Conflict and instability continue to plague Afghanistan as the country struggles to achieve an enduring peace after decades of turmoil. Image: iStock

Peace may be on the horizon in Afghanistan, despite a grave humanitarian crisis and relentless violence, a senior United Nations official said Friday.

Toby Lanzer, the UN’s humanitarian chief in the country, told reporters that even though some 3.6 million people are “one step away from famine” and the worst drought in decades has destroyed crops, the situation was not hopeless.

“Despite all of this, there are new-found opportunities in Afghanistan, and there are very well-founded hopes for peace,” Lanzer said in Geneva, ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in the Swiss city next week.

“It sounds like a paradox, but there are better opportunities today then there have been in many years for Afghanistan,” he added.

Lanzer did not explain why he thought the Taliban may be ready to negotiate an end to its 17-year insurgency.

But he said, “There is more coordination amongst the international community than I think we have 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.”

President Ashraf Ghani and Western diplomats are also optimistic.

Ghani said earlier this month it was “not a question of if, but when” an agreement would be reached with the Taliban

Ghani said earlier this month it was “not a question of if, but when” an agreement would be reached with the Taliban, while the American envoy to the country raised the possibility of a breakthrough even before presidential elections are held in April.

However, Lanzer did not anticipate an imminent breakthrough.

“I think after 40 years of instability it would be a bit much to ask for tremendous progress in a matter of months. I do think this is going to take time,” he said, adding that he expected  “spoilers” to try to derail any peace drive.

Next week’s meeting in Geneva is showcasing the Ghani government’s reform efforts, but Lanzer said peace will feature prominently on the sidelines.

“In the margins of the conference, there are going to be a lot of bilateral conversations, bilateral meetings. I think that the issue of peace and stability will be quite central to those,” he said.

Lanzer spoke shortly after the latest deadly attack in Afghanistan, which saw at least nine soldiers killed in a suicide blast inside a crowded mosque on an army base during Friday prayers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but ISIS has previously taken credit for most suicide attacks on mosques in the country.

– With reporting from Agence France-Presse