U.N. says hopes for peace in Afghanistan are well founded

GENEVA (Reuters) - Afghanistan has a better chance of finding peace than it has for many years, with more coordination in international peace efforts and willingness to include all parties, the top U.N. humanitarian official in the country said on Friday.

Taliban leaders met U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at their political headquarters in Qatar last week for the second time in the past month, and President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the United States was in “very strong” peace negotiations.

The Taliban, who are waging a war to oust the Western-backed Afghan government and expel foreign forces from Afghanistan, have launched a series of high-profile attacks against Afghan security forces in recent weeks.

“There are new-found opportunities in Afghanistan and there are very well founded hopes for peace,” U.N. resident coordinator Toby Lanzer told reporters in Geneva.

“It sounds like a paradox but there are better opportunities today than there have been in many, many, many years for Afghanistan to be at peace with itself and with its key neighbors.”

He declined to go into detail, but said discussions would go on in the coming days, weeks and months.

“What I can tell you is there is more coordination amongst the international community than we’ve witnessed in recent times. And there is more openness in certain sectors of the international community to make sure that everyone is part of the conversation. And those are two very important changes.”

The turning point came in February when the Afghan government said it was ready for talks without preconditions, and since then there had been a slow but steady outreach to parties with a stake in what was going on in Afghanistan, as well as to the Taliban, he said.

But after 40 years of instability, tremendous progress would not come within months.

“And I think that while this happens there will be spoilers, and there will people who want to derail things,” he said, adding that the Islamic State armed group had exerted itself more in 2018 than in 2017 and would have to be dealt with.

Reporting by Tom Miles, Editing by William Maclean