March 2013 Monthly Forecast

ASIA

Afghanistan

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council is scheduled to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which expires on 23 March. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA are expected to brief during the quarterly debate on the situation in Afghanistan. It is possible that Yuri Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, may brief as well. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to chair the debate, which is likely to be held at the ministerial-level. 

Key Recent Developments

The Council held its last debate on the situation in Afghanistan on 19 December 2012. Kubiš noted that the Independent Election Commission had set 5 April 2014 as the date for the presidential and provincial council elections and indicated the importance of establishing “a credible and robust electoral architecture” that “ensure[s] the broadest possible enfranchisement of Afghan actors across the country and create[s] conditions for the fullest possible participation”. He also underscored the need for inter-Afghan reconciliation and welcomed resolution 2082, which made travel-ban exemptions possible for individuals who are willing to negotiate but have been listed under the 1988 Taliban sanctions regime.

Following Kubiš’s briefing, Ambassador Zahir Tanin (Afghanistan) spoke about the government’s efforts to enhance its security responsibilities, as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) winds down its current mission. He also argued that Afghanistan needs to create a comprehensive political framework to stabilise the country. To implement this framework, he highlighted the importance of fostering national reconciliation, holding successful elections in 2014 and ensuring continued cooperation between Afghanistan and regional and international actors.

Violent incidents have continued in Afghanistan in recent months. According to an article published by the Times on 27 December 2012, at least 86 Afghan security personnel had been killed during 2012 by their colleagues in so-called “green-on-green attacks”, many of which were carried out by Taliban who infiltrated the security forces or by security personnel who shifted their loyalties to the Taliban. Two separate suicide bombing incidents, on 26 December targeting Forward Operating Base Chapman, a US military base in Khost province in the eastern part of the country, and then on 16 January targeting a National Directorate of Security facility in Kabul, left four Afghans dead and 40 wounded.   

On 24 February, three car bombs were detonated by the Taliban: one targeted the intelligence service in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province; a second, the compound of the Baraki Barak district governor in Logar province; and a third, a police facility in Logar province.  A police officer and two security guards died in these attacks.

Also on 24 February, a man driving a vehicle filled with explosives, who was targeting a National Directorate of Security facility in Kabul was shot to death by a guard before the explosives were detonated.

Preparations for the 2014 presidential and provincial council elections continued. On 23 January, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Council (IEC) announced that voter registration would begin by the end of April. A UN electoral needs assessment mission visited Afghanistan from 18-28 January to study the electoral situation and offer proposals for UN assistance. (A previous such mission took place from 27 November to 5 December 2012.)

On 11 January, US President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met in Washington. During a joint press conference, they noted that Afghan security forces would assume a leading role in the country’s security by mid-2013, with ISAF forces operating in more of an advisory and training capacity. They also released a joint statement indicating that “they would support an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the High Peace Council (the body entrusted by the Afghan government to promote reconciliation) and the authorised representatives of the Taliban,” calling on the insurgents to take “those steps necessary to open a Taliban office.” (On 4 February, UK Prime Minister David Cameron hosted a meeting between Karzai and President Asif Ali Zadari of Pakistan, during which the three leaders also gave their support for such an office, although further details about this office were unclear at press time.) 

On 20 January, UNAMA and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report entitled Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody: One Year On, which found that torture remains a widespread challenge in detention centres throughout Afghanistan. Based on interviews with 635 detainees between October 2011 and October 2012, the report noted that 326 of these individuals had “experienced torture and ill-treatment in numerous (Afghan) facilities”. It highlighted in particular the need to strengthen accountability mechanisms in order to combat effectively the use of torture. (The current report follows a similar report produced by UNAMA and OHCHR in October 2011, which also found widespread use of torture in Afghan detention facilities.)

The Afghan government took steps to respond to the allegations in the report. On 11 February, Abdul Qadir Adalatkhwa, the director of a panel investigating the accusations, confirmed that of 284 detainees interviewed in Kabul, Kandahar and Herat provinces, 136 had been tortured or mistreated. However, he said that this misconduct had occurred during the arrest or interrogation of these individuals rather than during their detention. Adalatkhwa added that many of those interviewed had not had access to defence counsel. On 17 February, Karzai issued a statement in which he required the videotaping of interrogations, ordered that those who had committed torture be prosecuted and mandated that defence attorneys be provided to detainees.

In recent weeks, the Afghan government has placed restrictions on the operations of foreign troops in Afghanistan. On 16 February, Karzai said that he would prohibit Afghan security forces from requesting NATO airstrikes to support their military operations. (His comments came only days after the 12 February NATO-Afghan joint operation in Kunar province that killed three Taliban commanders but also claimed the lives of ten civilians, including five children.)

The Afghan government also announced on 24 February that it would no longer allow US special forces to operate in Maidan Wardak province, which is adjacent to Kabul province. The restriction, which was scheduled to take place within two weeks of its announcement, apparently stems from concerns in the Afghan government that US special forces had collaborated with Afghans in the area who had allegedly murdered and tortured civilians. 

On 10 February, US General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. assumed command of ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan, replacing US General John R. Allen, who had led ISAF since July 2011. 

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 20 March, during its 22nd session, the Human Rights Council will consider the 28 January report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, which was prepared in cooperation with UNAMA. The report noted that between 1 January and 30 November 2012, anti-government elements increasingly targeted civilians and civilian locations and increasingly used improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks. Children continued to suffer disproportionately from the conflict, with more than 20 children killed and injured on average per week. The report also voiced concerns about lack of due process and mistreatment of conflict-related detainees and deplored the executions of 14 prisoners last November, the first since June 2011. Finally, the report noted that while the government took steps to strengthen the implementation of laws designated to protect women, entrenched discrimination and harmful practices have continued to marginalise women and girls. (Further details on civilian casualties are contained in UNAMA’s annual report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in Afghanistan released on 19 February. The report notes the continuing high human cost of the conflict. Although in 2012 there was a 12 percent decline in the overall number of civilian deaths compared to 2011, the report documents a 108 percent increase in civilian casualties from targeted killings by insurgents and a 700 percent increase in deliberate targeting of government employees compared to the previous year.)

Key Issues

A key issue is the importance of enhancing the capacity of the Afghan security forces so they can take on more responsibility from ISAF as it draws down and assumes more of an advisory and training role.  

Another key issue is how much progress will be made with respect to reconciliation, given apparent divisions within the Taliban regarding whether or not to seek peace.

Also an important issue is helping to ensure that preparations for the 2014 elections are managed effectively, as UNAMA is mandated to provide electoral support upon the request of the government.   

Another important issue is whether the measures outlined by Karzai to address torture will be implemented effectively and will have an impact in eradicating this problem.

An additional key issue is what effect the recent cuts in UNAMA’s budget, determined by the General Assembly, will have on the effectiveness of the mission. (In part because of funding constraints, several UNAMA provincial offices have been closed, restrictions have been put on recruitment for the mission and jobs in the mission have been eliminated.)

Options

The most likely option for the Council is to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of UNAMA for an additional year. The Council is also likely to update the resolution in light of developments over the past several months related to electoral preparations, the reconciliation process and the transition to Afghan ownership in the development, security and governance spheres.

The Council may also consider language in the resolution:

Given the importance of the upcoming elections to the transition process in Afghanistan—and the significant controversies that surrounded the 2009 elections—the Council may also consider requesting a report specifically on electoral preparations by the end of 2013.   

Council Dynamics

There is widespread support on the Council for UNAMA’s core mandate as it relates to issues such as reconciliation, electoral assistance, human rights, counteracting drug trafficking, and the promotion of good governance and the rule of law.   

Several members seem eager to start planning for UNAMA’s presence in 2014 and beyond, and some appear concerned about what they perceive as uncertainty about UNAMA’s future role in Afghanistan. Although negotiations on the UNAMA draft resolution had not begun at press time, it does not seem that there is an appetite among several Council members to make significant changes to the resolution at this point. It seems that several Council members believe that next year will be the time to consider more significant adjustments to the mandate, especially given the completion of ISAF’s current mission in 2014.

Australia is the lead country in the Council 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.
Secretary-General’s Reports  
6 December 2012 S/2012/907 This report of the Secretary-General was on Afghanistan.
Security Council Meeting Records  
19 December 2012 S/PV.6896 A debate on Afghanistan following a briefing by Special Representative and UNAMA head Jan Kubis.
Other  
28 January 2013 A/HRC/22/37 This was a report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan prepared in cooperation with UNAMA.