UN welcomes Afghan talks with the Taliban and urges ceasefire

The resolution also extended the UN political mission in Afghanistan into next September

A handout picture provided by the Afghanistan Peace Negotiation Team on September 15, 2020 shows negotiators from the government of Afghanistan preparing before their meeting with representatives of the Taliban (unseen) in Qatar's capital Doha on the fourth day of talks aimed at concluding a peace deal to end nearly two decades of war. The Afghan government on September 14 pressed its calls for a truce with the Taliban, reiterating its desire for a long-term ceasefire at historic talks in Qatar. The two sides are in the early stages of meetings in Doha as they try to hammer out a deal that would bring 19 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan to a close. - == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / AFGHANISTAN PEACE NEGOTIATION TEAM" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==
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The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Tuesday welcoming the start of negotiations between Afghan representatives and the Taliban, encouraging the warring parties to engage in good faith and aim for a permanent ceasefire and political settlement to their 19-year conflict.

The resolution, which also extended the UN political mission in Afghanistan into next September, also encourages the parties "to continue pursuing confidence-building measures including additional reductions in violence".

Germany's UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who drafted the resolution with Indonesia, called the weekend's start of negotiations in Qatar "a major achievement which we have all been waiting for for many years."

"It is indeed in Afghan hands to define the future path of their country – just the way it should be," he said, but he reiterated that "the violence must stop now" and "there has to be a sustainable ceasefire."

Mr Heusgen said the resolution's unanimous adoption showed international support for the talks and stressed that the United Nations and Afghanistan's regional and international partners "will do their part to support and facilitate this process".

The Taliban were removed from power in Afghanistan in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harbouring Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America.

The talks in Qatar were laid out in a peace deal that Washington brokered with the Taliban and signed in February, aimed at bringing American troops home and ending more than four decades of relentless wars following the 1979 Afghan invasion by forces from the former Soviet Union.

The so-called intra-Afghan talks in Qatar are expected to set a roadmap for a postwar society in Afghanistan.

But while the historic start of talks last Saturday was mostly about ceremony, the negotiations are expected to be long and difficult as the two sides struggle to end the fighting and debate ways of protecting rights of women and minorities. One of the first items on the agenda will be a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.

Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to go to school, work outside the home or leave their house without a male escort. And though they still face many challenges in the male-dominated society, Afghan women are increasingly stepping into powerful positions in numerous fields – and many fear the current negotiations could bargain away their gains.

The Taliban have promised women could attend school, work and participate in politics but stressed that would all be allowed in keeping with Islamic principles – without saying what that might mean.

The Security Council called for women and young people to be included in peace negotiations and underlined "that the economic, social, political and development gains made in the last 19 years, including in the field of human rights, especially the rights of women, children and minorities, must be protected and built upon."

The council expressed "deep concern" at the current high level of violence in Afghanistan, especially the number of civilian casualties. It condemned "in the strongest terms" all militant activity and attacks, and reaffirmed the importance of ensuring that Afghan territory is not used by "terrorist organisations" such as ISIS and Al Qaeda "to threaten or attack any other country."

The council also reaffirmed "that neither the Taliban nor any other Afghan group or individual should support terrorists operating on the territory of any other country".

The UN's most powerful body also stressed "the important role that the United Nations will continue to play in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan, while also addressing the challenges facing the country and its people, especially the short- and long-term consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic," which has severely taxed the country's deteriorating health system.

The council said the UN mission, known as Unama, will support the negotiations in Doha, if requested, including by proposing and supporting confidence-building measures and supporting "the organisation of future timely, credible, transparent, and inclusive Afghan elections".