Expected Council Action
In June, the Council will hold its quarterly debate on Afghanistan, during which it will consider the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Special Representative Nicholas Haysom, the head of UNAMA, is expected to brief.
Also during June, the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee will likely consider a report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team. The report, due by 1 June in accordance with paragraph (a) of the annex of resolution 2160, is expected to provide recommendations on improving the implementation of sanctions measures.
No outcome is expected from the Council meeting. At press time, specific Committee actions were not anticipated either.
Key Recent Developments
The civilian population continues to bear a heavy toll as a result of the conflict. On 12 April, UNAMA released civilian casualty figures from January to March 2015, revealing that the trend of record-high civilian casualties continued from 2014. There was a two percent decrease in civilian casualties (totalling 1,810) compared to the same period in 2014, but civilian casualties caused by ground engagements between pro-government forces and anti-government elements were up eight percent.
In early April, the Taliban overran a number of army checkpoints in the north-eastern province of Badakhshan, killing twenty-one soldiers and police. Heavy fighting has continued in the province. The Taliban announced the launch of its annual offensive in a statement on 22 April and violent incidents escalated across much of the country. On 24 April, the Taliban attacked Kunduz city, the capital of the northern province of Kunduz. The attack, which caught the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by surprise and included fighters from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Chechnya, led to concerns that the city would be overrun, and thousands of reinforcements had to be deployed in order to hold it. According to the spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kabul, at least 100,000 people fled their homes due to the fighting around the city.
The intensity of fighting in the north represented the continued expansion of the Taliban insurgency beyond its more traditional areas of fighting in the south and east. This year also marks the first time that the ANSF is confronting the Taliban offensive without the support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which withdrew at the end of 2014 and was followed by a smaller NATO training mission, called the Resolute Support Mission (RSM).
Terrorist attacks in urban areas have continued. A suicide bomber killed 35 people and injured more than 100 in Jalalabad on 18 April. An attack by the Taliban on the Park Palace Hotel in Kabul on 13 May left 14 people dead, including nine foreigners. The capital has seen a number of other attacks, including a 17 May bombing near the entrance to the heavily secured international airport in which two teenage girls and a British contractor were killed and 18 people were wounded.
On the political front, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah announced 16 ministerial nominees on 21 March. The nominees were subsequently confirmed by the Wolesi Jirga (the Afghan lower house) and were sworn in on 21 April. Seven months after Ghani and Abdullah’s agreement to establish a power-sharing national unity government, the appointments represented the near-completion of their cabinet, which now comprises 24 ministers. On 21 May, President Ghani nominated Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai as defence minister, the last appointment outstanding, who still needs parliamentary approval.
From 2 to 3 May, Taliban representatives and Afghan officials met in their personal capacity along with civic activists at a conference in Qatar organised by the Pugwash Council, a Nobel Peace laureate. The informal discussions have been described as a possible first step towards starting more formal negotiations. Secret talks were held from 19 to 20 May, hosted by China in the north-western city of Urumqi and also involving the cooperation of Pakistan, bringing together Stanekzai and three former senior Taliban officials. The meeting reportedly focused on discussing preconditions for a possible peace process.
In other developments, Ghani signed a decree on 21 March establishing the Electoral Reform Commission, composed of 15 members including a UN representative. As expected, elections for the Wolesi Jirga, scheduled to be held by 23 May, did not take place. The terms of the current members expire in June. (Some Afghan officials have indicated that the elections could take place in October, though it seems more likely that parliamentary and district elections will only be organised next year due to security concerns and plans for electoral reforms.)
The 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee met with Special Representative Haysom on 25 March. The following day the Committee held a meeting with Afghanistan’s National Security Council Adviser, Mohammad Hanif Atmar. The meetings were organised in order for the Committee to gain a deeper understanding of the situation on the ground and the impact and role of the sanctions regime. At press time, Committee members were still awaiting the latest report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, expected by 1 June, on the implementation of the sanctions.
Human Rights-Related Developments
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović visited Afghanistan from 15 to 21 April to assess the human rights impact of the handover of security responsibilities to the ANSF and increased ground engagements across the country. Šimonović visited Kabul and the provinces of Nangarhar and Kapisa and met with Ghani, government ministers, the chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, civil society organisations and women’s rights NGOs. During his visit, Šimonović issued a statement on 18 April strongly condemning the brutal suicide attack in Jalalabad that day, which coincided with his visit to the city. Šimonović participated in the launch of a new report by UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office on 19 April, Justice through the Eyes of Afghan Women: Cases of Violence against Women Addressed through Mediation and Court Adjudication. The report documents the experiences of 110 women and girls in seeking accountability and redress for violence committed against them. In a 21 April statement at the end of his visit, Šimonović said there are new opportunities for peace talks that would have been unimaginable only a few months ago, but the conflict looks set to intensify as insurgents test the strength of the security forces, hoping to gain leverage in future negotiations. He emphasised that it is unacceptable that Afghans should face such violence on a daily basis and there can be no doubt that the tactics used represent war crimes, and those responsible for organising or perpetrating such attacks must be brought to justice. He also encouraged Afghanistan to institutionalise torture prevention by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which would lay the basis for a national inspection mechanism for places of detention, and welcomed the appointment that week of four women as government ministers.
A key issue is the ongoing violence and the need for the Afghan security forces to maintain stability in the country in light of the departure of ISAF. The high number of civilian casualties caused by the conflict is a related area of concern for members.
Advancing a peace and reconciliation process is another important issue.
Also important is how effectively Ghani, Abdullah and their supporters continue to work together in the government of national unity to advance reforms to address corruption and improve governance and fiscal management.
Related to this is protecting advances in human rights, including women’s rights.
Drug trafficking from opium production and exploitation of natural resources, which provide funding for anti-government groups, is another issue.
Having renewed UNAMA’s mandate in March, the most likely option is for the Council to hold the debate without taking additional action.
The Council could issue a statement expressing serious concern over the high number of civilian casualties and demanding that all sides avoid killing and injuring civilians, while recalling that targeting civilians is a war crime.
Council members are increasingly concerned by the violence in Afghanistan and the impact of the conflict on civilians. They are particularly mindful that this year’s fighting is a test of the ANSF’s ability to maintain stability with NATO forces no longer playing a direct role, as the RSM is a non-combat mission. Most members emphasise that ending the fighting requires a political solution and therefore stress the importance of national reconciliation and the role of other countries in the region. China expressed last year an intention to play a greater mediating role, and the recent talks in Urumqi may signal progress in these efforts.
At their last debate, members were keen to see the formation of the cabinet of the new unity government, which they see as critical in order for the government to move forward on key reforms that can increase Afghans’ confidence in the state and address the fragile economy—underlying issues that contribute to the insurgency. A number of members also emphasise the importance that gains in the rights of women since 2001 are consolidated and built upon. France and Russia are among members that consistently highlight their concerns about drug production and trafficking.
Spain is the penholder on Afghanistan (including UNAMA), while New Zealand chairs the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|16 March 2015 S/RES/2210||This was a resolution renewing the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2016.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|16 March 2015 S/PV.7403||This was the quarterly debate on UNAMA.|