September 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 August 2014
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ASIA

Afghanistan

Expected Council Action

In September, the Council is scheduled to hold its quarterly debate on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNAMA Ján Kubiš is expected to brief. At press time, no Council outcome was anticipated.

 UNAMA’s mandate expires on 17 March 2015.

Key Recent Developments

Afghanistan continues to face significant political and security challenges. At press time, the country remained engulfed in a political crisis, with the winner of the 14 June presidential run-off election yet to be decided. Meanwhile, over the past couple of months, a resurgent Taliban has stepped up its attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

On 5 April, Afghanistan held presidential and provincial elections. Among the eight presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, received 45 percent and 31.5 percent of the vote, respectively. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) certified the first-round results on 15 May, despite Abdullah’s accusations of fraud. On 15 May, the Council issued a press statement welcoming the certification of the first round results by the IEC while underscoring the continued need to detect and prevent fraud (SC/11399). As neither candidate got 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election between Abdullah and Ghani was held on 14 June.

Preliminary results from the runoff showed Ghani leading; however, on 18 June, Abdullah again complained of fraud, alleging that rampant ballot-stuffing had occurred in pro-Ghani districts. Abdullah announced that he would withdraw from the electoral process and demanded the vote-counting be stopped to allow the IEC to investigate his claims of fraud. He also alleged that one of the members of the IEC, Zia ul-Haq Amarkhel, was complicit in the malfeasance. Amarkhel subsequently resigned on 23 June, denying the accusations and stating that he was resigning “in the national interest” while calling on Abdullah to “end his boycott”.

In an 18 June press statement, UNAMA stated the electoral process “should continue as laid out in the laws passed by the National Assembly” (i.e., allegations of fraud should be investigated only once the vote count is finalised). On 25 June, the Council adopted a presidential statement in which it called on all stakeholders “to engage with the electoral institutions and processes with patience and respect, refrain from any acts that incite imminent violence…and to channel complaints through the established institutional mechanisms in line with Afghanistan’s electoral laws and constitution” (S/PRST/2014/11).

With the crisis unresolved, by 8 July some of Abdullah’s supporters started threatening to form their own government. US Secretary of State John Kerry travelled to Afghanistan, and on 12 July, brokered a deal between Abdullah and Ghani. The deal called for an audit of all votes cast in the election. The winner will serve as president, and the runner-up, or a person he selects, will assume a new position, chief executive of the government. Within two years, a loya jirga, or meeting of tribal leaders, will be convened to determine whether the chief executive will be converted into a prime minister.

In the ensuing weeks, tensions again flared between the parties due to a lack of substantive progress in the audit and disagreements on what constitutes an invalid vote. Kerry returned to Kabul on 7 August and convinced the parties to recommit to their agreement of 12 July. The IEC announced that as of 23 August approximately 67 percent of all the ballot boxes had been reviewed. (At press time, it remained unclear when the audit would be concluded, and thus, who would be the next president.) 

While the auditing continued, the political climate in Afghanistan remained tense. On 18 August, The New York Times ran a story by Matthew Rosenberg headlined “Amid Election Impasse: Calls in Afghanistan for an Interim Government,” which claimed that high-ranking government officials were threatening a temporary seizure of power in the hope that “the mere threat of forming an interim government would persuade the country’s rival presidential candidates…to make compromises needed to end the crisis”. After demanding that Rosenberg reveal his sources, the government first barred and later demanded that Rosenberg leave Afghanistan, which he did on 21 August without compromising his sources.

In recent months, extremists have ramped up efforts to destabilise Afghanistan. On 6 June, at least 10 people died and several were injured in Kabul in a failed assassination attempt on Abdullah. Later that day, the Council issued a press statement condemning the attack (SC/11431).

In late June, the Taliban launched several attacks in northern Helmand province killing or injuring more than 100 security personnel and civilians.

On 15 July, a car-bomb exploded in a market in Paktika province, reportedly killing at least 89 people. The Council issued a press statement condemning the attack later that day (SC/11476).

Hashmat Khalil Karzai, a Ghani campaign manager and relative of President Hamid Karzai, was assassinated on 29 July. 

The violence continued in August. On 5 August, in Camp Qargha, US Major General Harold J. Greene was killed and 15 others injured in a shooting. On 10 August, a car-bomb hit an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) convoy in Kabul, killing four civilians and injuring an additional 35.

It was reported on 19 August that up to 700 Taliban extremists were engaged in combat with security forces in Logar province, just south of Kabul province. 

The trend of violence against aid workers in Afghanistan has also continued. Two aid workers from Finland were killed on 24 July in Herat, and on 14 August, five ICRC workers were kidnapped in the western Herat. The ICRC workers were released unharmed on 20 August. 

On 25 June, the Council held its most recent debate on Afghanistan, with Kubiš and Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, briefing (S/PV.7208). Kubiš argued that Abdullah and Ghani needed to demonstrate statesmanship to resolve the electoral impasse in a constructive way. Fedotov warned that “if…economic development declines and international aid is reduced along, with business confidence, the reliance on the illicit economy will further increase”. Along with the presidential statement on the electoral impasse, the Council also adopted a presidential statement at the debate expressing concern about drug production in Afghanistan (S/PRST/2014/12). 

On 17 June, the Council adopted resolution 2160, which made minor adjustments to the 1988 Taliban sanctions regime. Among other things, the resolution decided that states should take appropriate measures to prevent the Taliban from accessing improvised explosive devices and encouraged states to make photographs and other relevant biometric data on listed individuals available to the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee and to INTERPOL.

Human Rights-Related Developments

The UNAMA Human Rights Unit mid-year report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in Afghanistan, released in July 2014, documented 4,853 civilian casualties for the first half of 2014, up 24 percent over the same period in 2013, with a significant rise in women and children casualties. UNAMA attributed 74 percent of all civilian casualties to anti-government elements, while 12 percent were caused by ground fire between Afghan security forces and insurgents, 8 percent by Afghan security forces, 1 percent by international security forces and the remaining casualties resulting primarily from the “explosive remnants of war”. According to the report, civilian casualties caused by improvised explosive devices increased to unprecedented levels, but deaths and injuries caused by ground engagements jumped dramatically, as the frequency and intensity of these incidents increased in 2014, particularly in areas with concentrated civilian populations.

On 19 June, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review of Afghanistan with 224 recommendations, of which 189 were accepted. Afghanistan addressed concerns by some delegations about the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, saying torture was prohibited under national law and adding that the special rapporteur on torture was scheduled to visit the country in November.

During its 27th session in September, the HRC will consider the report of the Secretary-General on the question of the death penalty, which includes reference to Afghanistan for allowing capital punishment for acts that according to international human rights jurisprudence do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes”, including adultery, sodomy, apostasy and blasphemy (A/HRC/27/23). Afghanistan is also named as one of four states where armed groups implement Sharia punishment, including death, for offences to religion.

Key Issues

One key issue is what role the Council, and UNAMA, can play in facilitating a peaceful political transition in Afghanistan, given the recent turmoil in the electoral process.

As ISAF continues its drawdown and the insurgents step up their attacks, another key issue is the ability of Afghan security forces to maintain security in the country.

Other key ongoing issues include the need to promote human rights and to fight drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan.

Options

The Council could consider adopting a resolution:

  • listing under the 1988 sanctions regime additional Taliban leaders with responsibility for military operations;
  • reiterating the need for the parties to resolve the electoral crisis peacefully; and
  • encouraging efforts by UNAMA and other international actors to mediate the current electoral dispute.

Another option, if the electoral dispute drags on, would be for the Council to hold an informal interactive dialogue with Abdullah and Ghani to get their perspectives on the dispute and signal clearly to them the need to engage constructively with electoral institutions and to honour their 12 July agreement. 

Council Dynamics

The main concerns for Council members are the electoral crisis and the insecurity caused by Taliban violence, including the toll that this violence is taking on civilians. Some members have noted that UNAMA’s role in providing mediation and good offices may be particularly useful at this particular juncture, given the current political impasse. There is also an understanding that the electoral dispute is linked to the security situation. Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US for post-2014 US military engagement, and while both Abdullah and Ghani have said they would sign the agreement if elected, this cannot be done until one of them is in office. (The signing of the BSA would also pave the way for NATO to conclude its own security arrangement with Afghanistan.)

Australia is the penholder on Afghanistan.

UN Documents on Afghanistan

Security Council Resolution
17 June 2014 S/RES/2160 made minor adjustments to the Taliban sanctions regime.
Security Council Presidential Statements
25 June 2014 S/PRST/2014/12 expressed concern with drug production in Afghanistan.
25 June 2014 S/PRST/2014/11 called on the parties to refrain from acts leading to violence in the elctoral dispute.
Security Council Press Statements
15 July 2014 SC/11476 condemned the terrorist attack in Paktika province.  
6 June 2014 SC/11431 condemned the terrorist attack in Kabul and attempts to disrupt elections.
15 May 2014 SC/11399 welcomed the certification of the first-round results by the IEC, while underscoring the need to detect and prevent fraud..
Security Council Meeting Record
25 June 2014 S/PV.7208 was the most recent Council debate on Afghanistan.