KABUL: A damaged vehicle is being removed from the site of a bomb explosion on Monday.—AP
KABUL: A damaged vehicle is being removed from the site of a bomb explosion on Monday.—AP

KABUL: Violence surged in Afghanistan in the weeks after the United States and the Taliban signed a deal supposed to pave the way for a peace process, a UN agency said on Monday.

In all, fighting in the first three months caused 1,293 civilian casualties, of which 760 were injuries and the rest deaths, including 152 children and 60 women, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report.

Afghans had enjoyed a period of relative calm ahead of the Feb 29 accord, but the conflict resumed almost as soon as the deal was signed, and the militant group has since rejected multiple calls for a ceasefire during the holy month of Ramazan.

“The report tracks a disturbing increase in violence during March at a time when it was hoped that the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban would commence peace negotiations, as well as seek ways to defuse the conflict and prioritise efforts to protect all Afghans from the impact of Covid-19,” UNAMA said.

Taliban reject figures, claiming report ‘conceals the daily crimes’ committed by govt, US forces

The number of civilian deaths caused by anti-government forces, especially the Taliban, increased by more than 20 per cent compared with the first quarter of 2019, UNAMA said.

Targeted killings, summary executions and abductions of civilians were also on the rise, it said.

Despite that, the number of casualties in the first three months of this year was the lowest since 2012. The period included a reduction in violence leading up to the signing of the pact.

While casualty numbers rose in March, UNAMA noted that the overall toll for the first quarter of 2020 was down 29 per cent from a year earlier, thanks to a lull in fighting in January and February — including a week-long partial truce — as US and Taliban negotiators ironed out the withdrawal agreement.

Under the accord, American and other foreign forces have pledged to quit Afghanistan by July 2021 provided the Taliban stick to several security guarantees and hold talks with the government.

However, fighting spiked in March as the Afghan government and Taliban bickered over a number of issues, preventing negotiations between the two from opening.

Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary-general’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, reiterated calls for a ceasefire, which the Taliban have rejected in recent days.

“To safeguard the lives of countless civilians in Afghanistan and to give the nation hope of a better future, it is imperative that violence is stopped with the establishment of a ceasefire and for peace negotiations to commence,” Lyons said.

Efforts towards formal peace talks have been fraying as the Taliban attack government forces, despite warnings from the United States that they need to reduce violence, as well as disagreements over the release of prisoners.

A political feud within the Afghan government, between the president and his main rival after a disputed election, has also distracted attention from the peace effort.

The Taliban rejected the figures, claiming the report “conceals the daily crimes” committed by the government and US forces.

A Taliban spokesman said they had a commission for preventing civilian casualties which had brought them down to “near zero”. UNAMA did, however, note that pro-government forces were responsible for more than twice as many child deaths than the insurgents were during the first quarter, mainly due to air strikes and shelling.

Recent attacks have mostly been limited to rural areas and small towns.

Under the framework of the US-Taliban deal, the insurgents have agreed not to attack cities.

The release of the UN report comes hours after the US special envoy who brokered a deal with the Taliban called for the militants to implement a humanitarian ceasefire while Afghanistan tries to tackle its worsening coronavirus crisis.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2020


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