The UN’s envoy to Afghanistan on Tuesday said that revived US efforts to cut a peace deal and exit the country will not yield a quick fix to a deadlocked negotiation process and rising levels of violence.
UN envoy Deborah Lyons told the Security Council that “heightened intensity” over Afghanistan under the new US Biden administration would struggle to bridge stark differences between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“All of this could mark a turning point, but the road ahead is still not clear and we are moving into a period of great uncertainty and intensity,” Ms Lyons told the virtual meeting.
“Decades of conflict have created real grievances on all sides. There remains a lack of trust among the parties. There are also genuine and profound differences between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban over the desired end state.”
The new US Biden administration is reviewing its plans before May 1, the deadline agreed to last year under the Trump administration for the last 2,500 US troops to exit Afghanistan. President Joe Biden last week said it would be “tough” to meet that deadline.
US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has in recent weeks been travelling in the region with proposals including an interim power-sharing Afghan government and a summit in Turkey to jump-start peace negotiations.
“We always knew that this would be a complicated peace,” warned Ms Lyons.
“None of this can be resolved in the work of a moment, nor in a few meetings, no matter the location or format.”
Peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the insurgent Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha have made little progress. Violence has increased in the country, with an assassination campaign against government employees, civil society figures and journalists.
"Afghans are suffering from unprecedented levels of violence even as these negotiations continue," said Ms Lyons.
"In the first two months of 2021, we have witnessed that continued trend of rising civilian casualties documented since the start of the Afghanistan peace negotiations in September."
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last week appointed veteran French diplomat Jean Arnault as his second envoy to Afghanistan, charged with promoting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Washington has been at war in Afghanistan for 20 years following the September 11 terrorist attacks masterminded by Al Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden from his headquarters in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Although the US has spent nearly $1 trillion on the conflict, armed extremists remain powerful. Al Qaeda remains present and an offshoot of the ISIS group has staged attacks in the east of the landlocked country.