UNAMA chief Tadamichi Yamamoto writes that the UN continues to support all Afghans but is firm in its belief that there can be no military solution.
A Push For Peace That Puts Afghans First
On my recent travels across Afghanistan, I’ve seen fresh evidence of a grinding and horrific war that continues to plague the lives of all Afghans. The war and the fears that drive it have resulted in a relentless cycle of violence that Afghans – everyone from men, women, students, to peace activists and politicians -- tell me they want to bring to an end.
Vast resources are still being thrown into this war, and fighting remains intense. I want to be clear, however, that the UN supports all Afghans when we say that there can be no military solution to the conflict. To put it another way, no one is winning and all of us, especially Afghan civilians, are losing as long as this war drags on.
Indeed, seen through the prism of Afghanistan’s ongoing carnage and taking into consideration what I see as a growing popular will for peace, the window for peacemaking has never presented itself so clearly. Please allow me to elaborate:
Despite serious disagreements with the current government, even the Taliban’s top representatives have expressed an interest in preserving the sovereignty of Afghanistan from outside factions, and also developing its human and natural resources. In recent statements, the Taliban has even referred to “peace” as the main pillar of an overall policy.
At the same time, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has made clear that he is seeking to include the Taliban in a peace process aimed at putting an end to a devastating war in one of the most brutalized nations on earth. To this end, the Government of Afghanistan has offered the Taliban a seat at the negotiating table if the group makes good on a commitment to peace.
As I explained in my address last week to the UN Security Council, we should not let another fighting season begin without progress on substantive negotiations. If Afghans and the world fail to seize the opportunity this time, a tremendous cost will be paid in Afghan lives and global resources.
This is why I am appealing to countries in the region to reassess and better define their strategic interests in order to renew work on a viable peace process between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban – one which presents an Afghan solution to the conflict.
I am encouraged that, after years of stops and starts mostly outside the borders of Afghanistan, the Afghan-led “Kabul Process” for peace -- initiated last June in Kabul by President Ghani alongside key international and regional players -- offers a new and inspired opening for peace.
Across the region and around the world, I am seeing a growing consensus that peace cannot wait. First, the announcement in August by the new US administration of a continuing commitment to Afghanistan has bolstered the Afghan government’s own hope for an approach to peace. New regional initiatives by close neighbors are seen. For instance, China is playing an increasingly proactive role. Iran, Pakistan, and India are also on record backing a robust peace process, and, encouragingly, everyone has agreed in principle to work together with Afghans taking the lead. The visit by General Bajwa of Pakistan to Afghanistan signaled another encouraging prospect.
I am hopeful that the UN, employing its “good offices” across the region and Afghanistan, can help facilitate a strong and renewed dialogue, not only among leaders, but also among those Afghans disenfranchised by decades of war, including an anxious and vocal young generation.
After so many years, I do not believe that anyone is deluded that the road to peace will be easy. For some Afghans, peace means an end of violence and a path for economic development; while others insist that peace in the absence of justice cannot last. A sustainable and tolerant peace requires an embrace of these differing perspectives.
We should also be clear, however, that -- while the building of a proper peace process requires a great deal of thinking and design -- the lessening of violence and the protection of civilians must also be an overriding priority, particularly at this moment in time. Families across Afghanistan have been decimated by war as I’ve witnessed in my own travels. In the country’s 90,000 plus villages, citizens are fleeing to escape bombardment, and the war continues to stoke panic and fear. That is why I’m also asking that all concerned parties to the conflict should put Afghanistan’s future -- its children and its families – ahead of their immediate demands for concessions.
We all owe it to Afghans, who have borne the brunt of four decades of incessant war, to end the fighting, overcome rigid objections, and give peace a fresh chance of taking hold.
At the UN, we recognize that we cannot, on our own, bring about peace or even help maintain a peace that is not first agreed upon by Afghans, their neighbours, and the international community as a whole. Let me reassure you, however, that the United Nations is absolutely determined to help Afghans move peace forward, and to generate momentum for dialogue between warring factions as well as to work with the government to help set the stage for genuine reconciliation.
This is why I’m looking forward to the continued work of an inclusive Kabul Process – one in which all efforts to build peace regionally converge to create a new momentum to put an end to this unconscionable war.
Tadamichi Yamamoto is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and the Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).