After four decades of war, Afghan civilians have experienced many forms of suffering, at the hands of many actors. It is nonetheless horrifying that the Afghan government and its international allies than the Taliban and other insurgents, including the local Islamic State affiliate, in the first half of this year. The number of overall civilian casualties was 27% lower than in the same period last year, but 2018 saw record highs; these rates are shocking and unacceptable, the UN said. Over a third of the 3,812 casualties were children.
It is not a contradiction or even a coincidence that so many have been killed and injured as talks with the Taliban gather pace. The US is to military pressure as a means of creating leverage; the militant group understands the same logic, and seeks to prove it is not cowed. It is nonsensical to think that you can create a lasting peace by ending so many civilian lives, and saying that the Taliban uses civilians as shields is not a free pass under international law. It is clear that the pro-government forces lack both the will and procedures to protect the Afghans they are supposed to be defending. Without proper recording, investigations of and accountability for injuries and deaths, these casualties will continue.
Though the US officially ended its combat mission in 2014, after 13 years of war, more than 20,000 US and other Nato troops are present to train, assist and advise Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism operations. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, says Donald Trump wants a deal before the Afghan presidential election in late September – another likely trigger for violence (on Sunday, 20 people were killed in a at the vice presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh’s office) – and troops .
The Taliban refuses to negotiate with the Afghan government because it does not recognise it as legitimate. But earlier this month its representatives met government officials at peace talks in Doha, with all theoretically participating in their personal capacities. A deal a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops and Taliban guarantees not to harbour foreign militants. But it would be unsustainable without real commitments on other elements: a Taliban agreement to talk to Kabul and other political factions and an agreement to de-escalation, or even a full ceasefire. It is also unclear how promises can be upheld and enforced as US troops are withdrawn.
The hunger for peace in Afghanistan is real and deep. Yet so is the fear that human rights, of women in particular, will be sold out in the haste to cobble together a fix. Though the Taliban has now , and is more willing to discuss women’s rights, few believe that its position has fundamentally changed. Women will look at – and in the sizable areas it controls, the picture is alarming. Limited but still essential progress could be undermined.
Afghan leaders and the warlords with whom they have forged alliances have their own and are more interested in defending their own powers than the advances their country has made, often despite rather than because of them. But as the UN deputy chief, Amina Mohammed, last week, echoing many Afghan activists, inclusivity isn’t only the right thing to do for women and girls; it is the only way to bring about durable peace and development. A rushed deal which rapidly falls apart could cause more damage than no deal at all.