The top UN envoy for Afghanistan has expressed optimism about the peace prospects in the war-torn country, saying talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban could begin in July.

On Thursday, Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council said, “I am cautiously optimistic that the talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban negotiation teams will indeed start in the next few weeks in Doha, during the month of July”.

The commitment to peace and most importantly, compassion for their people, that will be needed to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion,” she said.

The announcement of a three-day Eid al-Fitr ceasefire in May by the Taliban and the Afghan government led to a welcome and much-needed reduction in violence, which is essential to an environment conducive for peace talks and will pave the way for an eventual permanent ceasefire.

But the recent spiraling levels of violence threaten this process, she noted.

Lyons recognized the efforts of the US, Qatar, and a number of other regional countries in bringing the Afghan government and the Taliban to this point.

Earlier in the month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo via video conference and discussed the Afghan peace process.

“We all look forward to the formal commencement of the negotiations. The UN stands ready to support these direct talks, as required, and I have been in discussion with both sides to identify and address their needs going forward”, the envoy added.

Lyons also voiced concern over the impact of COVID-19 on the livelihood of Afghans.

“At the same time as peace rises out there on the horizon, COVID-19 is casting a huge shadow over Afghan daily life,” she said.

Pompeo and Ghani agreed to work on the details of the peace process in the coming days, with the Afghan government in particular emphasizing the undeclared ceasefire mechanism that sets out the rules of the game

The global pandemic also poses unique challenges for the operational posture of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which Lyons leads, and has limited its ability to fully deliver on its mandate, she said.

(With inputs from agency)