Voicing concern that Afghanistan is 'spinning out of control', UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the Taliban to immediately halt the offensive and asserted that seizing power through military force is a "losing proposition" and can only lead to prolonged civil war and the complete isolation of the war-torn nation.
The Taliban has captured Herat and Kandahar, the country's second and third largest cities. As the Taliban insurgents increasingly gain ground in Afghanistan, some accounts state that 60 per cent of the country's territory is under their control. There is growing concern that Kabul too could fall into the hands of the Taliban soon.
"Even for a country that has tragically known generations of conflict, Afghanistan is in the throes of yet another chaotic and desperate chapter û an incredible tragedy for its long-suffering people," Guterres said on Friday.
"Afghanistan is spinning out of control," he said, voicing concern over the "grave situation" in the country.
The UN Chief called on the Taliban, which is rapidly taking control over provincial capitals across the country, to immediately halt the offensive and negotiate in good faith in the interest of Afghanistan and its people.
Afghanistan heading towards Civil War?
"The message from the international community to those on the warpath must be clear: seizing power through military force is a losing proposition. That can only lead to prolonged civil war or to the complete isolation of Afghanistan," Guterres said.
He asserted that directing attacks against civilians is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime, calling for perpetrators to be held accountable.
The UN chief said he is also "deeply disturbed" by early indications that the Taliban are imposing severe restrictions on human rights in the areas under their control, particularly targeting women and journalists. "It is particularly horrifying and heartbreaking to see reports of the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away from them."
Guterres expressed hope that discussions in Doha between representatives of Afghanistan and the Taliban supported by the region and the wider international community will restore the pathway to a negotiated settlement to the conflict.
"Only an Afghan-led negotiated political settlement can ensure peace," he said, adding that the United Nations is determined to contribute to such a settlement, promote the rights of all Afghans and provide life-saving humanitarian help to the ever-increasing numbers of civilians in need.
'Civilians paying heavy price'
Guterres said that in the last month alone, more than 1,000 people have been killed or injured from indiscriminate attacks against civilians, notably in Helmand, Kandahar and Herat provinces. "The fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in urban environments is causing tremendous harm," he said adding that at least 241,000 people have been forced to flee from their homes and humanitarian needs are growing by the hour.
With hospitals overflowing, food and medical supplies dwindling, roads, bridges, schools, clinics and other critical infrastructure being destroyed, Guterres said every day, the conflict is taking an even bigger toll on women and children.
"Continued urban conflict will mean continued carnage with civilians paying the highest price," he said calling on all parties to take heed of the conflict's heavy toll and its devastating impact on civilians. "They all must do more to protect civilians. I remind all parties of their legal and moral obligation to take all measures to protect civilians," Guterres said.
Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said in a tweet that she is deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and noted that yet again, civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence.
She underscored that one thing is clear from the country's recent history: durable peace and development will not be achieved militarily.
In response to a question on whether the UN has plans for a complete evacuation of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General said, "There (are) always contingency plans for the best case and for the worst case. At this point, we are remaining. We're remaining in Kabul. As I said, we have footprints in other parts of the country to fulfil our mandate and help civilians and alleviate the suffering of civilians as much as we can."
Dujarric said at the daily press briefing that due to the conflict across the country, many people are arriving in Kabul and other large cities trying to seek safety for themselves and for their families. The humanitarian community has verified 10,350 internally displaced people who have arrived in Kabul between July 1 and August 12. Dujarric said most of the displaced people are either renting accommodations or being hosted by friends or family, but unfortunately, a growing number are staying in the open. He said 20 inter-agency assessment teams have now been deployed in Kabul.
"As of yesterday, we, along with our partners, have provided food, health, household items, and water and sanitation assistance to some 6,900 men, women and children who have been displaced in Kabul," he said.