NEW YORK, New York - The 17-year old conflict in Afghanistan could at last be approaching an end, according to a UN Security Council briefing delivered on Monday.
A negotiated end to the war could see the former rulers of the country, the Taliban, resume a role in government.
A framework for negotiations has been largely agreed and moves to bring the parties together onto common ground appear to be gaining momentum.
The prospect of an end to the hostilities "has never been more real…than it is now," the head of the United Nations peace mission in Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto said in his briefing on Monday.
The critical task at hand is to allow political space for the main actors to formulate their positions, the UN official told the Security Council on Monday.
"The key next step would be for representatives of the Government and the Taliban to meet, or at least to formally initiate what in mediation is referred to as talks about talks," he said.
"For the sake of a peaceful future of Afghanistan, these opportunities must be fulfilled, and the risks managed," the UN official said, expressing hope that the current momentum will bring parties together and allow them to explore how they can move towards a peaceful settlement.
Mr. Yamamoto, who is also the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, urged countries in the region "to contribute" to create an environment conducive to peace talks, allowing the people of Afghanistan to resolve their internal differences through negotiations.
"All international efforts, including those by regional actors and neighbours, need to be in concert and aligned with the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace efforts," he said
Yamamoto also briefed Council members on October's parliamentary and presidential elections, the continuing high numbers of civilian casualties, and the need to implement anti-corruption reforms in the interest of economic development.
Yury Fedetov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), highlighted the importance of combatting corruption and controlling illicit narcotics in the country.
He said that even though the area under opium cultivation - and the quantity of opium being produced - fell overall, largely due to drought, production levels were still high, resulting in "high rates" of drug use.
"This poses a grave threat to public health and safety and hinders peacebuilding, economic growth and stability," said Mr. Fedetov, adding that "balanced responses" to drug supply and demand are therefore critical.
"The UNODC Office in Kabul is supporting the Afghan Government in identifying common targets under a regional counter-narcotics strategy, which should be fully plugged in with existing coordination mechanism," he said.