March 2011 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2011
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Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to extend the mandate of UNAMA, for a further 12 months ahead of the expiry of its mandate on 23 March.

The head of UNAMA, Staffan de Mistura, is likely to brief before an open debate at the Council. The Secretary-General’s report on the activities of UNAMA over the past three months is expected on 11 March.

The Council’s informal expert group on protection of civilians is also scheduled to meet in March to discuss input to the UNAMA resolution.

Key Recent Developments
On 26 January, President Hamid Karzai presided over the inauguration of the lower house of the Afghan parliament, the Wolesi Jirga. Karzai had earlier sought to delay the inauguration of parliament to allow time for a five-judge tribunal, set up by the Supreme Court and appointed by Karzai, to investigate alleged election fraud. The tribunal claimed it had authority to order recounts and potentially nullify the entire election if appropriate. The tribunal intended to pursue cases against 59 winning candidates and numerous election officials. Many Afghan legal scholars, election officials and international observers have questioned the constitutional or legal basis of the special tribunal.

The special tribunal continues to review cases and has ordered recounts in several provinces. On 14 February the special tribunal ordered a raid on the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) headquarters in Kabul. Officials from the IEC have said they will allow the special tribunal access to ballot boxes but will not provide logistics assistance to any recounts. On 20 February the attorney general called for the suspension of the IEC chief electoral officer and the IEC commissioner.

On 12 February the Wolesi Jirga passed a resolution calling for the president to dissolve the special tribunal. At press time the Wolesi Jirga was locked in a stalemate over election of its speaker.

A number of Council members and other states with strong involvement in Afghanistan seem concerned that the tribunal breaches the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary. UNAMA issued a press statement on 21 January in which it expressed its deep concern and surprise at the call to delay the inauguration of parliament and, along with the EU, the US and Canada, called for a reasonable, enduring and peaceful resolution of the issue, with full respect for the Afghan constitution.

The security situation throughout Afghanistan remains difficult. There have been two suicide bomber attacks on high-profile targets in Kabul in the last month, plus numerous attacks outside the capital. An attack on 28 January on a supermarket in the diplomatic district of Kabul killed eight Afghans. Two suspects were arrested in connection with this attack on 10 February. An attack on 14 February just inside a shopping complex killed two security guards. On 12 February a Taliban raid on the police headquarters in Kandahar killed 19 people (including 15 police). On 18 February a suicide car bomb at a police checkpoint in Khost killed at least 11 people, including nine civilians. On 20 February the Taliban attacked police officers collecting their salaries at a bank in Jalabad. At least thirty people died after a suicide bomber targeted a government census office in Kunduz province on 21 February.

On 6 February, Karzai addressed the Munich Security Conference. In his statement he said that building an effective state with a sound economy required a shift away from reliance on parallel organisations and mechanisms that bypass the state and “undermine the capacity of the state rather than build it.” He said by parallel structures he meant private security firms, PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams), direct delivery of money and support to provincial officers and contractual mechanisms and spending of resources through channels other than the Afghan government.

On 24 December 2010, Turkey hosted the Fifth Trilateral Summit of Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey in Istanbul. The presidents of the three nations adopted a joint statement in which Pakistan and Turkey expressed their full support for President Karzai’s roadmap for the “Kabul process” of transition to full Afghan leadership and responsibility and agreed to a range of initiatives to improve regional dialogue and cooperation. On 20 to 21 January Karzai held talks with the president of the Russian Federation in Moscow on current bilateral cooperation and ways of addressing regional challenges including illicit drug trafficking, terrorism and organised crime.

On 20 January the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its 2010 Afghanistan opium survey. The UNODC report warned that rising opium prices might encourage Afghan farmers to plant more opium poppy. In 2010, the average price of dry opium at harvest time was $169 per kilogram, an increase of 164 percent compared to 2009, when the price was $64 per kilogram. The price jump is largely due to expected shortages caused by an opium blight that halved production in 2010. UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said, “If this cash bonanza lasts, it could effectively reverse the hard won gains of recent years.”

In January the Afghan Council of Ministers ordered the operators of women’s shelters to transfer control to the Women’s Affairs Ministry within 45 days. Almost all current shelters are operated by NGOs or the UN. Under the new regulation, which has yet to be finalised, victims of domestic abuse would be subjected to compulsory forensic examination, barred from leaving without ministry approval and be registered with the police. Conservative elements in the Afghan government have accused the shelters of encouraging immorality, prostitution and drug abuse, as the women are away from their families and under the influence of Western organisations. The Afghan minister for women’s affairs said the government had found numerous “violations” in the management of the shelters and suggested they were grossly over-funded. Many human rights organisations are concerned that this will threaten the health and safety of Afghan women and will unravel some of the modest gains achieved for women’s rights in Afghanistan. NGOs note that conservative elements in Afghan society object to the shelters as they give Afghan women autonomy from abusive husbands and family members.

There have been a number of developments related to children and armed conflict in Afghanistan. The Secretary-General’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, and Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul signed an agreement at the start of February to prevent underage recruitment into the Afghan National Security Forces, as well as other violations involving children during conflict. This action plan also commits the Afghan government to prosecuting those who recruit children.

The Secretary-General’s third report on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan covering the period from 1 September 2008 to 30 August 2010 was released on 3 February. The report noted that although progress had been made since the last report in 2008, grave violations involving children have increased during the reporting period, with higher numbers of children being killed or injured because of conflict-related violence.

The Afghanistan Compact—the key outcome of the 2006 London Conference and the main set of benchmarks for development achievements in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010—expired at the start of February 2011. The key enduring outcome of the compact is the creation of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board. The compact has effectively been replaced by the Kabul process.

De Mistura last briefed the Council on 22 December 2010. He focused on the role of the UN in the transition process related to the drawdown of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) agreed upon at the NATO Lisbon Conference in November 2010; the process of ensuring better coordination of international aid with Afghan priorities and through Afghan government budgets; assisting women’s participation in politics and elections and a read-out of the parliamentary (Wolesi Jirga) election.

The Council issued a press statement after the debate focused on the parliamentary elections.

Human Rights-Related Developments
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual report on Afghanistan will be presented at the March session of the Human Rights Council. The report acknowledges that efforts to promote and protect human rights and build the rule of law in Afghanistan were seriously challenged throughout 2010, although the proportion of civilian casualties inflicted by pro-government forces continued to decline. Despite some gains in education, employment opportunities and health, women continued to face discriminatory laws, policies, attitudes and practices that violate their basic human rights. The report also expresses serious concern about the culture of impunity that is seen as deeply entrenched in Afghan power structures and systems of governance. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) reported on 4 February that it was concerned about the low implementation of legislation enacted in the field of child rights due mainly to weak enforcement, widespread corruption and the application by courts of customary or Sharia law, which infringed principles and rights contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CRC commended Afghanistan, however, for the recent “remarkable” expansion of the education system in terms of the number of schools, trained teachers and enrolled children, including a notable increase in girls’ enrolment.

Key Issues
A key issue, given UNAMA’s past mandates and role in elections, is the ongoing and intensifying controversy over the Wolesi Jirga elections. A related issue is what the Council could say on the subject and what mandate to give UNAMA regarding support for resolution of the current issues and future electoral reform.

A second key issue is whether there is a need to further define UNAMA’s role in the transition process to Afghan leadership given the expectation of an increase in civilian-led processes following the recent decision on the timeline of ISAF’s withdrawal.

A related issue is whether to further define UNAMA’s role in support of political processes that may involve the Afghan government and the Taliban.

An ongoing issue is balancing public expectations of UNAMA, particularly operating outside Kabul, with the realities of the difficult security situation facing the UN in Afghanistan.

In renewing UNAMA’s mandate the Council could:

  • recognise the potential significance and vulnerability associated with the ongoing electoral controversy and include language in the resolution designed to reassure all parties that the Council understands the problem and wants a balanced and reasonable solution;
  • conclude that the existing mandate, supplemented by what Council members say in the open debate and in consultations, are sufficient guidance for UNAMA to respond to all of the key issues;
  • decide, without changing the mandate in substance, to include new language emphasising the importance of UNAMA’s coordinating the activity of all UN agencies in Afghanistan under the concept of the UN “delivering as one”;
  • note the violations highlighted in the latest Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict and the need to address these; or
  • note the relevance, in terms of its thematic work on children and women in conflict, of the issue regarding women’s shelters and the need, consistent with the longer term good of Afghan-led institutions, of a longer transition period combined with appropriate safeguards and benchmarks.

Council Dynamics
Afghanistan is a key foreign policy priority for many members of the current Council, not least those contributing troops to ISAF. The Kabul process seems likely to result in the Afghan mission to the UN seeking to work more closely with Council members on the mandate renewal than in the past.

There seems to be agreement amongst Council members that there is little need to change UNAMA’s mandate at present. Most members believe that as UNAMA’s mandate was refocused in March 2010 with emphasis on four key priorities—promote what has become known as the Kabul process of coordinating international assistance toward Afghan priorities and through Afghan institutions, strengthen cooperation with ISAF to improve civil-military coordination, support Afghan-led reconciliation and reintegration programmes, and support the parliamentary elections and possible electoral reform—more time is needed to consolidate UNAMA’s activities involving those priorities before making further adjustments.

Nevertheless, some members see value in emphasising some key issues to send a political message, for example highlighting the need to support electoral reform and the need to better monitor human rights, especially involving children and women.

There seems little appetite to try to reduce the length of the resolution (resolution 1917 has 41 operative paragraphs), as the length of the resolution reflects the range of priorities of member states. The largest area of common ground amongst Council members’ priorities seems to be on the importance of UNAMA ensuring that international assistance is well coordinated and aligned closely with Afghan priorities and the importance of UNAMA supporting an eventual political process—both of which are already covered in the existing mandate. That said, there seem to be some disparities within the Council on what is meant by political processes or reconciliation with the Taliban. Council members seem highly wary of a political process that does not reduce the threat of terrorism, including outside Afghanistan.

There seems to be a spectrum of views on the level of specificity needed in guiding UNAMA on how to fulfil its mandate. Most members seem comfortable with the current latitude being exercised by the UNAMA leadership and believe that some issues can be covered in the consultations with de Mistura rather than be reflected in the text of the mandate resolution.

Germany is the lead country in the Council on Afghanistan.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1943 (13 October 2010) extended ISAF’s mandate until 13 October 2011.
  • S/RES/1917 (22 March 2010) extended UNAMA’s mandate until 23 March 2011.
  • S/RES/1401 (28 March 2002) created UNAMA.

Selected Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2011/55 (3 February 2011) was the report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan.
  • S/2010/630 (10 December 2010) was the latest quarterly report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security.


  • SC/10143 (22 December 2010) was the press statement following the Council debate.
  • S/PV.6464 (22 December 2010) was the December open debate.
  • S/2010/657 (16 December 2010) was the quarterly ISAF report from 1 August 2010 to 31 October 2010.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UNAMA’s Head of Mission

Staffan de Mistura (Sweden)

UNAMA: Size, Composition and Duration

  • Strength (as of 31 December 2010): 370 international civilians, 1,603 local civilians, 12 military observers, 4 police, 56 UN volunteers
  • Duration: 28 March 2002 to present; mandate expires on 23 March 2011

ISAF Military Commander

General David Petraeus (US)

Senior Civilian Representative

Ambassador Mark Sedwill (UK)

ISAF: Size, Composition and Duration

  • Total strength (as of 14 December 2010): about 131,730 troops
  • Contributors of military personnel: 48 NATO and non-NATO countries
  • Current top contributors: US, UK, Germany, France, Italy and Canada
  • Duration: 20 December 2001 to present; mandate expires on 13 October 2011.

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