The United Nations has thrown its weight behind a peace process aimed at ending almost 20 years of devastating war in Afghanistan, with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling it an opportunity that "cannot" be missed.
Guterres was speaking at a high-level international summit in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, held on Monday to mark 40 years of Afghanistan's southeastern neighbour hosting millions of refugees from armed conflict.
In his speech, the UN chief urged the international community to aid Afghan refugees who reside in Pakistan and Iran and "do everything possible" to achieve peace in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed since a United States invasion in 2001.
"We do not have the right to miss this opportunity," said Guterres, who is in Pakistan on a four-day trip. "No Afghan will forgive us if this opportunity is missed."
His comments came as the US and the Taliban appear to be close to embarking on a seven-day "reduction in violence" in Afghanistan as a prelude to a peace deal to the US's longest war. The two sides have been wrangling over Washington's demand for a ceasefire before the signing of a final peace agreement, which is expected to outline the withdrawal of US troops and a guarantee Afghanistan will not be used as a launchpad to conduct attacks abroad.
The deal also proposes talks between the government in Kabul and the Taliban. The armed group, which has been fighting the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan since it was toppled from power in 2001, has so far refused to speak to the Western-backed Afghan government, calling it a "puppet regime".
In October, the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it chronicled record-high civilian casualties from the war with the Afghan Taliban. In total, at least 2,563 civilians were killed and more than 5,600 wounded in the first nine months of 2019, UN data showed. UNAMA has recorded at least 27,390 confirmed civilian casualties as a result of the war since 2009, when it began gathering data under a standardised methodology.
Monday 17 February 2020 23:19