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U.S. Determined To Address ‘Legitimate Concerns’ To Achieve Peace in Afghanistan

Washington opened direct peace talks with the Taliban last summer to promote a political settlement to the war.

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USA, afghanistan, taliban, peace talks, pakistan
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

The United States said Saturday that it was determined to address “legitimate concerns” of all sides in the conflict in Afghanistan to achieve peace.

Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, tweeted the pledgefrom neighboring Pakistan, where officials are trying to arrange and host the next round of talks with representatives of the Afghan Taliban.

The insurgent group has been reluctant to send its envoys to the dialogue since its last meeting with Khalilzad’s team in the United Arab Emirates a month ago. Representatives from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the host country also attended that meeting.

The Taliban has since accused the U.S. team of backing away from holding discussions on key insurgent demands for all American and NATO troops to leave the country to allow Afghans to resolve political differences themselves.

Afghanistan, Peace Talks
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, right in backgroud, and U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, left in background, meet in Kabul, Nov.10, 2018. VOA

Washington has been pushing the Taliban to open direct talks with the Afghan government, but insurgents have refused to do so, rejecting Kabul as an “American puppet.”

“To achieve peace, we are ready to address legitimate concerns of all Afghan sides in a process that ensures Afghan independence and sovereignty, and accounts for legitimate interests of regional states,” Khalilzad said.

He called for insurgents to agree to a cease-fire, and warned that U.S. troops would hit back if they came under attack from the Taliban.

“Urgent that fighting end. But pursuing peace still means we fight as needed,” the U.S. envoy underscored in his messages via Twitter.

Pakistan promotes dialogue

Pakistan said it was trying to facilitate U.S.-Taliban discussions, hoping the dialogue would lead to an intra-Afghan peace process. Islamabad has long been accused of sheltering and covertly helping Taliban rebels orchestrate attacks inside Afghanistan. Pakistani leaders reject the charges.

Taliban, afghanistan, peace
Taliban fighters are seen in Shindand district, Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27 2016. VOA

“The solution to the Afghan issue is not possible without intra-Afghan dialogue, and Pakistan considers it vital for the restoration of peace in the entire region,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told local media Saturday.

Also Read: Pakistan Increases Efforts To Save The U.S.-Afghanistan Peace Talks

Washington opened direct peace talks with the Taliban last summer to promote a political settlement to the war. Since then, media reports have said U.S. President Donald Trump is considering a plan to pull out nearly half of the 14,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

The reported plans have worried critics, who say the move will encourage the Taliban to continue its military campaign rather than negotiate a political settlement to the 17-year-old war. (VOA)

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About 2M Children in Afghanistan Suffer Acute Malnutrition: UNICEF

But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said

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malnutrition
FILE - A boy walks inside what is left of a home in Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, March, 3, 2019. The U.N. Children's Fund is appealing for money to treat Afghanistan's malnourished children. VOA

About two million children in Afghanistan are acutely malnourished. Of those, 600,000 face severe acute malnutrition, the most dangerous form of undernutrition in children, said Christophe Boulierac, a spokesman for the U.N. Children’s Fund.

“Any child suffering from severe acute malnutrition is a crisis and needs to be treated to survive,” he said. “We cannot tell you how many children will die, but we can tell you that a child with severe acute malnutrition is 11 times more likely to die than their healthy peers.”

Afghanistan, alongside Yemen and South Sudan, is among the countries with the highest numbers of children under age five suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Severe drought in 2018 has worsened the situation.

malnutrition
But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said. Pixabay

Recent nutrition surveys across Afghanistan find 22 out of 34 provinces are above the emergency threshold of acute malnutrition. Last year, UNICEF provided life-saving assistance to nearly half of the country’s most nutritionally deprived children. It is aiming to reach 60 percent, or 375,000, of those children this year. But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said.

“We are the sole provider of this treatment against severe acutely malnourished children,” he told VOA. “We need urgent funding in three weeks, otherwise, we will not send the necessary ready-to-use therapeutic food treatment to the 1,300 health facilities that are waiting for that.”

ALSO READ: Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh Face Serious Water Shortage

This year, UNICEF has provided treatment to more than 73,000 severely malnourished children. Boulierac said plans are in place to immediately scale up the operation to reach more children as soon as more money is available.

He also warned that the nutritional status of Afghanistan’s children is likely to worsen without more secure funding in the pipeline. (VOA)