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Forgive and forget: Victims pray for Afghan peace

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DHAKA: With anxiety in his voice, Baz Mohammad Timoory recalls the night when 13 of his family members, including his mother, were killed in an airstrike on the outskirts of Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz provinces.

It has been a year and a half since the attack, but the 30-year-old worker still does not know if the strike was carried out by the Afghan government or US-led troops stationed in the country.

It is not easy to see the deaths of your brother, nephews, granddaughters, mother and sisters, he told Arab News from Kunduz, a lush agrarian province which lies 340km north of Kabul. But with Taliban government and negotiators holding talks in Doha to end decades of conflict in the war-torn country, Timoory said he is willing to forgive and forget the past.

He added: I am not taking revenge. I want both sides to find a solution to bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Timoory is not the only person sharing this feeling.

According to a UN report released in February, 100,000 Afghans have died in the conflict since 2009.

The global body acknowledged that the number could be much higher if it included civilian deaths from previous conflicts.

We want the war in the country to end, so that others live in security, harmony and no children are left orphans and widows, said Bashir Ahmad.

He is the eldest son of police officer Nasir Ahmad, who was killed in a Taliban attack three weeks ago, his family said.

The Ahmadis are part of a group of victims and survivors who said they were ready to forgive the Taliban, provided they chose the path of peace.

Others have demanded the restoration of justice and punishment for Taliban members.

Victims of war warn that without a proper mechanism to address widespread violations in the past, in the best case scenario, we will have a fragile peace. In the worst case, the conflict will resume after a brief pause, a statement from the group said.

The statement, addressed to both sides in the Doha talks, was issued in Kabul last week ahead of negotiations which began behind closed doors on Saturday.

The talks are expected to be lengthy and complicated as both sides try to end the fighting and protect the rights of women and minorities. There are 42 negotiators from both teams, including five women on the side of the Kabul governments, but none representing the victims’ families.

When asked about their exclusion from the talks, Fawzia Koofi, a female government negotiator, said: It is not clear whether the team will remain the same until the end of the talks or change. Over time, there may be additions and changes.

The long-awaited talks are based on an agreement signed between the US and the Taliban in February this year in Qatar, where the Taliban have had their political office since 2013.

Originally scheduled for March 10, intra-Afghan talks faced several rounds of delays, largely due to a delay in the release of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for government hostages held by the militant group.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was slow to release the remaining 320 Taliban prisoners who were charged with serious crimes by several countries, including France and Australia.

Meanwhile, there are allegations that the government and US-led operations against the Taliban led to civilian deaths.

Human rights activists have called for civilian voices to be heard during the dialogue in Qatar, saying the ongoing talks and the February agreement do not protect victims’ rights.

Lal Gul Lal, head of the Organization for Human Rights in Afghanistan, a donor-funded body, said: About 600,000 civilians have been killed in the last 19 years.

Failure to address past atrocities, killings and the restoration of justice has been one of the main reasons for the continuing crisis and the failure of past peace agreements in Afghanistan, he said, in connection with the withdrawal of the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the 1980s. Subsequent peace agreements were prepared, but were soon broken.

If we want justice, it is for the sake of peace; both are interdependent. The voices of the victims must be heard, he told Arab News.

The Bonn agreement of 2001, signed after the Taliban were ousted from power, had a push for transitional justice, but because of foreign and domestic pressures and interests, it was never implemented in Afghanistan, Lal said.

Sharzad Akbar, chairman of the government-appointed Independent Commission on Human Rights, said victims should be given a platform to address their grievances and their suffering should be recognized and humanitarian needs addressed during the talks.

We know all civilian victims of conflict, from violence, including suicide attacks, airstrikes, overnight attacks, street bombs and more. This is not only a requirement of international law and good practice, but also a task of negotiating teams and the right of victims to Islam, she said.

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