KABUL -- Violence surged in Afghanistan in the weeks after the United States and the Taliban signed a deal aimed at paving the way for a peace process, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said Monday (April 27).
Afghans had enjoyed a period of relative calm ahead of the February 29 accord, but the conflict resumed almost as soon as the deal was signed, and the militant group has since rejected multiple calls for a ceasefire during Ramadan.
"The report tracks a disturbing increase in violence during March at a time when it was hoped that the Afghan government and the Taliban would commence peace negotiations," the UNAMA said in a statement accompanying the release of its quarterly report.
More than 500 civilians were killed and over were 700 injured during the first three months of the year, UNAMA said.
While casualty numbers rose in March, UNAMA noted that the overall toll for the first quarter of 2020 was down 29% from a year earlier, thanks to a lull in fighting in January and February -- including a week-long partial truce -- as US and Taliban negotiators ironed out a withdrawal agreement.
Under the accord, American and other foreign forces have pledged to quit Afghanistan by July 2021 provided the Taliban stick to several security guarantees and hold talks with the government.
However, fighting spiked in March as the Afghan government and Taliban disputed a number of issues.
"To safeguard the lives of countless civilians in Afghanistan and to give the nation hope of a better future, it is imperative that violence is stopped with the establishment of a ceasefire and for peace negotiations to commence," said UNAMA chief Deborah Lyons.
The Taliban rejected the figures in the report.
Recent attacks have mostly been limited to rural areas and small towns. Under the framework of the US-Taliban deal, the insurgents have agreed not to attack cities, and recent attacks have mostly been limited to rural areas and small towns.
Call for humanitarian ceasefire
The release of the UN report came hours after the US special envoy who brokered the deal with the Taliban called for the militants to implement a humanitarian ceasefire as Afghanistan confronts a worsening coronavirus crisis.
All sides should focus on fighting a "shared enemy", Zalmay Khalilzad said in a series of tweets Sunday (April 26) marking the start of Ramadan.
"The well-being of the Afghan people and the country itself depend on all parties devoting their full energies to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic," the Afghanistan-born US negotiator said.
"Ramadan offers the Taliban an opportunity to embrace a humanitarian ceasefire to reduce violence and suspend offensive military operations until the health crisis is over."
Afghan officials to date have confirmed 1,703 cases of COVID-19 including 57 deaths, but with woefully limited testing available, specialists fear the true numbers are much higher.
Khalilzad called for an end to the dispute between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who has also claimed the presidency.
"Ramadan offers Afghan leaders, President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah, the opportunity to put the interest of the country ahead of their own," Khalilzad said.
Khalilzad's tweets come after similar calls last week from the Kabul administration and from NATO.