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Afghans See Long Road To Peace Still,They Hope

The first real attempt to reconcile the Taliban was the formation of the Afghan High Peace Council in 2010.This was a group of politicians, civil society activists and former Mujahideen, also including several women as well as moderate Taliban figures. The idea was to open up communication channels with the insurgents to talk peace.

To provide the Taliban with an address, the Qatari government agreed to establish a political office for the insurgents which opened in Doha in 2013.

The United States and the Afghan Taliban have signed an agreement aimed at securing an end to almost 20 years of violent conflict in Afghanistan. The deal was done after a seven-day partial ceasefire, agreed as a trust building exercise. The two sides came together at a signing ceremony in Doha, led by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

The Taliban wanted a timetable for a US troop withdrawal, while the American demanded the Taliban end all ties with international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida.

How much has the Afghanistan war cost the US?
According to the US Department of Defense, the total military expenditure in Afghanistan (from October 2001 until September 2019) was $778bn.[1]

How much territory do the Taliban control?

The study shows the Taliban are now in full control of 14 districts (that's 4% of the country) and have an active and open physical presence in a further 263 (66%), significantly higher than previous estimates of Taliban strength.

Challenges:
There have been several gaps and challenges in the current peace initiative by QCG, which should be dealt carefully. The challenges are as follows:
Since Taliban is not a monolithic group, it has to be carefully charted out as to which group(s) the Afghan government is targeting to engage. The government should plan in advance what it would do if Taliban refuses to participate.
  • In case the Taliban agrees to participate, what would be the agenda of talks?
  • To what extent can the government develop a consensus with Taliban?
Another important challenge for Afghanistan would be to convince Taliban to accept Afghan constitution, which seems a bit difficult as Taliban has always strived for Shariah based law in the country.
  • To what extend the Government of Afghanistan can trust Pakistan and its role in the peace process?
  • What role would China play to secure its national interests?
  • Would it convince Pakistan to bring Taliban to the negotiating table or would it rely on Pakistan’s strategy?
On 11 January 2016, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) consisting of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States met for the first time to discuss the Afghan peace and reconciliation process in Islamabad. Parties confirmed mutual efforts to facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process to achieve lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. Three further QCG meetings were held. On 21 September 2016 in New York, on the margins of the 71st UN General Assembly, India, Afghanistan and the United Sates held a round of trilateral consultations at which they reaffirmed shared interests in advancing peace and security in the region, as well as countering terrorism.

On 22 September 2016, a peace agreement was signed between the Afghan Government and Hizb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). On 6 November 2016, the Afghan government and the HIG Joint Executive Commission for the implementation of the peace agreement officially started its work.

On 20 November 2016, a HIG delegation met with President Ghani to discuss the release of HIG prisoners, refugee repatriation and land distribution. Two days later, a HIG delegation visited Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul and met HIG prisoners. All issues regarding the implementation of the peace agreement continue to be addressed by the Joint Executive Commission.

There were four meetings convened by Pugwash in 2016 related to peace and security in Afghanistan; 23-24 January 2016 in Doha, Qatar on Peace and Security in Afghanistan; 5 September 2016 in Kabul, Afghanistan on moving towards peace in Afghanistan; 22 November 2016 in Islamabad, Pakistan on Pakistan-Afghan relations and; 13 December 2016 in Kabul, Afghanistan on peace in Afghanistan.

Peace Talks Sponsored By Russia

On April 14th 2017, Moscow invited 12 states to take part in consultations devoted to the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan and the start of direct talks between the country’s government and
the Taliban. In December, Moscow hosted consultations between diplomats from Russia, Pakistan, and China to discuss the start of a national reconciliation process in Afghanistan. The format was expanded in mid-February to involve Afghanistan, Iran, and India.

However, it is important to note here that, U.S. administration refused to take part in the conference, questioning Russian intentions and motives. With support from the US and other NATO members, the conference in Moscow could have been a major stride towards resolving the Afghan crisis. Despite having conflicting views and interests, regional actors seemed to be inching toward a single approach to stability in the war-torn country.

But the Trump team, in spite of America’s dismal failure to enforce a semblance of security in a country dubbed as the graveyard of empires, remains cynical of regional peace bids. The US, which is yet to unveil its game plan, chose to play the spoiler by boycotting the negotiations.

Increase In Death Toll
Parties to the conflict in Afghanistan killed and injured more than 10,000 civilians in 2019, according to a new United Nations report that describes continuing record-high levels of civilian harm in the ongoing conflict.
The new report documents 3,403 civilians killed and 6,989 injured, with the majority of the civilian casualties inflicted by anti-government elements. It is the sixth year in a row that the number of civilian casualties has exceeded 10,000.

In addition to continuing record-high levels of harm to civilians, civilian casualty figures for 2019 surpassed a grim milestone. After more than a decade of systematically documenting the impact of the war on civilians, the UN found that in 2019 the number of civilian casualties had surpassed 100,000.[3]

Almost no civilian in Afghanistan has escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence, said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). It is absolutely imperative for all parties to seize the moment to stop the fighting, as peace is long overdue; civilian lives must be protected and efforts for peace are underway.[5]

The figures outlined in the new report – released jointly by UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office – represent a five per cent decrease over the previous year, mainly due to a decrease in civilian casualties caused by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP). Civilian casualties caused by the other parties increased, particularly by the Taliban (21 per cent increase) and the international military forces (18 per cent increase), mainly due to an increase in improvised explosive device attacks and airstrikes.

In addition to outlining the civilian casualties documented with a rigorous methodology throughout the course of 2019, the report sets out several recommendations and reminds the parties that attacks deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that amount to war crimes.

All parties to the conflict must comply with the key principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution to prevent civilian casualties, said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Belligerents must take the necessary measures to prevent women, men, boys and girls from being killed by bombs, shells, rockets and improvised mines; to do otherwise is nacceptable.

The report calls on all parties to the conflict to conduct prompt, effective and transparent investigations into all allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, with a view to ensuring accountability.[6]

Anti-Government Elements

In 2019, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 6,447 civilian casualties (1,668 killed and 4,779 injured) to Anti Government Elements, an eight per cent decrease compared with 2018.30 After reduced Taliban and ISIL-KP activity during the first six months of the year, civilian casualties attributed to Anti-Government Elements peaked in the third quarter, mainly due to Taliban attacks. UNAMA attributed 4,904 civilian casualties (1,301 killed and 3,603 injured) to the Taliban, a 21 per cent increase compared with 2018, comprising 47 per cent of all civilian casualties.31

UNAMA attributed 1,223 civilian casualties (309 killed and 914 injured) to ISIL-KP, a decrease of 44 per cent compared to 2018, comprising 12 per cent of all civilian casualties.32 UNAMA attributed 320 civilian casualties (58 killed and 262 injured) to undetermined Anti-Government Elements. In contrast to 2018, civilian casualties from nonsuicide IEDs surpassed civilian casualties from suicide attacks in 2019, and was the leading cause of civilian casualties by Anti-Government Elements for the year.

Non-suicide IEDs caused 2,258 civilian casualties (507 killed and 1,751 injured), a 24 per cent increase from 2018. Suicide attacks were the second leading cause of civilian casualties attributed to Anti-Government Elements, resulting in 2,078 civilian casualties (378 killed and 1,700 injured). This represented a 26 per cent decrease from 2018, mainly driven by a 76 per cent decline of civilian casualties attributed to ISIL-KP suicide attacks, while civilian casualties from Taliban suicide attacks increased by 133 per cent. UNAMA documented a 11 per cent decrease in civilian casualties from ground engagement attributed to Anti-Government Elements, causing 1,229 civilian casualties (261 killed and 968 injured).

Afghan People’s Dialogue on Peace

Afghans in Kabul by and large identified what they perceived to be local peace-building initiatives, including strengthening and reforming local government institutions; the implementation of economic and social development projects, particularly infrastructure projects; the strengthening of Afghan national security forces; the strengthening of rule of law; and the implementation of comprehensive peace programmes with meaningful participation by ordinary people, including men, women and youth. People believed that Afghan authorities must implement the foregoing initiatives, with a particular focus on addressing the root causes of conflict and with an aim to bringing durable peace and security to the province.[7]

Cooperation with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission UNAMA coordinates and cooperates with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), particularly with its Special Investigations Team, in conducting fact-finding on incidents and in analysing overall trends and patterns. Joint missions between UNAMA and AIHRC are conducted from time-to-time, particularly on high-profile incidents. In 2019, UNAMA and AIHRC conducted a joint mission to a Taliban-controlled area to conduct fact-finding on civilian casualties resulting from airstrikes by international military force.[8]

UNAMA undertaken a range of activities aimed at minimizing the impact of the armed conflict on civilians including: independent and impartial monitoring of incidents involving loss of life or injury to civilians; advocacy to strengthen protection of civilians affected by the armed conflict; and initiatives to promote compliance among all parties to the conflict to support their efforts to protect civilians, prevent civilian casualties, and uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law recommended the followings:
  • Cease the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of all IEDs particularly in populated areas.

  • Cease the use of indirect fire (mortars, rockets and grenades) in populated areas.

  • Immediately cease the deliberate targeting of civilians, including members of the civilian government administration, human rights defenders, judges, journalists, prosecutors, schoolteachers, first responders and aid workers.

  • Cease all attacks and threats against healthcare facilities and healthcare workers, including polio vaccinators and campaigners; cease all attacks and threats against schools and education personnel, and ensure that children’s access to education is not impeded by military operations.

  • Immediately cease imposing cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on individuals.

Government of Afghanistan

  • Immediately disband and disarm all pro Government armed groups, including the Khost Protection Force and Shaheen Forces, or formally incorporate members into the Afghan national security forces following a robust vetting procedure; increase transparency and accountability concerning operations of National Directorate of Security Special Forces, which appear to fall outside of the official Governmental chain of command and to be coordinated with international actors; and investigate all allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law with a view to ensuring accountability for violations and abuses they commit, including summary executions.[9]

  • Cease the use of indirect fire (mortars, rockets and grenades) and other explosives with wide area effects in populated areas; continue to develop and improve tactical directives, rules of engagement and other procedures in relation to the use of armed aircraft. • Increase efforts to protect religious leaders, as well as the Shi’a Muslim religious minority population from sectarian-motivated attacks, including enhancement of existing protection and security measures, strengthening preventative mechanisms, and ensuring better coordination and communication with affected communities.[10]

  • Continue to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan national security forces to effectively conduct counter-IED operations, including IED exploitation, and ensure that the Government dedicates all necessary resources to ensure the full implementation of the national counter-IED strategy.[11]

Afghan national security forces:

Afghan national security forces caused 1,682 civilian casualties (680 killed and 1,002 injured) in 2019, which is a slight increase in comparison to 2018.129 An overall decrease in civilian casualties from airstrikes by the Afghan Air Force was offset by a jump in civilian casualties from ground engagements. UNAMA is concerned by the reverse in progress on reducing civilian casualties from ground engagements, particularly as a result of increased use of indirect fire in civilian populated areas.[12]

Legal Responsibilities of Parties to the Armed Conflict

UNAMA takes the position that the armed conflict in Afghanistan is characterized by a number of non international armed conflicts between the Afghan national security forces and international military forces supporting the Government of Afghanistan and various non-State armed opposition groups, as well as between non-State armed opposition groups.

The combined forces of the Government of Afghanistan (including international military forces) are referred to in this report and within Afghanistan as Pro-Government Forces, while non-State armed opposition groups are referred to in this report and within Afghanistan as Anti-Government Elements. (See Glossary for definition of Pro Government Forces and Anti-Government Elements).

All parties to the armed conflict:

Afghan armed forces, international military forces and non-State armed groups – have clear obligations under international law to protect civilians. Resolution 1325 (2000) of the Security Council underlines that it is critical for all States to fully apply the relevant norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law to women and girls, and to take special measures to protect them from gender-based violence during armed conflict.[13]

Obligations under International Humanitarian Law

In a non-international armed conflict, article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions establishes minimum standards that parties to a conflict, including State and non-State actors, shall respect. Additionally, where applicable, the provisions of Additional Protocol II of 1977, to which Afghanistan is a party, also form part of the governing legal framework. 215 All States contributing to the international military forces in Afghanistan are signatories to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.

While not all troop-contributing States are signatories of Additional Protocol II of 1977, they are all bound by the relevant rules of customary international humanitarian law applicable in non-international armed conflicts.216 The customary rules regulating armed conflicts between states and armed opposition groups are applicable to all parties to the conflict, whether a state or an armed opposition group.[14]

Common Article 3 explicitly prohibits violence to life and person, including murder,217 mutilation, cruel treatment and torture, taking hostages, as well as outrages against personal dignity and extrajudicial executions,218 at any time and in any place with respect to persons taking no active part in hostilities, including civilians. Under international humanitarian law, parties to a conflict are obligated to respect the following key principles, including when planning military operations.[15]

Obligations under International Human Rights Law

International human rights law applies both in peace and during armed conflict, together with international humanitarian law, in a complementary and mutually reinforcing manner. As such, States must respect their obligations under international human rights law with respect to individuals within their territory or subject to their jurisdiction. In addition, non-state actors that have effective control of a territory and exercise government-like functions must respect human rights norms.[16]

Government of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a party to numerous international human rights treaties,223 including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which obligates the Government to provide basic human rights protections to all persons within the territory or jurisdiction of the State. Under international human rights law, States must investigate the use of lethal force by their agents,224 particularly those involved in law enforcement. This duty, together with potential liability for failure to comply, flows from the obligation to protect the right to life.225 For State investigations to be effective, they must be prompt, exhaustive, impartial, independent226 and open to public scrutiny.[17]

A State’s duty to investigate applies to all law enforcement contexts, including those arising during armed conflict.

Finally, the armed conflict in Afghanistan continued to take a heavy toll on the civilian population in 2019, particularly on women and children. Years of ongoing conflict have caused extensive internal displacement, life-altering traumatic injuries, economic instability for widow-headed households, increased mental health needs for those who have suffered repeated loss, and lack of access to essential services.

End-Notes:
  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-47391821
  2. The US should have attended the latest peace talks, Available at https://www.dawn.com/news/1327276
  3. https://unama.unmissions.org/protection-of-civilians-reports
  4. https://unama.unmissions.org/afghanistan-10000-civilian-casualties-sixth-straight-year
  5. https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/afghanistan_protection_of_civilians_annual_report_2019_-_22_february.pdf
  6. Peace initiatives offered by participants in Kabul generally fell under the following three interrelated
  7. UNAMA documented the fifth year in a row of sustained increases in civilian casualties from airstrikes, leading to record high civilian casualty levels page 151
  8. In 2019, UNAMA documented 2,226 boy casualties and 910 girl casualties. It was unable to verify the gender of 13 child casualties.
  9. See the A/74/582-S/2019/935 (10 December 2019); also see https://media.defense.gov/2019/ Nov/20/2002214020/-1/-1/1/
  10. See section IV.b.ii on Search operations of this report.
  11. ICRC Customary International Humanitarian Law Study, Rule 6. For more information on the legal analysis concerning this topic, please read UNAMA Special Report
  12. In 2018, Afghan national security forces caused 1,629 civilian casualties (640 killed and 989 injured).
  13. [14] See, section IV(b)(i) on Airstrikes for more information of this report.
  14. Ibid. pp. 33-35.
  15. UNAMA Protection of Civilians Annual Reports 2013, p. 32; 2014, p. 74; 2015, p. 54; 2016, p. 78; 2017, pp. 6 and 56 (referring to all Anti-Government Elements); and 2018, p. 28.
  16. accessible at: https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1.
Written By: Sayed Qudrat Hashimy - Department of Studies in Law, University of Mysore, Karnataka, India
Email: Sayedqudrathashimy[at]gmail.com, Ph no: +91 900 881 3333       

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