UN calls on Taliban to halt offensive in Afghanistan
By Mario Villar
United Nations, Aug 6 (EFE).- The United Nations on Friday pressured the Taliban to halt their military offensive in Afghanistan and hold urgent peace talks with authorities in Kabul.
Amid the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss possible solutions and reiterate its demand for an immediate cease-fire.
That call came as the insurgents continue their advance on several cities – on Friday they announced the complete takeover of Zaranj, capital of the southwestern Afghan province of Nimruz – and as government forces seek to launch a counteroffensive in other urban centers such as the southern city of Lashkar Gah.
“Afghanistan is at a dangerous turning point. Ahead lies either a genuine peace negotiation or a tragic set of crises, an increasingly brutal conflict combined with an acute humanitarian situation and multiplying human rights abuses,” the UN’s special representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, told the Council on Friday.
Speaking via videoconference, Lyons said the situation is extremely worrying and called on the international community to act to prevent a “situation of catastrophe so serious that it would have few, if any, parallels in this century.”
She emphasized the severe impact of recent attacks on cities by the Taliban, which had earlier made major territorial gains in rural areas following the pullout of US-led international forces.
At least 104 civilians have been killed and 403 wounded over the past 10 days in Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern province of Helmand, according to the UN.
“To attack urban areas is to knowingly inflict enormous harm and cause massive civilian casualties. Nonetheless, the threatening of large urban areas appears to be a strategic decision by the Taliban, who have accepted the likely carnage that will ensue,” Lyons said.
She therefore urged global powers to send a clear message to the insurgents about the need to immediately halt their offensive and negotiate with the Afghan government.
In the ensuing debate, the Security Council members echoed that position, insisting on the urgent need to establish a cease-fire and take steps to ensure that next week’s Afghan peace talks in Doha lead to concrete results.
Scant progress has been made since Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration and the insurgents started their negotiations in the Qatari capital.
Those talks began after the US agreed to completely withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and the insurgents pledged to seek a political solution via talks with Kabul.
The US’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Richard Mills, on Friday also insisted during the Security Council meeting that the Taliban immediately halt their offensive and seek a negotiated agreement with the Afghan government.
He said the Taliban would become an international pariah if they were to take over Afghanistan militarily and reimpose the fundamentalist Islamic regime they oversaw between 1996 and 2001, when the US accused the Taliban of harboring Osama bin Laden in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and invaded the Asian country in October of that year.
Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council along with the US, United Kingdom, France and China, also called for the start of true peace negotiations, with its permanent representative to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, warning of the risk of the country falling into a “total civil war.”
For his part, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN, Ghulam Isaczai, said the Taliban are being backed by dozens of foreign terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and demanded more cooperation from Pakistan to ensure that neighboring country does not serve as a safe haven and supply route for the insurgents. EFE