Civilian deaths show Afghan war has gone too long, says Khalilzad

Updated April 26, 2019

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US Spe­cial Representative Zalmay Khalilzad is returning to the region to restart talks with the Taliban, which were scheduled last week. ─ Reuters/File
US Spe­cial Representative Zalmay Khalilzad is returning to the region to restart talks with the Taliban, which were scheduled last week. ─ Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: US Spe­cial Represen­tative Zalmay Khalilzad said on Thursday that a hike in civilian casualties in Afghanistan indicated that this war has “gone too long”.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported on Wednesday that in the first quarter of 2019, there were 1,773 civilian casualties in Afghanistan — 581 deaths and 1,192 injured. The UN also reported 582 child casualties — 150 deaths and 432 injured.

It noted that during this period, US and Afghan forces killed more civilians in Afghanistan than Taliban did.

“We are distressed by reports of civilian casualties, each one an unnecessary victim of a war that has gone too long,” Ambassador Khalilzad wrote in a tweet. “I challenge Talibs to join other Afghans and work to make this the year of peace.”

Noting that the war spares no one, he wrote: “Sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends. Their deaths outrage us all and we stand with Afghans who protest the deaths and want to end the bloodshed.”

Mr Khalilzad, the chief US negotiator in the Afghan peace process, is returning to the region to restart talks with the Taliban, which were scheduled last week. The Taliban postponed the talks after Kabul decided to send a large delegation of 350 people. The Taliban had only 10 people in Doha, Qatar, where the US and Taliban teams have already held six rounds of talks.

“We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents. War is treacherous and unintended consequences are devastating,” wrote Mr Khalilzad as diplomatic observers in Washington felt that civilian casualties could further complicate the peace process. “While we strive to prevent casualties, real solution is a ceasefire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace,” he added.

Referring to a Taliban statement that a ceasefire is not on the agenda for the next round, Mr Khalilzad said: “For us, peace is the agenda. The Afghan people have had enough violence and want an end to the war.”

On Tuesday, Mr Khalilzad participated in a meeting on the Afghan peace process in London. His counterparts from the UK, Germany, Fra­nce, Italy, Norway and the EU also attended the meeting, which reaffirmed international support for the Afg­han peace process, urgency of getting intra-Afghan dialogue on track and the need to reduce violence.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019