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UN envoy warns against political brinkmanship in Afghanistan

United Nations, April 1 (IANS) A UN envoy for Afghanistan warned against political brinkmanship in the war-torn country — at a time when COVID-19 is making the situation even more complex.

“Afghanistan appears to be reaching a defining moment,” Ingrid Hayden, the UN secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council on Tuesday, referring to the political impasse between President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Xinhua news agency reported.

Ghani was announced the winner of the September 28, 2019, presidential election, and was sworn in for a second term on March 9, 2020. Abdullah rejected the outcome and held a parallel presidential inauguration on the same day.

“Almost two decades after the start of the coalition intervention, the question for the Islamic Republic now is: can its leaders rally together to engage in meaningful talks with the Taliban to achieve a sustainable peace? The choice is made stark by the all-encompassing threat of COVID-19, which poses grave dangers to the health of Afghanistan’s population and, potentially, to the stability of its institutions,” said Hayden.

The political brinkmanship prompted serious concerns in many quarters, Afghans and internationals alike, of the potential for a dangerous miscalculation which could have long-lasting implications for the future of the country, she said via video teleconference.

The impasse continues, despite intensive engagement by key stakeholders, particularly the United States, regional actors and Afghan political leaders. The seriousness of the situation is underlined by the U.S. decision on March 23 to immediately reduce assistance by 1 billion U.S. dollars for 2020 and Washington’s preparedness to do the same again the year after, she noted.

“Given the state’s heavy reliance on donor funding, this could have severe consequences for Afghanistan’s fiscal viability, as well as for socio-economic outcomes in the country,” she said. “Now, with the onslaught of COVID-19, many donors are likely to turn inward to meet the needs of their own population. Afghanistan needs to demonstrate a compelling case for the continued investment of international resources.”

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is urging all Afghan parties to work together to resolve their differences peacefully for the good of the people of Afghanistan, said Hayden. “Now is not the time for divisions. Now is the time for statesmanship, accommodation and inclusivity. The interests of Afghans must come first, including the rights of all women, minorities and youth.”

The resolution of the conflict depends on the will of all actors to engage constructively on the fundamental issues at stake. This is a profound responsibility and above all, it is for Afghan leaders. Understandably, grievances are deep-seated, multi-faceted and impact on all segments of society. But now may be a rare opportunity to address these issues, she said.

It is heartening that, despite the political impasse, the Afghan establishment has been able to agree on a diverse negotiating team to hold talks with the Taliban. The team includes representation from all major ethnic groups and five women members, according to Hayden.

All sides are urged to take concrete steps to make the prospect of intra-Afghan negotiations a reality. Having announced its negotiating team, the Afghan government has the weighty task of equipping its negotiators with the necessary skills to help frame its agenda, and the necessary principles to secure and advance the rights of its citizens. It is also incumbent on the Taliban to demonstrate that they are ready to enter into good-faith negotiations with the government with a view to achieving a lasting settlement to the conflict, according to the envoy.

Recent weeks have also seen developments on prisoner releases, which, if carefully managed, could form an important confidence-building measure to start the peace process, said Hayden.

Despite the very real logistical challenges imposed by COVID-19, representatives of the government and the Taliban have held three video teleconferences to discuss prisoner releases. The UNAMA welcomes this engagement and urges the parties to resolve the prisoner release issue swiftly in accordance with international law, she said.

The confluence of political uncertainty, delays in the commencement of the peace process, increasing violence, and the imminent full-force of the COVID-19 pandemic makes this a critical time for the people of Afghanistan, according to the envoy.

“Addressing these issues will require joint efforts from all of us, in the interests of the global population,” she said.



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