Floods and clashes cloud Afghan peace talks

An Afghan man looks for his belongings after a heavy flood in Charikar city, Parwan province, Afghanistan, 26 August 2020. (Keystone / EPA / Jawad Jalali)

Afghanistan’s government claims to be on the verge of face-to-face peace talks with the Taliban, maybe as soon as this week. For civilians, however, conflict, coronavirus, and now flash floods continue to disrupt lives around the country — issues that international donors, who are scheduled to meet in November in Geneva for a pledging conference with Afghan officials, will likely need to consider.

Afghanistan’s health system is struggling to control the virus. Meanwhile, near the capital, Kabul, at least 150 people died in recent flash floods.

Since mid-August, clashes with the Taliban have displaced more than 64,000 people in the northern province of Kunduz. The coronavirus complicates any potential aid response.

Many families displaced by the recent conflict have set up makeshift shelters in open spaces, in conditions the UN says are “dire”. But organized camps would magnify the risk of coronavirus transmission, aid groups warn.

The continuing violence comes as Abdullah Abdullah, the government official overseeing peace negotiations (and perennial claimant to the Afghan presidency), announced that Taliban talks could begin this week.

Direct talks have been delayed for months, and further hiccups are a certainty, as the two sides jostle over prisoner releases. There are gaping questions from the outset. Will the Taliban negotiate a power-sharing deal with the government, or eventually pursue a decisive military victory? How will women and minorities fare? Will local and international aid groups have greater access – or face further restrictions? What about foreign-supported militias? And crucial to everyday Afghans who have lived through decades of war: Will there be opportunities for justice, accountability, and reconciliation?

These are also crucial questions for international donors, who are scheduled to meet in November in Geneva. The summit, held every four years, is expected to plot a path forward through 2024. This will likely include billions in financial pledges – crucial for a government largely dependent on aid.