The fact that the Afghan peace process is not about reaching a consensus on ending the war between the US and Taliban, but it is also about bringing all Afghan factions together makes the peace process a bitterly contested issue. However, the two-day peace talks in Doha, Qatar’s capital, witnessed a surprising shift in the Taliban’s attitude. In a joint statement issued with other Afghan leaders, Afghan Taliban representatives have called to reduce civilian casualties to ‘zero’. This is a huge step forward in the right direction.

It is encouraging that both the Taliban and the group of Afghan delegates, which also included members of the Afghan government, are on board as far as civilian casualties are concerned. It is a fact that unarmed civilians have turned out to be the most victimised section of Afghan society in the 18-years-long war.

Since the start of June till 4th July 2019, at least, 113 civilians had been killed in different attacks, according to ‘Afghan War Casualty Report’ The New York Times runs weekly. If 100 civilian casualties – highly likely that it is a conservative estimate– is the base number for a month, then, at least, 1200 civilians lose their lives annually in the ongoing war.

While the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his visit to Kabul last month hoped to reach a peace deal by September 1, 2019, the latest joint statement coming out of intra-Afghan talks will prove helpful in paving a way to end the war and prohibit breakout of a possible civil war. It will be a gross misunderstanding if one holds the Taliban accountable for the loss of civilian lives while reading the New York Time reports.

According to the quarterly report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict published by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, “Civilian deaths attributed to Pro-Government Forces surpassed those attributed to Anti-Government Elements during the first quarter of 2019.” This report presents a holistic picture of the multi-layered sufferings of the Afghan civilians in the hands of the pro-government and anti-state forces.

The bitter fact is that both sides to win against each other have targeted civilians with impunity. Thankfully, both sides have realised that civilians have paid the highest price in the war that they want to bring an end to. Now both sides need to honour the commitment they have made jointly. It is about time for all parties to war to take all necessary measures to reduce civilian casualties to zero; otherwise, a full-fledged civil war is awaiting them.