March 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2014
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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 19 March. The Council will also hold its quarterly debate on the situation in Afghanistan, during which Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNAMA, will brief the Council.

Key Recent Developments

The deadliest attack against foreign civilians in Afghanistan since 2001 occurred on 17 January when a Taliban suicide bomber and two gunmen attacked the Taverna du Liban, a restaurant popular with foreigners in Kabul. Twenty-one people were killed, 13 foreigners and eight Afghans. Among the victims were four UN employees. The Taliban overran an Afghan army base in Kunar region on 23 February killing 21 soldiers and leaving 6 missing, in what may have been the greatest losses suffered by government forces in a single attack since 2010.

Afghan civilian casualties, meanwhile, rose by 14 percent in 2013, a reversal from 2012’s decline. UNAMA’s annual report on protection of civilians, released in February, also determined that anti-government forces were responsible for 74 percent of civilian deaths and injuries. Eight percent of casualties were attributed to Afghan security forces and three percent to international forces. (The other 15 percent were not attributed to a specific side.) A new trend was the significant increase in civilian casualties during ground engagements. This reflected the assumption of security responsibilities by the state from international forces and fighting the Taliban in more conventional military operations, increasingly in civilian communities.

The ICRC’s 11 February 2014 Operational Update highlighted that it had not observed any security improvements in 2013 and that it was operating in an “increasingly insecure environment”.

Meanwhile Afghanistan moved closer to the date of its 5 April presidential and provincial elections. The Ministry of Interior recommended on 11 January closing 414 of the 6,845 polling centres due to security concerns. On 1 February, two aides of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, including the campaign manager, were killed outside the campaign office in Herat. The next day, electoral campaigning officially started with 11 presidential candidates and 2,563 candidates for 34 provincial councils. Voter registration continued with over 3.5 million new voters registered since 26 May 2013. Approximately 35 percent are women. The process will continue until two weeks before election day.

As part of the drawdown of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), on 21 December 2013, NATO announced that negotiations had begun with Afghanistan on a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Meanwhile, a final agreement on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the US and Afghanistan, which NATO’s SOFA would resemble, had yet to be reached. The agreements envision leaving approximately 10,000 international troops in Afghanistan to train government forces and assist in counter-terrorism. Apparently frustrated by President Hamid Karzai’s unwillingness to sign the BSA, on 25 February, US President Barak Obama told Karzai that the US would start planning a complete withdrawal of its forces by the end of the year while still trying to reach an agreement with his successor after the elections.

Further fuelling tensions between the US and Afghanistan, on 13 February Afghanistan released 65 prisoners who had been transferred to its custody by the US, indicating that they had done so due to a lack of evidence. The US maintained that there was strong evidence linking the prisoners to terror-related crimes, that the decision violated a 2012 memorandum of understanding on prisoners, and threatened international forces.

In other developments, a 30 January report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction highlighted corruption and the difficulty of channelling aid money into developing state institutions, reporting that none of the 16 ministries could be trusted to keep funds from being stolen or wasted.

The World Bank reported a decline in Afghanistan’s economic growth from 14.4 percent in 2012 to an estimated 3.1 percent in 2013. It attributed the decline to the uncertainty about the political and security transition.

On 17 February, Karzai ordered that parliament revise a draft criminal code. The code would have effectively prohibited relatives of defendants from testifying in domestic-abuse cases. Civil society and foreign governments urged Karzai to oppose the law.

At the UN, the Fifth Committee approved UNAMA’s 2014 budget of $191.3 million on 23 December 2013, a reduction of approximately $4.9 million from its 2013 budget.

Human Rights-Related Developments

Following the 27 January review of Afghanistan, the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) working group of the Universal Periodic Review adopted its report on 31 January. Of the 224 recommendations formulated during the interactive dialogue, Afghanistan did not support 12, of which nine concerned the establishment of a moratorium on the death penalty (A/HRC/26/4). 

During its 25th session in March, the HRC will consider a report from High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on the situation in Afghanistan (A/HRC/25/41). In her report, Pillay indicates there was a 10 percent increase in  civilian deaths and injuries in the first 11 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, reversing the decline that was reported in 2012. The report also voices concern about the continued use of torture by Afghan forces involving conflict-related detainees in a number of detention facilities and denial of detainees’ access to legal counsel.

Additionally, Pillay referred to the most recent report on the implementation of the 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) released in December: A Way to Go: An Update on Implementation of the Law on EVAW in Afghanistan. The report finds that discrimination and harmful practices against women remain systemic and entrenched. It notes that while the authorities registered 28 percent more reports of violence against women under the EVAW law over the past year, prosecutions and convictions remain low, with most cases settled by mediation.

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council will be renewing the mandate of UNAMA, which comes as most international forces will be withdrawn by the end 2014. The UN has proposed renewing it around the mission’s four core areas: good offices, coordinating international development assistance, human rights monitoring and advocacy and humanitarian assistance. Connected to this is the security of UNAMA and what it can do in a volatile environment.

Ensuring that the upcoming elections are conducted fairly, in particular after the widespread fraud in the 2009 elections, and are not marred by violence, is an immediate issue.

Fostering public acceptance of the results, which will impact Afghanistan’s future ability to achieve stability, is a closely related issue.

Opium production and drug trafficking, undermining good governance and funding the insurgency, is an ongoing issue.

Vigilance against a possible rollback in human rights gains made during the last 12 years tied to the NATO drawdown, is an emerging issue for the Council.

Ensuring that UNAMA has the resources to carry out its work, despite pressure on the UN to find budget savings, is an ongoing concern.

Underlying Problems

The stalling of the BSA negotiations is creating difficulty for the international community to plan beyond 2014. It is also contributing to the lack of confidence in the country among Afghans about the security and political transitions. No agreement that would keep international troops beyond 2014 could require reassessing UNAMA’s mission. 

Related to the NATO drawdown and BSA is whether government forces will perform effectively to prevent a security vacuum or Taliban resurgence.

Options

The Council could:

  • renew UNAMA for one year, keeping the four core functions of its mandate;
  • further streamline the mandate to produce a shorter, more concise resolution, removing parts that divert from the core functions; or
  • renew UNAMA’s mandate for a shorter period.
Council Dynamics

Council members are largely in agreement on renewing UNAMA’s mandate with its core functions. With the changes Afghanistan is experiencing during 2014—the election of a new president and the withdrawal of international forces—it is considered important to provide continuity and predictability through UNAMA’s presence, without significant changes in its role. Members also widely agree that 2015 is when it will be more appropriate for intensive discussion about UNAMA’s mandate, since by then a new government will have had time to identify its priorities for where the UN can best assist.

France recently increased its emphasis on the issue of drugs, a concern often highlighted by Russia. They may seek additional language that highlights the problem or promotes regional cooperation to deal with the issue, preparing next year’s mandate discussion for a possible greater UNAMA role on narcotics. Other members are sceptical about expanding UNAMA’s mandate in this regard.

Some Council members believe that NATO’s drawdown should not have a significant impact on the mission, which has long provided for its own security, while others express concerns. Agreement is widespread about the importance of the BSA. Russia frequently cites the potential negative impact that ISAF’s withdrawal will have on regional security.

Australia is the penholder on Afghanistan.

UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN

Security Council Resolutions
10 October 2013 S/RES/2120 This resolution extended the authorisation of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan until 31 December 2014.
19 March 2013 S/RES/2096 This resolution extended the mandate of UNAMA until 19 March 2014.
Security Council Press Statement
17 January 2014 SC/11251 In this press statement, the Council condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack by the Taliban at a Kabul restaurant on 17 January.
Security Council Meeting Record
17 December 2013 S/PV.7085 This was the most recent debate on the situation in Afghanistan.
Human Rights Council Document
10 January 2014 A/HRC/25/41 This was the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan in 2013.

Useful Additional Resource

UNAMA’s 2013 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (February 2014)

Other Relevant Facts

UNAMA Size and Composition
Strength as of 31 January 2014: 345 international civilian personnel (excluding military/police advisers), 1,170 local civilian staff and 71 UN volunteers based in Kabul headquarters, 13 regional offices, two liaison offices (Tehran and Islamabad) and one support office shared with UN Assistance Mission for Iraq in Kuwait.

ISAF Size and Composition
Strength as of 20 February 2014: 52,686 troops from 49 contributing countries (33,600 are US troops).