UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States won unanimous U.N. Security Council backing Tuesday for the ambitious peace deal it signed with the Taliban aimed at ending the long war in Afghanistan and bringing U.S. troops home.
The U.S.-sponsored resolution “welcomes the significant steps towards ending the war and opening the door to intra-Afghan negotiations” enabled by the U.S.-Taliban joint declaration signed Feb. 29.
The resolution also “welcomes the intention of all Afghan parties to pursue the successful negotiation of an inclusive political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.”
But Afghanistan’s rival leaders — President Ashraf Ghani and his former unity government partner Abdullah Abdullah — were each sworn in as the country’s new president in separate ceremonies Monday, throwing plans for negotiations into chaos.
In addition, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Taliban attacks are higher than allowed in the plan and that he will recommend against full withdrawal of American troops if that continues.
The acting U.S. deputy ambassador at the U.N., Cherith Norman Chalet, told the council after the vote that the Afghan presidential election dispute and “unacceptably high levels of violence by the Taliban” have not permitted talks among Afghans to start on time.
But she said Ghani and Abdullah both stated Monday that they will continue discussions aimed at agreeing on an inclusive government.
She also said Ghani signed a decree Tuesday on a prisoner release, which could result in a prisoner exchange and bring Afghans “one step closer to intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Chalet welcomed the council’s vote, saying that “the support and engagement of the international community will continue to be critical in the next steps of the peace process.”
“This is a hopeful moment, but it is only the beginning,” she added. “We hope the people of Afghanistan seize the opportunity to achieve an historic peace settlement that ends the conflict in Afghanistan, preserves the gains of the last two decades in human rights, basic freedoms and the meaningful participation of women in political and civil institutions, and ensures that the territory of the Afghan people will never again be used by international terrorists to threaten the world.”
The resolution affirms “that any political settlement must protect the rights of all Afghans, including women, youth and minorities.” This language was added by council members who want to ensure women’s rights are protected and the Taliban doesn’t return to its previous draconian measures, including barring girls from education and women from work.
The resolution also expresses the council’s readiness to review sanctions on individuals and groups once intra-Afghan negotiations start “in order to support the peace process,” stressing that the Taliban’s actions in reducing violence and advancing talks will affect the review.
Russia got language in the resolution on combating traffic in opiates from Afghanistan. And China, whose $1 trillion “belt and road” global infrastructure program has projects in Afghanistan, got a reference to “efforts of regional cooperation for regional development” in the final text.
The resolution acknowledges the Afghan people’s demand for lasting peace and an end to war and recognizes “that a sustainable peace can be achieved only through an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process that leads to an inclusive negotiated political settlement.”
Chalet stressed the resolution states categorically that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Islamic state established by the Taliban when it took power in 1996, is not recognized by the United Nations and its restoration is not supported by the Security Council.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the resolution “opens up a window of opportunity for the achievement of national reconciliation.”
“We urge all Afghan political forces to set aside their differences, set aside parochial interests and to set aside political ambitions” in order to achieve peace, he said.