UN chief hires Afghanistan envoy amid diplomatic push

The US wants out of Afghanistan and is seeking help from the UN

FILE PHOTO: Jean Arnault, Personal Envoy of the Secretary of the United Nations for Bolivia meets with Luis Arce, Presidential candidate for Movement to Socialism party (MAS), in La Paz, Bolivia, October 16, 2020.REUTERS/David Mercado/File Photo

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday announced the appointment of a personal envoy to Afghanistan amid renewed diplomatic efforts to cut a peace deal and end decades of violence in the country.

IThe UN said French diplomat Jean Arnault would lead efforts to advance peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which have failed to make headway despite efforts by the US, Qatar and others in recent years.

The UN move comes as the US Biden administration seeks to break a deadlock in negotiations between the two sides and withdraw its forces from the country by May 1, as was agreed to in a US-Taliban deal last February.

The envoy will liaise “with regional countries with the aim of supporting the negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban and implementation of any agreements which are reached”, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“Given the importance of regional co-operation in support to Afghanistan, the personal envoy will seek to advance the good neighbourly relations contributing to peace in the country.”

Russia on Thursday will host the first of three planned international meetings aimed at jump-starting Afghanistan’s stalled peace process. The UN is not sending a delegate to talks in Moscow.

Down the line, the UN is expected to convene the foreign ministers of Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia, China and the US to drum up international support for the peace process. The US then wants Turkey to host a peace deal signing ceremony at a third meeting.

Mr Arnault will not replace the current UN envoy to Afghanistan, Canadian diplomat Deborah Lyons, but will instead work directly towards the “achievement of a political solution to the conflict”, the UN said.

"Mr Arnault brings extensive experience in international diplomacy focusing on peace settlements and mediation, regional knowledge and background in UN missions in Africa, Europe and Latin America and Asia, including in Afghanistan," Mr Dujarric said.

The US has been at war in Afghanistan for 20 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, masterminded by Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from his headquarters in Taliban-governed Afghanistan.

Although the US has spent about $1 trillion on the conflict, armed extremists are still powerful there. Al Qaeda is present and an offshoot of ISIS has staged attacks in the east of the landlocked country.