UN welcomes Afghan talks with the Taliban, urges cease-fire

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday welcoming the start of negotiations between Afghan representatives and the Taliban, encouraging the warring parties to engage in good faith and aim for a permanent cease-fire and political settlement to their 19-year conflict.

The resolution, which also extended the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan into next September, also strongly encourages the parties "to continue pursuing confidence-building measures including additional reductions in violence."

The Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. The talks in Qatar were laid out in a peace deal that Washington brokered with the Taliban and signed in February, aimed at bringing American troops home and ending more than four decades of relentless wars following the 1979 Afghan invasion by forces from the former Soviet Union.

The so-called intra-Afghan talks in Qatar are expected to set a road map for a post-war society in Afghanistan.

But while the historic start of talks last Saturday was mostly about ceremony, the negotiations are expected to be long and difficult as the two sides struggle to end the fighting and debate ways of protecting rights of women and minorities. One of the first items on the agenda will be a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire.

Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to go to school, work outside the home or leave their house without a male escort. And though they still face many challenges in the male-dominated society, Afghan women are increasingly stepping into powerful positions in numerous fields — and many fear the current negotiations could bargain away their gains.

The Taliban have promised women could attend school, work and participate in politics but stressed that would all be allowed in keeping with Islamic principles — without saying what that might mean.

The Security Council called for women and young people to be included in peace negotiations and underlined "that the economic, social, political and development gains made in the last 19 years, including in the field of human rights, especially the rights of women, children and minorities, must be protected and built upon."

The council expressed "deep concern" at the current high level of violence in Afghanistan, especially the number of civilian casualties. It condemned "in the strongest terms" all militant activity and attacks, and reaffirmed the importance of ensuring that Afghan territory is not used by "terrorist organizations" such as the Islamic State group and al-Qaida "to threaten or attack any other country."

The council also reaffirmed "that neither the Taliban nor any other Afghan group or individual should support terrorists operating on the territory of any other country."

The U.N.’s most powerful body also stressed "the important role that the United Nations will continue to play in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan, while also addressing the challenges facing the country and its people, especially the short- and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic," which has severely taxed the country’s deteriorating health system.

The council said the U.N. mission, known as UNAMA, will support the negotiations in Doha, if requested, including by proposing and supporting confidence-building measures and supporting "the organization of future timely, credible, transparent, and inclusive Afghan elections."