Expected Council Action
In September, the Council will hold its quarterly debate on the situation in Afghanistan. Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), is expected to brief. High-level participation is possible, given that it seems the debate will likely take place the week prior to the high-level debate of the General Assembly. At press time, no outcome was anticipated.
UNAMA’s mandate expires on 19 March 2014.
Key Recent Developments
The Council last debated the situation in Afghanistan on 20 June (S/PV.6983). Kubiš briefed the Council on developments in the country emphasising how critical the 5 April 2014 presidential and provincial elections are to Afghanistan’s future. He argued that “there is no alternative to inclusive and transparent elections as a means of delivering a political transition with the necessary degree of legitimacy and acceptability.” Kubiš also expressed concern about attacks by anti-government elements that have had limited military impact but have caused significant civilian casualties.
President Hamid Karzai signed into law two critical pieces of electoral legislation. The first, the “structure law”, was promulgated on 17 July and determines the structure and activities of the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). For several months the ECC had been a point of contention as Karzai was against its establishment while the opposition not only wanted the commission but also called for foreigners to hold at least two of the five ECC posts. The final law represents a compromise, as an ECC is in place but all five of its members are Afghans. On 20 July, Karzai signed the second, wider electoral law that governs the conduct of elections.
The security situation in Afghanistan has remained unstable, with civilians targeted in several attacks. In Ghanikhel district in Nangarhar Province, 14 children and women died when a bomb exploded at a cemetery where they had congregated on 8 August, the first day of Eid al-Fitr, to honour a deceased relative killed by the Taliban.
On 3 August, three insurgents tried to attack the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, also in Nangarhar Province, detonating a bomb-rigged car. In addition to the three insurgents, nine people died in the assault and 24 were injured. Most of the casualties were children, as the attack occurred close to a mosque where children were receiving religious instruction. On 5 August, the Council issued a press statement condemning the attack (SC/11086).
Two attacks on female parliamentarians were reported in August. On 7 August, Senator Roh Gul Khairzad was ambushed by armed assailants in Ghazni province. She was wounded in the attack, while her daughter and driver were killed. On 13 August, the Taliban abducted Fariba Ahmadi Kakar while she was travelling in Ghazni province. She remains in the hands of the Taliban. The Taliban have signalled that Kakar would be released in return for four insurgents in police custody.
Little progress has been made on the reconciliation process of late. On 18 June, the Taliban opened an office in Doha, Qatar to allow them to pursue reconciliation talks. However, Karzai was concerned that the US and the Taliban would side-line his government while conducting negotiations. He expressed opposition to these potential negotiations, believing that the talks must be “Afghan-led” and taking issue with the name for the office, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, which was the official title of the 1996-2001 Taliban-led government that no UN member state currently recognises. (The sign on the office with this name was subsequently removed, and Qatar said that the office would be called the “Political Office of the Afghan Taliban”.) Nonetheless, as a sign of his displeasure, Karzai suspended scheduled bilateral talks with the US on the role of US troops in Afghanistan after 2014. In late August, media reports indicated that bilateral talks on a post-2014 security deal had resumed.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are making efforts to ease strained relations. Pakistan dispatched Sartaj Aziz, a key advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign policy and defence issues, to Kabul on 21 July, where he met with Karzai and Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. At a press conference with Rassoul, Aziz said that Pakistan would try to exert its influence to facilitate talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but he cautioned that Pakistan does not “control” the Taliban. At press time, Karzai was also scheduled to visit Pakistan from 26-28 August, to discuss how Pakistan can help support intra-Afghan reconciliation among other issues.
Human Rights-Related Developments
According to the UNAMA Human Rights Unit mid-year report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in Afghanistan, the first half of 2013 showed an increase of 14 percent in civilian deaths and 28 percent in civilian injuries compared to the same period in 2012. This rise contrasts with the decline observed in 2012. Anti-government elements were responsible for 74 percent of civilian casualties and injuries, with improvised explosive devices causing most casualties. Increased ground engagement between Afghan forces and anti-government elements was the second leading cause of civilian casualties, a new trend.
On 16 June, President Hamid Karzai appointed five new commissioners to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a permanent national body established under the constitution, and retained four other serving commissioners. On 28 June, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concerns about whether the new commissioners met the required eligibility standards (good reputation, independence, popular trust, commitment to human rights) and complied with international standards of the “Paris Principles”. Pillay urged the government to reconsider the new appointments and re-open the selection process.
One key issue is how the Council and UNAMA can support the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. In his 13 June UNAMA report, the Secretary-General noted that “good offices and political outreach in support of Afghan-led reconciliation and regional processes” are among UNAMA’s “core tasks” (S/2013/350).
Also a key issue is how the Council and UNAMA can most effectively assist the government in preparing for the 2014 presidential and provincial elections.
While not directly linked to UNAMA’s mandate, there are several important inter-connected security issues that are likely to be on Council members’ minds. These include how to address the heightened violence against civilians, how well Afghan security forces will perform as they assume increasing responsibility for security and what kind of post-2014 security arrangement will be struck between Afghanistan and the US (assuming the parties can come to an agreement).
Moving forward, the security environment also has implications for UNAMA’s future mandate and, more broadly, for how UNAMA cooperates with other UN entities operating in the country.
The Council may choose to hold the debate but take no action.
The Council may also consider adopting a statement that:
- requests a special report from the Secretary-General on preparations for the 2014 elections;
- deplores the rise in violence against civilians; and
- reiterates support for intra-Afghan reconciliation.
While several members have been encouraged by the fact that Afghan security forces have entered the final phase of assuming the lead in providing security for their country, there are widespread concerns about the rise in civilian casualties in recent months. In this respect, several members highlight the human rights challenges facing Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Russia, two key regional actors, continue to hold strong views on Afghanistan. Pakistan argues that instability in Afghanistan impacts negatively on its own security. It has tried to facilitate intra-Afghan reconciliation, while noting the importance of promoting security along its border with Afghanistan. However, it has strongly objected to accusations that there are terrorist sanctuaries within Pakistan from which attacks on Afghanistan are launched with the complicity of some elements of the Pakistani state.
Russia is generally concerned with the regional threat posed by instability in Afghanistan, including the spill-over effects of terrorism and drug trafficking. It has expressed concern with what it views as the inadequate capacity of the Afghan security forces, given the drawdown of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). At the same time, it has argued that the role of any future NATO presence in Afghanistan must be clearly defined and must be authorised by the Security Council.
There has been widespread interest on the Council in the preparations for the 2014 presidential and provincial elections. In this sense, several members have been encouraged by the recent passage of the structure law and the more general electoral law.
Australia is the penholder in the Council on Afghanistan.
UN Documents on Afghanistan
|Security Council Resolutions|
|19 March 2013 S/RES/2096||This resolution extended the mandate of UNAMA until 19 March 2014|
|9 October 2012 S/RES/2069||This resolution renewed the mandate of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan until 13 October 2013.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|3 August 2013 SC/11086||The Council condemned the 3 August attack near the Indian consulate in Jalalabad.|
|13 June 2013 S/2013/350||This was a report of the Secretary General on Afghanistan.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|20 June 2013 S/PV.6983||This was the quarterly debate on Afghanistan.|