March 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 February 2015
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ASIA

Afghanistan

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council will hold its quarterly debate on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Nicholas Haysom, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNAMA, is expected to brief. The Council also plans to renew UNAMA’s mandate, which expires on 17 March.

Key Recent Developments

The Council held its last quarterly debate on Afghanistan on 18 December 2014. Haysom and Yuri Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, briefed. Haysom said that Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah were to be commended for their commitment to the national unity government. (In September 2014, the two rival political leaders signed an agreement setting out a power-sharing arrangement by which Ghani became president and Abdullah became his chief executive officer, responsible for management of day-to-day government operations.) Haysom also urged “the political leaders to conclude the process for the appointment and approval of senior government officials”. Fedotov said that in 2014 the estimated area of opium cultivation in Afghanistan was the highest it has ever been. He further argued that more needed to be done “to ensure that action to weaken the stranglehold of drugs and crime goes hand in hand with efforts to strengthen the licit economy”.

The presidential palace announced on 12 January that Abdullah and Ghani had agreed on 25 nominees for their cabinet after three months of negotiations on the composition of the national unity government. However, a number of the nominees, who require approval by the Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of the parliament), had to withdraw because they held dual citizenship, which disqualified them from serving as cabinet ministers under the Afghan constitution. On 28 January, the Wolesi Jirga approved eight nominated ministers and the proposed director general of the National Directorate of Security. Ghani indicated that he would present the remaining cabinet nominees to the Wolesi Jirga in the near future, but at press time, this had yet to be done.

On 12 December 2014, the Council adopted resolution 2189 to welcome “the agreement between NATO and Afghanistan to establish the post-2014 non-combat Resolute Support Mission, which will train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces”. The Resolute Support Mission (RSM) consists of approximately 12,000 troops. While other NATO countries contribute to the mission, the large majority of these troops are from the US.

The security situation remains very fragile and continues to take a heavy toll on Afghan security forces and civilian populations. As the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan (International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF) drew down its forces in 2014, Afghan security personnel were able to rely less on NATO’s combat troops and close air support, which enabled insurgents to conduct large scale conventional attacks that heightened the death toll of Afghan security forces and civilians caught in the cross-fire. Meanwhile, insurgents continued to employ suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with devastating effect. More than 5,000 Afghan security personnel were killed in 2014, the highest number since the conflict began in 2001, while the nearly 3,700 civilians who died as a result of the fighting last year represented a 25 percent rise from 2013.

In recent months, the heightened violence in Afghanistan has continued without signs of abating. On 31 December 2014, up to 25 civilians were killed and 45 wounded in an apparent accident when a mortar fired from an Afghan military checkpoint landed on a wedding party in Sangin district, Helmand province. A suicide bombing at a funeral in Mihtarlam, the capital of Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan, claimed the lives of 15 people and injured an additional 39 on 29 January; Afghan authorities have accused the Taliban of this attack. On 20 January 2015, eight civilians died when an IED blew up their vehicle in Ghazni province, while another two civilians were killed in Washir district, Helmand province, on 6 February when an IED set by insurgents exploded. Over 20 Afghan police were killed in Logar province when four Taliban suicide bombers attacked their police station on 17 February.

Insurgents have also attacked a number of schools recently. In eastern Afghanistan, a girls’ school was set on fire in Naray district, Kunar province, on 8 February. On 10 February, militants torched a co-educational school, also in Kunar province. Other attacks against schools were also reported in Nangahar province in late January and early February.

On 9 February, a US drone killed Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim. Khadim was one of a handful of former Taliban commanders in Afghanistan to announce his loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

On 4 December 2014, Afghanistan and the UK co-hosted the London Conference on Afghanistan, which included the participation of 59 states, international organisations and members of Afghan civil society. At the conference, Afghanistan and its international partners recommitted to the Tokyo mutual accountability framework of 2012. Through this framework, Afghanistan’s international partners promised to maintain significant financial support for Afghanistan through 2017 in exchange for Afghanistan’s on-going efforts to make progress in meeting commitments to good governance, the rule of law, human rights and effective financial management.

Sanctions-Related Developments

The Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted its final report to the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee in December 2014, and the Committee subsequently transmitted the report to the Council on 2 February. The report notes an apparent rise in the Taliban’s involvement in “criminal activity, including narcotics trafficking, illicit mining, collusion with ‘transport mafias’ and kidnapping for ransom”. It also warns that this trend has negative implications for peace and security in Afghanistan, as it “encourages those within the Taliban…who have the greatest economic incentives to oppose any meaningful process of reconciliation with the new government”.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In February, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNAMA jointly published “Afghanistan: Annual Report 2014 on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.” According to the report, if the current trend of more frequent and larger ground engagements between large numbers of Afghan security forces and anti-government elements continues, including indiscriminate shelling and the use of mortars, rocket propelled grenades, IEDs and other weapons in civilian-populated areas, it is highly likely that civilian casualties will continue to rise in 2015.

The Human Rights Council will consider the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in Afghanistan and on the developments in technical assistance in the field of human rights in 2014 (A/HRC/28/48) during its 28th session in March.

Key Issues

A key issue is how well Afghan security forces will be able to maintain stability in the country, considering that the RSM is a non-combat mission.

A related issue is the high number of civilian casualties caused by the ongoing conflict.

Another related issue, moving forward, is what can be done to curtail the heightened violence in the country, given the apparent reluctance of the Taliban to engage in reconciliation with the government at the present time.

How effectively Ghani, Abdullah and their supporters will be able to work together in the government of national unity is also an important issue. The importance of filling the remaining cabinet positions in a manner that is mutually acceptable to the Ghani and Abdullah camps is a related issue.

Another important issue is the preparations for the Wolesi Jirga elections planned for 2015. Originally scheduled to be held by 23 May, it now appears unlikely that the elections can take place this soon for political, economic and other reasons. Abdullah has already indicated that electoral processes should be reformed before another Afghan election is held. Most notably, he has called for the country’s election commissioners to be replaced.

Options

The most likely option is for the Council to renew UNAMA for an additional year. In renewing the mandate, the Council could decide to: 

  • underscore the heightened impact of the fighting on civilians and urge the government to bolster security at military and police facilities;
  • highlight the importance of electoral reforms, given the irregularities in last year’s presidential elections and the fact that parliamentary elections are upcoming; and
  • emphasise the linkages between extremism and natural resource exploitation, in keeping with the findings of the recent report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

Other options include:

  • streamlining the text by removing non-essential language to produce a shorter, more concise resolution, as last year’s resolution was 17 pages; or
  • renewing the mandate for a shorter period of time while signalling to Ghani and Abdullah the need to finalise the formation of their government.
Council Dynamics

Council members are broadly supportive of UNAMA’s mandate to promote the rule of law, to provide good offices, to monitor human rights, to facilitate humanitarian assistance, to coordinate international assistance and to provide electoral support. There is likewise ongoing consternation about the violence in Afghanistan and the impact of the conflict on civilians. A number of members also emphasise the importance of ensuring that the gains in the rights of women since 2001 are consolidated and built upon. Several members, but most notably France and Russia, consistently highlight their concerns about drug cultivation, production and trafficking and the ways in which the illicit funds generated by drugs support terrorism. China, which has substantial oil and mineral interests in Afghanistan and is reportedly concerned about a potential security vacuum to its west given the departure of the NATO-led ISAF, appears keen to play a growing mediation role between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Spain is the penholder on Afghanistan (including UNAMA), while New Zealand is the penholder on the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee.

UN Documents  

Security Council Resolutions
12 December 2014 S/RES/2189 This was a resolution welcoming the Afghanistan-NATO agreement to create the post-2014 Resolute Support Mission.
17 March 2014 S/RES/2145 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNAMA for a year.
Secretary-General’s Report
9 December 2014 S/2014/876 This was the Secretary-General’s report on Afghanistan.
Security Council Meeting Record
18 December 2014 S/PV.7347 This was the quarterly debate on the situation in Afghanistan.
Sanctions Committee Document
2 February 2015 S/2015/79 This was the report of the 1988 Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.