In both cases, children became collateral damage, when they were injured and killed in and around schools close to the attack sites.
But this week, in what some saw as a hopeful step toward solidifying a peace process, Taliban officials and a group of representatives from Afghanistan agreed on a “road map for peace,” outlining eight points in a joint resolution during an informal meeting in Doha, Qatar. As my colleague Pamela Constable reported from Kabul, the resolution was publicized after two days of intra-Afghan talks, and one of the agreed-upon points was reducing “civilian casualties to zero.”
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, tweeted that the conference “concluded on a very positive note.”
“I congratulate the participants … for finding common ground,” he wrote.
But for some, the recent carnage somewhat tainted whatever progress may have been made during the latest talks.
Roya Rahmani, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, said it was “absolutely heartbreaking and very aggravating” to watch attacks on civilians take place the same week Taliban officials and Afghans met to discuss how to end the nearly 18-year war.
Tuesday’s news of a joint resolution left her hopeful but “not convinced,” she told Today’s WorldView in an interview Tuesday in the Afghan Embassy in Washington, “because words are great, but actions are really going to demonstrate.”
Rahmani, who is the first female Afghan ambassador to the United States, said she spoke to some female participants in the talks who just couldn’t square the emotional conversations they had with Taliban officials in Doha with the consistent attacks the group launches on civilians back home.
“They were getting the news feeds from back on the ground that children have been killed, that girls’ schools have been attacked, and they were crying for a cease-fire, and they were rejected outright,” Rahmani said. “It was difficult for them.”
The women relayed to her, she added, that “it’s really hard, but we basically gather all the energy we have to sit there [with the Taliban] and to move forward."
Any efforts parties agreed upon to reduce civilian casualties this week still fall short of an official cease-fire. In early June, Afghan civilians were hopeful a truce would at least temporarily quell fighting in time to coincide with the three-day holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, but negotiators failed to agree on a cease-fire, even after a meeting in Moscow. Attacks have continued unabated since then. According to the New York Times’s weekly Afghan War Casualty Report, the death toll last week was the highest so far in 2019, with 264 pro-government forces and 58 civilians killed between June 28 and July 4.
“The Taliban conducting offensives targeting civilians and continuing its insurgency is a play for leverage,” said James Schwemlein, a nonresident scholar in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan. The Taliban may have pledged to keep civilians safe, Schwemlein said, but until final agreements are reached, fighting could continue, especially as the Taliban seeks to exert force in the event the peace talks fail.
The United States and the Taliban have met for a number of rounds of peace talks in the past year, and this week’s intra-Afghan discussions took place during a break in those talks. Afghan government officials attended only in a personal capacity because the Taliban has refused to meet with the Afghan government directly. Talks with the United States are largely focused on solidifying a timeline for foreign troops to withdraw, and U.S. officials have expressed hope that a peace agreement could be reached by Sept. 1, a few weeks ahead of the Afghan presidential election, scheduled for Sept. 28.
This week, Mutlaq Bin Majid al-Qahtani, the lead Qatari mediator, told Reuters he believes “the gap between the U.S. and Taliban is narrow now.”
"We hope both sides will reach an agreement this month about the outstanding issues,” he said.
But as Rahmani said on Tuesday, any peace deal is just a steppingstone toward much work to come. Among issues still of concern to her and many other Afghan women are potential discrepancies between Afghan and Taliban ideas of the role women should play in society.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women largely disappeared from public life. Now, women are eager to hold on to and expand upon the freedoms they’ve gained in the years since the Taliban government was overthrown.
In this week’s resolution, participants wrote that the path forward would assure women’s rights “within the Islamic framework of Islamic values.”
What exactly that means for each side may still be up for interpretation. Rahmani insisted women in Afghanistan are already adhering to Islamic values — and they won’t go back to how they once lived under Taliban rule.
“Everything we have right now in the country is in accordance to Islam,” Rahmani said. “If [the Taliban] are not on the same page, I think for a settlement to happen, they must come to the same page."