The government’s peace talks with the Taliban have been unsuccessful, and the number of victims of civilian violence in Afghanistan has increased sharply after they began, the UN report said. She called on the parties to the conflict for a truce. The COVID-19 vaccination campaign was launched against the background of domestic violence. Members of the security forces, medical workers and journalists are vaccinated first.
US-led peace talks between the central government in Kabul and the Taliban rebels began last September, but progress in the negotiations has slowed since then, and domestic violence has increased with uncertainty whether international forces will withdraw by May this year as originally planned – emphasized in Tuesday’s publication the Reuters agency.
According to the annual report of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the number of civilian casualties in 2020 was 8,820, 15 percent less than in the previous year. The report’s authors, however, saw a surge and record level in the number of civilian casualties in the last three months of last year, when peace talks began.
Last year “could have been a year of peace in Afghanistan, but thousands of Afghan civilians have died instead,” said UNAMA chief Deborah Lyons, reiterating calls for a truce that was repeatedly rejected by the Taliban. “Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences,” said Lyons.
The Taliban on Tuesday criticized the report, claiming that “the concerns, precise information and exact details we shared had not been taken into account.”
Meeting of negotiators
The report shows that for the first time since records began, the number of fatalities and injuries increased in the last three months of 2020 compared to the previous quarter. The number of victims in the fourth quarter of last year increased by 45 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
Most of these casualties were attributed to non-governmental forces, mainly Taliban rebels, and over a fifth to Afghan government forces.
A spokesman for the Afghan government did not respond to Reuters being asked for comment.
Both sides said on Twitter that their main negotiators met Monday evening in the Qatar capital, Doha, where talks are taking place. It added that the negotiating teams will continue working on the peace talks agenda. After a month-long hiatus during the New Year, negotiators briefly returned to Doha before many high-ranking Taliban officials left for talks in Russia and Iran. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said further meetings would be held soon. He added that it was only a hiatus and the Taliban are engaged in talks and that more meetings are expected in the coming days.
Vaccination campaign in a situation of increasing violence
A COVID-19 vaccination campaign was launched in Afghanistan on Tuesday. Members of the security forces, medical workers and journalists are vaccinated first.
At the beginning of February, the country devastated by war received half a million doses of a preparation developed by the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and produced by the Indian pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Serum Institute of India. An Indian company makes a vaccine for middle and low income countries.
At a ceremony at the presidential palace, Afghanistan’s acting minister of health, Wahid Majroh, said that vaccines would be delivered to 250,000 people, mainly members of the security forces, medical and educational staff and media workers. – Today is a lucky day for Afghanistan, because we are starting the first stage of vaccination, but the challenge will be to expand (the campaign) to the whole country – said Majroh.
The Taliban supports vaccination
Taliban rebels who have been fighting for years with the Afghan government, backed by the West, have announced that they support the vaccination campaign. Vaccinations, however, will take place in conditions of continued violence, resulting in the death of civilians.
Afghan health officials said the international COVAX program, which aims to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccine for developing countries, will provide preparations for 20 percent of the country’s 38 million people.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who witnessed the first injections with other high-ranking officials, said the pandemic was still a serious problem for the country and called on health professionals to vaccinate people in an honest and transparent manner. Efforts are underway to vaccinate 40 percent of the population in the second round, he added.
In Afghanistan, 55,646 cases of coronavirus infection and 2,435 deaths from the disease have been diagnosed so far. However, experts say the number of cases is significantly underestimated due to the low number of tests performed and the limited access to medical facilities in the country.
In early February, the head of the vaccination program at the Afghan Ministry of Health, Ghulam Dastagir Nazari, said that China plans to send 200,000 doses of its vaccine to Afghanistan.
Main photo source: WATAN YAR / EPA / PAP