With the war in Afghanistan now in “a new, deadlier, and more destructive phase”, the leading UN official in the country appealed for the Security Council to act to avert a catastrophe.
UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) head Deborah Lyons noted that the Taliban’s advance in recent months, now targeting major cities, is reminiscent of the Syrian and Balkan wars.
“Afghanistan is now at a dangerous turning point. Ahead lies either a genuine peace negotiation or a tragically intertwined set of crises: an increasingly brutal conflict combined with an acute humanitarian situation and multiplying human rights abuses,” she said.
The UN Official warned that the consequences could extend beyond the country’s borders.
The Taliban, seizing the opportunity of the departure of foreign troops, had captured majority of the rural areas. Now they are advancing towards the cities and the provincial capitals of Kandahar, Herat, and Lashkar Gah are under significant pressure.
Lyons said that human toll has been devastating and added that more than 1,000 casualties have been recorded in these three areas in the past month alone. She noted that homes, hospitals, bridges and other infrastructure have been destroyed.
“This is a different kind of war, reminiscent of Syria recently or Sarajevo in the not so distant past. To attack urban areas is to knowingly inflict enormous harm and cause massive civilian casualties,” she said.
SUPPORT FROM FOREIGN FIGHTERS
Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the UN Ghulam M. Isaczai claimed that the Taliban were not operating alone. He told the Council that more than 10,000 foreign fighters are in the country, representing 20 groups including Al-Qaeda and ISIL.
“There is mounting evidence that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which have pledged allegiance to ISIL, fought alongside the Taliban in Faryab, Jowzjan, Takhar and Badakhshan provinces where they are currently present with their families under the Taliban control,” said Mr. Isaczai, delivering a statement on behalf of Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister.
Lyons recalled that over the past three years, the Afghan authorities, as well as the international community, have held numerous discussions with the Taliban towards finding peace and a political consensus. “Each time, the expectation was that violence would diminish, and that the same would happen when foreign troops exited the country earlier this year. Instead, despite significant concessions for peace, we have seen a 50 percent, 5-0 per cent, increase in civilian casualties with the certainty of many more, as the cities are attacked,” she said.
“In speaking to Afghans, the impression I have now is of a population waiting apprehensively for a dark shadow to pass over the brighter futures they once imagined. It is difficult to me to describe the mood of dread we are faced with every day,” she said.
“Afghans are facing this coming darkness with a sense of being abandoned by the regional and international community. They expect far greater engagement and visible support from you, as the Council mandated to maintain international peace and security.”
Ahead of the talks in Qatar next week, and the Council’s next meeting on Afghanistan in September, Lyons urged ambassadors to seize the opportunity to address the deteriorating situation in the country.
The Security Council must issue an unambiguous statement that attacks against cities must stop now, she said, while countries meeting with Taliban representatives should insist on a general ceasefire and resumption of negotiations, she said.
“We as the members of the regional and international community, so well represented by this Council, must put aside our own differences on the question of Afghanistan and send a strong signal—not only in our public statements but also in our bilateral communications to both parties—that it is essential to stop fighting and negotiate, in that order. Otherwise, there may be nothing left to win.”
PEOPLE IN DISTRESS
The the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) has said in its latest estimates that the situation for people who have been displaced due to an upsurge in fighting in Afghanistan following the resurgence of the Taliban is expected to continue to deteriorate, unless more is done to assist them. More than 300,000 Afghans is estimated to have been internally displaced in June some 40,000 people a week fled to neighbouring Iran. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1.5 million people have been deported from, or opted to leave, neighbouring Pakistan and Iran to return to Afghanistan.
The UN estimates that almost half the Afghan population, 18.5 million people, will require humanitarian support in 2021 to cope with the multifaceted crisis, caused by conflict, COVID-19 and widespread under-development and poverty.
However, as fighting intensifies and spreads, the operating space for humanitarians providing life-saving assistance continues to shrink dramatically.