiness to move ahead would be tested in the coming days.
“Eventually, it has to be a comprehensive agreement between us, there is something between the US and the Taliban, but eventually, we need to agree. The readiness of the Taliban remains to be seen. It will be tested before the meeting in Turkey,” Abdullah told Anadolu.
No date for the Istanbul Summit has yet been confirmed but it is widely expected that it will take place early next month.
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