Expected Council Action
In June, the Council expects to receive a briefing and hold a debate on developments and the Secretary-General’s most recent quarterly report on Afghanistan. No outcome is anticipated.
The mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expires on 23 March 2013.
Key Recent Developments
A NATO Summit, focusing largely on Afghanistan, was held on 20-21 May in Chicago. At the meeting, NATO reiterated its commitment to transition to Afghan responsibility for the country’s security. According to the communiqué released at the conclusion of the summit, “all parts of Afghanistan will have begun transition and the Afghan forces will be in the lead for security nation-wide” by mid-2013, with NATO “gradually and responsibly drawing down its forces to complete its mission by 31 December 2014.” Furthermore, after 2014, NATO’s role in Afghanistan will consist of training and advising Afghan forces.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, addressing the summit participants, said that the UN would “continue to support the Afghan government to the maximum of our ability.” However, he added that the UN could not “fill all the gaps” and that the “enduring commitment of every leader” at the summit would be “critical” to help Afghanistan meet its security and development challenges.
On the margins of the summit, François Hollande, the recently elected President of France, reasserted his campaign promise to remove the bulk of France’s approximately 3,400 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2012. Some will remain behind to help with training and protecting equipment, as France has 900 vehicles and 14 helicopters that need to be withdrawn.
Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, visited Afghanistan from 8 to 11 May. While in Afghanistan, Amos met with Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili. In addition to witnessing what she described as the “shocking conditions” at one of the dozens of informal settlements in Kabul, Amos met internally displaced families in Balkh province in the north of the country. There she saw the impact that riverbank erosion was having on local communities.
On 17 May, Amos briefed the Council in consultations on her trip. During the consultations, it seems that Amos highlighted the difficult living conditions faced by the inhabitants of informal settlements, especially women and children. It also appears that she emphasised the need for enhanced investment in Afghanistan’s efforts to mitigate the impact of natural disasters on the country.
In early March, Afghanistan’s leading religious council (the Ulema Council) issued a statement saying that womenshould not work or attend school with men and should not travel unless accompanied by a male relative. Afghan President Hamid Karzai endorsed the statement during a Kabul press conference. In late April, the water supply in a school for girls and young women in Rostaq, in the north of the country, was poisoned by those opposed to education for women and girls. While no deaths were reported, more than 170 students fell ill.
Two separate recent incidents soured US-Afghan relations. On 11 March, a US soldier left his base in Kandahar’s Panjwai district and shot dead 16 civilians, nine of them children. On 18 April, a photo released to the press showed US soldiers and Afghan police posing with the body parts of an insurgent, while an additional photo showed a US soldier posing with a deceased insurgent.
Despite tensions between the two countries, Afghanistan and the US finalised several key agreements in recent months. On 9 March, the two countries agreed on a memorandum of understanding calling for the transfer of detained insurgents from US custody to Afghan custody. As part of the agreement, the US retains the right to veto decisions by Afghan officials regarding the release of detainees.
On 8 April, Afghan and US officials also agreed on a memorandum of understanding on night raids. According to the memorandum, Afghanistan has assumed responsibility for approving and conducting night raids. The US is expected to support the raids with intelligence, medical evacuation, fire-support and airlift capacity.
Karzai and US President Barack Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement on 1 May in Kabul, outlining the future relationship between their countries. The agreement commits the US and Afghanistan “to strengthen long-term strategic cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including: advancing peace, security, and reconciliation; strengthening state institutions; supporting Afghanistan’s long-term economic and social development; and encouraging regional cooperation.”
In a televised address from the Bagram military base shortly after signing the agreement, Obama highlighted five key messages:
- Afghan forces are taking increased responsibility for their security;
- Afghan forces are receiving training from NATO to enhance their capacity;
- NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan is longstanding, focusing on strengthening democracy and fighting terrorism;
- reconciliation with the Taliban will be pursued, so long as the Taliban renounces violence, cuts ties with Al Qaida and adheres to Afghan laws; and
- a global consensus is being generated to support stability and peace in South Asia.
Insurgents conducted several violent attacks in recent months. On 10 April, suicide bombings claimed the lives of 18 people in Herat and Helmand. A government centre was targeted in the Herat attack, while a district police headquarters was attacked in Helmand.
A series of coordinated attacks in Jalalabad, Kabul and Logar and Paktia provinces—all in the eastern part of the country—on 15 and 16 April led to 38 deaths and more than two dozen injuries. Characterised by extended firefights with Afghan security forces, the assaults appear to have been orchestrated by the Haqqani terrorist network. The Council adopted a press statement on 17 April condemning these attacks and commending the Afghan security forces for “their effective action” in response to them.
On 2 May, suicide bombers detonated the vehicle they were driving, which was laden with explosives, at a residential compound for foreigners. Eight people, including seven Afghans, died in the attack; seventeen other people were wounded.
The reconciliation process with the Taliban suffered serious setbacks. On 15 March, the Taliban closed its Qatar office, which it had opened in January to pursue peace talks with the US. It seems this decision was largely fuelled by a US refusal to release five high-level members of the Taliban imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. On 13 May, Arsala Rahmani, a leading figure in Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and erstwhile Taliban deputy minister, was assassinated in Kabul. (The Afghan government established the High Peace Council in 2010 to promote reconciliation with the insurgency.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
A key issue continues to be the fragile security situation in Afghanistan and how well Afghan security forces will perform as NATO transfers to them enhanced security responsibilities.
A further important issue is how to reinvigorate reconciliation efforts in the aftermath of the Taliban’s decision to halt negotiations with the US and the death of Rahmani.
Another key issue is what impact the Kabul conference, scheduled for 14 June, will have on strengthening regional cooperation, and what level of support will be mustered at the Tokyo conference, scheduled for 8 July, to aid development efforts in Afghanistan. (The Kabul and Tokyo conferences are the follow-on meetings to the Istanbul conference [November 2011] and the Bonn conference [December 2011] respectively).
A further key issue is the challenge of promoting women’s rights, especially in light of the Ulema Council’s March declaration.
Another important issue is the challenging humanitarian situation in the country, including issues underscored by Amos during and after her trip to Afghanistan, such as the poor living conditions in settlements, the plight of displaced persons and the need to mitigate the impact of natural disasters (e.g. floods and droughts) on the population.
The Council may choose to receive the briefing and take no action at the current time.
Other options for the Council could include the following:
- inviting, under rule 39 of the provisional rules of procedure, a representative from NATO to brief the Council on the drawdown of troops and the training of Afghan security forces;
- adopting a statement welcoming the commitment made in Chicago by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) countries to a successful transition to Afghan-led security;
- including in the statement language welcoming positive outcomes from the Kabul conference and encouraging strong financial support for Afghanistan’s development at the upcoming Tokyo Conference; and
- requesting from the Secretary-General a strategic plan for UN support for reconciliation efforts.
There is widespread support in the Council for UNAMA’s mandate, particularly as it relates to supporting such issues as human rights, development, the rule of law and national reconciliation. Council members are likewise broadly in favour of promoting greater Afghan ownership of security institutions, especially as ISAF draws down.
However, there appears to be apprehension among several Council members about the fragile security environment and what implications this could have on UNAMA’s effectiveness moving forward, especially if Afghan security forces are unable to provide adequate protection as they assume greater responsibility for security. Some members also seem to be worried about the recent setbacks to the reconciliation process, notably the assassination of Rahmani.
Certain members seem to have clearly defined concerns about the situation in Afghanistan. Russia has consistently expressed unease about the drug trade from Afghanistan and civilian casualties in the conflict, while India seems particularly sensitive to the terrorist threat posed by extremists in Afghanistan. Pakistan has pledged its commitment to a stable, peaceful and economically successful Afghanistan, while suggesting that it has been unjustly accused of not doing enough to combat extremists along its border with Afghanistan. Pakistan also has noted the growing financial strain that it faces by hosting large numbers of Afghan refugees, adding that more of them should be repatriated.
With regard to human rights, Germany and Portugal have highlighted the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls, while Guatemala has underscored the need to enhance efforts to defend the rights of women and children.
Germany is the lead country in the Council on Afghanistan.
Security Council Resolutions
Latest Secretary-General’s Report