Expected Council Action
The Council is scheduled to hold its quarterly debate on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in December. Jan Kubiš, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNAMA, is expected to brief. At press time, no outcome was anticipated. The mandate of UNAMA expires on 23 March 2013.
The Council is likely to adopt a resolution modifying the 1988 Taliban Sanctions regime. (Resolution 1988, adopted in June 2011, requested a review of the regime in 18 months time.)
Key Recent Developments
Violence has continued to seize Afghanistan. On 16 October, an Afghan intelligence employee wearing a suicide vest blew himself up in a government office in Maruf district in Kandahar Province, killing four Afghan intelligence officials and two US citizens (including one soldier and one former officer). Also on 16 October, an International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) airstrike in the Nawa district of Helmand Province killed three children (ages 8 through 12). The circumstances of the airstrike are unclear. ISAF has confirmed that it initiated the strike after aerial surveillance spotted individuals planting roadside bombs; witnesses said that while the Taliban had been planting bombs, the children who died in the assault were only collecting dung, which is typically used as fuel in the area.
On 26 October, a suicide bomber in the town of Maimana in Faryab Province in the north of the country killed at least 45 people and injured 60 others as they were exiting a mosque after attending services marking the Eid al-Adha holiday.
In the Grish district of Helmand province, four Afghan policemen were killed at their outpost on 2 November by colleagues who appeared to be relieving them at the end of their shift.
Twenty people died in four separate incidents in southern and eastern Afghanistan on 8 November. Ten civilians died in Musa Qala district in Helmand Province when a truck transporting people struck a roadside bomb. In Kandahar city, a suicide bomber killed three Afghan policemen at a police checkpoint and five Afghan soldiers were killed in Badpakht district in Laghman Province when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy. A roadside bomb also killed two children in Zabul province.
In Farah province in western Afghanistan, 17 civilians, mostly women and children, died when the van they were riding in struck a roadside bomb on 16 November.
Kubiš last briefed the Council on 20 September (S/PV.6840). He underscored that aid pledged to Afghanistan at the 8 July Tokyo Conference was contingent on the government’s ability to make progress in meeting commitments to good governance, the rule of law, human rights and effective financial management. At the same time, he noted that donors “must reinforce government systems” through their aid. (This was likely a reference to the “mutual accountability framework”, whereby donors promised to honour financial commitments to Afghanistan made at the conference so long as Afghanistan makes progress in meeting its commitments. For their part, donors promised to increase the percentage of support allocated to the Afghan national budget and to priorities outlined by the Afghan government.)
Kubiš noted the “ongoing fragility of the security situation…and to the fear and insecurity that impede everyday life.” Kubiš said that the actions of the Taliban and other anti-government forces all contributed to the unstable environment. As a consequence, according to Kubiš, the delivery of humanitarian aid and development assistance had been curtailed, while government services in parts of the country were limited.
He further expressed concern with the fragmenting security sphere. In certain regions of the country, he noted that some groups are taking up arms against the Taliban but not necessarily in support of the government. To address this challenge, he said that the government would need to strengthen governance and rule of law at the local level.
On 1 November, Ismail Khan, the Minister of Energy and Water and a former mujahedeen commander, announced that he was reconstituting militia in Herat to protect the country against the Taliban, stating that foreign forces had failed to bring security to Afghanistan. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai responded by saying that such plans were contrary to government policy, adding that the government and people of Afghanistan “do not want any irresponsible armed grouping outside the legitimate security forces structures.” (Other former mujahedeen leaders have hinted at the possibility of forming militia distinct from government security forces, raising concerns that parallel security structures might spread, especially as the ISAF military presence recedes.)
On 2 November, the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee placed the Haqqani network on its list of entities subject to sanctions, including an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo. (The Haqqani network, based in areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, has been responsible for many high-profile terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.) The Afghan government welcomed the decision to list the Haqqani network.
On 30 October, the head of the Afghan Independent Election Commission, Fazal Ahmad Manawi, announced that the next presidential election, the third since the end of Taliban rule, would be held on 5 April 2014. (Karzai has pledged that he will not seek a third term in keeping with the constitutional term limit.)
Representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council, the body entrusted with promoting peace and reconciliation with insurgents in Afghanistan, met with Pakistani government and military officials from 12-14 November. In the aftermath of the visit, Pakistan released at least twelve key Taliban prisoners, a step viewed by many as a positive gesture to help reinvigorate the peace process.
On 26 November, Council members held an informal interactive dialogue with Salahuddin Rabbani—the chair of the Afghan High Peace Council who led the recent delegation to Pakistan— and received an update on the reconciliation process. With regard to the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee, it appears that Rabbani discussed the possibility of travel ban exemptions to enable potential Taliban negotiators to travel to participate in peace talks. It seems that Rabbani’s request will be considered when the Council reviews the 1988 Taliban Sanctions regime in December.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission on 5 October expressed its great concern about the increase in violence against women, their arbitrary punishments and their summary trials. Because honour killings and rape cases have increased substantially, the commission plans to launch the first program of national research on these crimes, conducting a comprehensive investigation of these cases and raising awareness.
UNAMA’s tracking of civilian casualties revealed that improvised explosive devices killed 340 civilians and injured 599 between 1 January and 30 September, which represents an increase of almost 30 percent compared to the same period last year.
On 22 November, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed serious concern about the executions of 14 prisoners who had been convicted of serious crimes. The executions of these prisoners, the first since June 2011, were carried out at the Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul on 20-21 November and had been approved by President Karzai. Pillay noted that “under international law and Afghanistan’s own treaty obligations, the death penalty must be reserved for the most serious crimes and only applied after the most rigorous judicial process”, adding that “in the past, shortcomings in the Afghan judicial procedure have raised serious questions about such cases.”
A key issue is the deteriorating security environment and the toll it is taking on civilians throughout the country and how effectively Afghan security forces will perform as the transition from ISAF to Afghan-led security continues.
A related issue is what role ISAF, and the US in particular, will play in Afghanistan after 2014, the deadline for the security transition. (Experts have speculated that the US and NATO might try to strike a deal with Afghanistan to maintain a limited military presence in the country for advisory and anti-terrorism purposes.)
An emerging issue is the threat that parallel security structures, such as the militia that Khan is creating, may begin to proliferate, further eroding the legitimacy of the Afghan government.
Another key issue is how to jumpstart reconciliation efforts with the Taliban and, in this context, whether the 1988 Sanctions Committee should in certain cases consider exemptions to its travel ban to allow listed individuals to travel to participate in peace talks.
An important issue is for both Afghanistan and donors to meet commitments outlined in the “mutual accountability framework” agreed in the Tokyo Conference.
A future issue is the need for Afghanistan, with the assistance of UNAMA and other international actors, to plan for a transparent and credible presidential election in 2014.
A significant issue is also what impact UNAMA budget cuts planned for 2013 will have on the mission’s impact and activities.
One option is for the Council to listen to the briefing but take no action at the current time. Given the heightened violence against civilians, it could also invite the High Commissioner for Human Rights to brief on the protection of civilians.
The Council may also contemplate adopting a statement that:
- reiterates strong concern about the security environment and the toll of the conflict on civilians;
- emphasises the critical need for Afghanistan and its international partners to abide by commitments made at recent high-level conferences, most notably the “mutual accountability framework” agreed in Tokyo; and
- requests from the Secretary-General a strategic plan for UN support for reconciliation efforts.
There is widespread support for the work of UNAMA on the Council, although some members are concerned that planned budget cuts to the mission could negatively affect its operations.
Several Council members have expressed growing alarm about the toll that the conflict continues to take on civilians. The UK has stressed that protecting civilians while the insurgency indiscriminately attacks them is a major priority for ISAF. While acknowledging that the number of civilians killed in pro-government attacks has decreased significantly, Pakistan nonetheless points out that air raids are the greatest source of civilian deaths at the hands of pro-government forces. Pakistan also emphasises the burden imposed on it that comes from hosting over 2 million Afghan refugees.
Several Council members also continue to be disturbed by reports of violence and other human rights violations against women. Guatemala, Portugal, South Africa, and the US are notable in this respect, although other Council members also share this perspective.
As the 2014 deadline for the security transition approaches, Russia has expressed the view that any residual foreign military presence in Afghanistan will require a strong legal basis (i.e. authorisation from the Council). Russia also continues to express concern about the threat posed by drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan.
Germany is the lead country in the Council on Afghanistan.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|9 October 2012 S/RES/2069||This resolution renewed the mandate of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan until 13 October 2013.|
|22 March 2012 S/RES/2041||This resolution renewed UNAMA’s mandate until 23 March 2013.|
|13 September 2012 S/2012/703||This was the UNAMA report covering developments since 20 June 2012.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|20 September 2012 S/PV.6840||This was the UNAMA debate in September.|