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US envoy warns that ‘distressingly high’ level of violence in Afghanistan could derail peace process

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad speaks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School in Kabul. (US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/U.S. Department of State)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad warned on October 18 after a car bomb killed 14 people in Ghor in central Afghanistan that continued high levels of violence in the country could threaten the peace process.

Khalilzad said in a series of tweets that violence has “stalked” Afghans for far too long and the “tragedy” in Ghor, where the car bomb was set off outside a police headquarters, is the most recent example.

“The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiating table is very risky,” Khalilzad said on Twitter. “Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculations by Afghan leaders.”

He urged “strict adherence to all articles of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement and U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration” and said the sides should “not neglect the commitment to gradually reduce violence.”

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Khalilzad said violence remains “distressingly high” despite the recent reaffirmation of the need for substantial reduction.

“We must adhere to the letter and spirit of what was negotiated and the recent understanding,” he tweeted. “They provide a path to minimizing Afghan loss of life and protecting an historic opportunity for peace which must not be missed.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus retweeted Khalilzad’s tweets and added her own, saying the United States rejects the Taliban’s allegations of U.S. violation of the agreement.

“The Afghan people want peace,” Ortagus said on Twitter. “Full adherence to the U.S.-Taliban Agreement & the U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration is critical to advancing the peace process.”

Khalilzad also mentioned “unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric,” saying they “do not advance peace.”

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said a car laden with explosives detonated in central Firoz Koh, the capital of Ghor Province, around 11:00 a.m. local time.

Dr. Omar Lalzad, director of Ghor Central Hospital, told RFE/RL that at least 14 people were dead and 119 injured in the blast, the latest act of deadly violence in the war-torn country.

The Ghor police chief told RFE/RL that 35 Afghan security personnel were among the wounded. He said all the other victims were Afghan civilians.

The governor’s office in Ghor said in a statement that the Taliban were behind the blast. A Taliban spokesman in the region told RFE/RL he could not immediately confirm if the militant organization was behind the attack.

The bomb blast comes as Taliban and Afghan government negotiators are meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha, to negotiate an end to 19 years of war in the country.

The Taliban has refused to observe a nationwide cease-fire despite the ongoing peace talks, which kicked off on September 12.

The two sides have carried out several deadly attacks against each other since peace talks got under way last month.

On October 16, the Taliban agreed to suspend attacks in southern Afghanistan that had displaced thousands of people in recent days.

It came after Washington vowed to stop all air strikes and night raids in accordance with the bilateral U.S.-Taliban agreement.

The U.S. military had been conducting air strikes in support of Afghan forces that were attempting to repel a Taliban offensive in Helmand Province, which threatened to derail efforts to end Afghanistan’s war.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has documented more than 1,280 Afghan civilian deaths during the first half of 2020 — mainly as a result of fighting between Afghan government forces and Taliban militants.