Expected Council Action
In December, the Council is expected to receive the final report of the current international military mission in Afghanistan, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and adopt a resolution regarding its successor mission. (ISAF’s Council authorisation expires on 31 December.)
The Council will also hold a debate on Afghanistan, during which it will consider the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), with a briefing anticipated by Nicholas Haysom, the new Special Representative and head of UNAMA.
UNAMA’s mandate expires on 17 March 2015.
Key Recent Developments
The Council held its last debate on Afghanistan on 18 September with then-Special Representative Jan Kubiš briefing from Kabul via video-teleconference. Kubiš emphasised the need for the electoral impasse to be resolved and for presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to finalise an agreement establishing a government of national unity. He also noted the toll that the conflict in Afghanistan continued to take on civilians, pointing out that there was a 15 percent increase in civilian casualties in the first eight months of 2014 as compared to the same period in 2013. Kubiš added, “Afghanistan’s security institutions will require sustained support” moving forward. He said the new government would need to finalise the requisite legal agreements “to ensure the necessary planning and preparations for continuity in international assistance”.
On 21 September, Ghani and Abdullah signed an agreement forming a government of national unity. According to the power-sharing arrangement, Ghani became the president-elect, with Abdullah (or someone he selects) serving as his chief executive officer and having responsibility for management of day-to-day government operations. Also on 21 September, the Independent Electoral Commission declared Ghani the victor in the election, although it did not release the results of the contentious audit process, which lasted for more than two months. (On 25 September, Abdullah said he would serve as chief executive in the new government.)
In a televised farewell address from the presidential palace on 23 September, outgoing President Hamid Karzai warned the incoming government to be wary of the intentions of Pakistan and the United States in Afghanistan, accusing them of not wanting peace in Afghanistan.
Ghani was sworn in as the new president on 29 September, a day that was marred by Taliban-related violence. In eastern Paktika province, four Taliban insurgents attacked the Zurmat district headquarters, which resulted in their deaths and the deaths of eight additional people. A Taliban suicide bombing close to the Kabul airport resulted in four civilian deaths, and two civilians were injured in Kunduz, a town in northern Afghanistan, when a suicide bomber discharged explosives.
The Taliban has orchestrated several other acts of violence since Ghani’s inauguration. On 27 October, four insurgents attacked a courthouse in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, where they killed eight people and injured an additional ten. A suicide bomber tried to assassinate Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan parliamentarian and women’s rights advocate, in Kabul on 16 November. Barakzai survived the attack with minor injuries, but three nearby civilians were killed and dozens sustained injuries. On 18 November, a truck carrying explosives rammed into the exterior gate of a base for foreign contractors in Kabul, killing two security guards and injuring several bystanders. A suicide bombing on 23 November at a volleyball competition in Yahyakhail district in Paktika province killed over fifty civilians and wounded another sixty. Council members condemned this attack in a press statement on 24 November.
On 30 September, the day after Ghani’s inauguration, Afghanistan signed security agreements with the United States and NATO. (Karzai had refused to establish post-2014 security arrangements with the US and NATO.) According to the agreements, 9,800 US troops and at least 2,000 NATO soldiers will be permitted to remain in the country to train and advise Afghan security forces and conduct counter-insurgency operations. The agreements are intended to last through 2024.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter Narcotics released the Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2014 on 16 November. The survey found that there has been a 7 percent increase in the “total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan” this year as compared with 2013.
On 31 October, President Ghani spoke in Beijing at the fourth ministerial conference of the Istanbul process on Afghanistan. (Launched in November 2011, the Istanbul process is designed to promote coordination between Afghanistan and neighbouring countries in dealing with common threats, such as terrorism, drug trafficking, poverty and extremism.) Telling the audience that Afghanistan’s political transition was “well underway” in light of the establishment of a government of national unity, Ghani urged the Taliban to participate in inter-Afghan dialogue and expressed his country’s intention “to provide a solid platform for collaborating among governments and organizations”. He added that Afghanistan is “committed to carry out a comprehensive reform of our legal and judicial, governance, economic and cultural institutions”. While in China, Ghani met with President Xi Jinping and other senior Chinese officials and secured a pledge of $327 million (or 2 billion yuan) in aid during the next three years.
Ghani visited Pakistan from 14 to 16 November, meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief of Staff General Raheel Sharif. The importance of security cooperation between the two countries was a major focus of the trip.
Nicholas Haysom replaced Kubiš as Special Representative on 25 September. Haysom had served as Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan since 2012.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The special rapporteur for the Human Rights Council on violence against women, its causes and consequences visited Afghanistan from 4 to 12 November. It was the first visit to Afghanistan by a holder of this mandate since 2005. In a statement from Kabul on 12 November, the special rapporteur confirmed the continuing prevalence of violence against women and girls, including targeted killings; rape; violence perpetrated by husbands and other relatives; violence linked to early and forced marriage; and sexual harassment in the workplace and public spaces. She highlighted the issue of access to justice, the lack of effective interpretation and implementation of relevant laws by state authorities, a lack of knowledge of the law and its protective remedial provisions, deep inequality, underdevelopment, high levels of illiteracy, the lack of educational and employment opportunities and the over-incarceration of women and girls for “moral crimes”. A report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2015.
A key issue is how well Afghan security forces will be able to maintain stability in the country, given the diminished role of international military forces after this year.
A related issue is the high number of civilian casualties caused by Taliban-related violence.
Also a key issue is the ability of Ghani, Abdullah and their supporters to work together in a government of national unity. Ghani promised that a new government would be formed within 45 days of his inauguration, but the deadline has passed without cabinet positions being allocated.
Another key issue is whether it is possible to promote reconciliation with the Taliban, as called for by Ghani in his 31 October speech in Beijing.
The most likely option is for the Council to adopt a resolution that takes note of, welcomes or authorises the Resolute Support Mission (RSM), the expected name of the successor mission to ISAF. In adopting the resolution, the Council may choose to:
- outline the nature of the collaboration between the RSM and Afghan security forces with regard to training, advising, counter-terrorism and other activities;
- emphasise the importance of protecting civilians and respecting human rights in all military activities; and
- request periodic reporting from the mission to the Council.
The Council may also consider receiving a briefing from a high-level NATO official describing the goals of the new mission, its planned activities and preparations for its launch.
Another option for the Council is to issue a statement in the aftermath of the London Conference on Afghanistan, scheduled for 4 December, affirming the international community’s abiding commitment to Afghanistan’s political and economic development. Co-hosted by Afghanistan and the UK, the conference is meant to focus on effective governance and economic growth in Afghanistan in the coming years.
Given the challenging security environment in Afghanistan, there is widespread recognition in the Council of the critical role the Afghan National Security Forces will play in ensuring stability in the country as ISAF’s mission comes to a close. There have also been long-standing concerns in the Council about the impact that the conflict continues to have on civilians, with several members keen to ensure that the human rights gains that have been made since 2001 continue to be built upon, including the rights of women and children. Some members, most notably France and Russia, have been particularly vocal about the threat posed by drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan, in large part because they believe that the illicit funds from narcotics fuel extremism.
Regarding the security transition from ISAF to the RSM, Russia has long said that any successor mission to ISAF should have a firm legal basis, and it may be keen to see clear language authorising the RSM. Other countries, particularly those that are part of the NATO alliance, may be more inclined to endorse less formal language welcoming, rather than authorising, the RSM.
Australia is the penholder on Afghanistan and chair of the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee.
UN Documents on Afghanistan
|Security Council Resolutions|
|17 March 2014 S/RES/2145||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNAMA for a year.|
|10 October 2013 S/RES/2120||This resolution extended the authorisation of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan until 31 December 2014.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|24 November 2014 SC/11664||This was a press statement that condemned a suicide bombing that killed over fifty civilians and wounded another sixty in Paktika, Afghanistan.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|18 September 2014 S/PV.7267||This was the quarterly debate on Afghanistan.|
|9 September 2014 S/2014/656||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Afghanistan.|
|17 September 2014 S/2014/678||This was an ISAF report covering 1 May to 31 July 2014.|