Killings of civilians rise as Afghan violence threatens peace moves

Killings of civilians rise as Afghan violence threatens peace moves

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Kabul: The country’s Human Rights Commission said on Wednesday that the number of civilians killed in the conflict in Afghanistan increased to more than 2,900 last year, despite strengthening diplomacy to end the war, including peace negotiations in Qatar.

The deaths are part of a wider increase in violence that threatens a delicate peace process, undermining international calls for a ceasefire as the Afghan government takes part in peace negotiations with the insurgent Taliban.

There were 8,500 civilian casualties in 2020, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission s (AIHRC) annual report, including 2,958 deaths. That was an increase from the 2,817 civilians killed in 2019, though overall casualties had dropped from more than 10,000 the previous year with fewer civilians injured.

A series of assassinations of human rights officials, mid-level government employees and journalists began last year as well as attacks on civilians that shocked the country, including a massacre of new mothers and newborn babies at a maternity ward in May.

AIHRC expressed “serious concern” about the findings of the investigation, which only caused more than half of the Taliban’s casualties. Government forces and their international partners caused 15% of the casualties, and the rest came from organizations such as the Islamic State and unknown participants.

Diplomats worry that the increasing violence, especially the Taliban, is undermining the trust required for successful peace negotiations.

After months of delay, peace talks began in Doha in September, and the US withdrawal was originally planned to be completed in May. The new US President Biden has stated that his government will review the relevant arrangements. Most diplomats and analysts expect the talks to continue, although the withdrawal may be delayed.

A Taliban spokesman rejected the AHIRC s findings, saying it only sought to attack military targets.

The government said the Taliban was responsible for killings of civilians.

“In recent months, the Taliban, without claiming responsibility, have committed huge crimes against humanity, killing thousands of civilians, by landmines, terrorist attacks and car bombings in districts,” interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said, adding without elaborating that the group had “violated their commitments”. 

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