Expected Council Action
In September, 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). Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, is expected to brief. No outcome is anticipated.
UNAMA’s mandate expires on 17 March 2016.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation in Afghanistan remains unstable. Recent months have been marred by heavy fighting between government and Taliban forces, with the Taliban expanding its attacks into northern areas of the country. In Nangarhar province, located in eastern Afghanistan and bordering Pakistan, skirmishes have been reported between Taliban fighters and Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants.
Some experts have pointed to improvements in the performance of Afghan security forces, but it has come at a heavy price. On 22 July, The New York Times reported that approximately 4,100 Afghan police and military had been killed and roughly 7,800 injured in the first six months of 2015; this outpaces the high casualty rates among Afghan security forces in 2014, as approximately 5,000 Afghan police and military forces were killed during that entire year.
Civilians continue to suffer greatly in the conflict. In August, a spate of attacks by anti-government forces led to large numbers of civilian casualties in Kabul and elsewhere. In Kabul, more than 40 people were killed and over 300 wounded on 7 August in three separate attacks. On the following day, UNAMA noted in a press statement that these casualty figures represented “the highest number of civilians killed and injured in one day since [UNAMA] began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009”. On 9 August, Security Council members issued a press statement strongly condemning these and other recent attacks in Kabul. On 10 August, a suicide bombing by the Taliban near the Kabul international airport killed five civilians and injured 16 more.
Fighting continues between government forces and insurgents in the northern province of Kunduz. On 8 August, a Taliban suicide bomber reportedly killed at least 29 people there; those targeted were apparently part of a pro-government militia.
The large number of violent attacks in August orchestrated by anti-government forces followed closely on the heels of the Taliban’s 28 July announcement that Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour had been selected as the group’s new leader by its leadership council. Mansour’s appointment came only two days after the Afghan government declared that Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s long-time leader, had been dead since 2013. Maulavi Haibatullah Akhunzada and Mullah Sirajuddin Haqqani—two members of the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based branch of the Taliban—were chosen as Mansour’s deputies, reportedly in an effort to balance the leadership among different parts of the Taliban. According to media reports, there may be dissension over Mullah Mansour’s selection among some influential Taliban figures.
Initial peace talks took place between representatives of the government and the Taliban in Murree, Pakistan, on 7 July. Media reports indicated that officials from China, Pakistan and the US were present at the 7 July meeting, which was welcomed by Council members in a 10 July press statement. A subsequent meeting between the parties was scheduled for 27 July but was suspended at the request of the Taliban after Mullah Omar’s death became public. New Taliban leader Mullah Mansour has reportedly rejected the idea of negotiations with the government.
Following the numerous deadly bombings in Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan said in a press conference on 10 August that terrorists continued to use Pakistan as a base to prepare for and launch attacks on Afghanistan. “The last few days have shown that suicide-bomber training camps and bomb-producing factories which are killing our people are as active as before in Pakistan”, he said. Pakistan’s Foreign Office reportedly condemned the violence in Kabul and expressed support for Afghanistan.
In recent months, the role of ISIS in Afghanistan has become more pronounced. On 18 April, an ISIS suicide bomber attacked a bank in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, killing at least 35 people and wounding more than 100. In April, media reports indicated that the Taliban and ISIS had declared war on each other. In early June, at least ten Taliban fighters were captured and beheaded by ISIS members in Nangarhar after they had retreated from a skirmish with Afghan security forces. On 10 August, ISIS released a video in which ten men, allegedly supporters of the Taliban, were executed when they were made to sit on top of bombs that were then detonated.
On the political front, President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah announced 16 ministerial nominees on 21 March. The nominees were subsequently confirmed by the Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of parliament) 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 outstanding appointment; however, on 4 July, Stanekzai did not obtain the parliament’s approval, failing to garner the requisite number of votes. At press time, the post had not been filled, although Stanekzai is serving as the acting defence minister.
Ghani issued two decrees in June and July on political matters. On 19 June, following postponement of parliamentary elections, Ghani extended the term of parliament, which would have expired on 21 June, until the elections are held; however, a new date for the postponed elections has yet to be determined. And in a 16 July decree, he authorised the appointment of 14 people to the Electoral System Reform Commission.
In keeping with resolution 2210 of 16 March renewing UNAMA’s mandate, the role, structure and activities of all UN entities in Afghanistan are being examined by UNAMA and other UN entities, the Afghan government and international donors. (The Afghan government is represented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance.) At press time, it remained unclear whether the examination would be completed within six months (i.e., by 16 September) as requested by resolution 2210.
The Council held its last quarterly debate on UNAMA on 22 June, with Special Representative Haysom briefing on the situation in Afghanistan and the UNAMA report. Haysom said that political progress had been achieved with the appointment of cabinet members but expressed concern about the challenging security situation. He said there is “considerable concern” that ISIS “is seeking to establish a foothold” in Afghanistan. In a 22 June press statement, Council members condemned the terrorist attack by the Taliban on the parliament in Kabul earlier in the day.
Members of the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee received the sixth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team on 1 June. The report apparently described a military impasse on the ground. It reportedly underscored the importance of ongoing external financial assistance to Afghan security forces and of Afghan public confidence in governing institutions in order to promote peace and security in the country. On 24 July, the Committee adopted a position paper on the report’s recommendations. It decided to accept the report’s recommendation that on an annual basis (starting from July 2015), member states will be informed of any updates to “special notices” on designated individuals. It further accepted the recommendation that the Committee be briefed by the command of the Combined Maritime Taskforce 150 (a multi-national taskforce of 30 member states fostering maritime security) on its counter-narcotics activities related to the Taliban.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The 2015 Mid-year Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, prepared by UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office, documented 4,921 civilian casualties (1,592 deaths and 3,329 injured) in the first half of 2015. This rise mainly stemmed from an increase in complex and suicide attacks and a rise in targeted and deliberate killings. Anti-government elements continued to cause the most harm, accounting for 70 percent of civilian casualties. The report attributes 16 percent of total civilian casualties to pro-government forces (15 percent to Afghan National Security Forces and pro-government armed groups and 1 percent to international military forces). The report notes with concern that this is a 60 percent increase in civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces compared to the same period in 2014. In the first six months of 2015, UNAMA documented a 23 percent increase in women casualties and a 13 percent increase in children casualties. The report outlines key steps to be taken by parties to the conflict to mitigate casualties and protect civilians from harm.
A key issue for the Council is the deteriorating security situation and its negative impact on the country’s security forces and on the civilian population.
Another important issue is whether the reconciliation process can gain any momentum. Some viewed the 7 July meeting in Murree, Pakistan, as an encouraging first step, but the terrorist attacks following the appointment of Mullah Mansour as head of the Taliban have dampened optimism about progress on reconciliation issues. There is speculation that internal divisions within the Taliban could further complicate the peace process.
How the Council chooses to approach the results of the examination of the role, structure and activities of all UN entities in Afghanistan—which may be completed in time for Haysom’s briefing in September—is another important matter for its consideration.
One option for the Council would be to issue a statement condemning 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.
The Council could also call for a briefing specifically on the security situation, given the high rate of casualties among both civilians and Afghan security forces and the increasing involvement of ISIS in Afghanistan in recent months.
Another option would be to consider changing the format of the Council’s treatment of Afghanistan to a briefing and consultations, which may allow for more frank dialogue and interaction among members than is possible in the current debate format.
Council members have been encouraged by the progress made by Afghanistan in forming a government of national unity this year. Nonetheless, there is widespread concern about the deteriorating security situation in the country. Council members frequently reiterate their condemnation of acts of violence by the Taliban and state their distress at the heavy toll that the conflict continues to take on civilians. In the last UNAMA debate, some members alluded to the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters and the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan. In large part because of its proximity to Afghanistan, Russia has been particularly vocal about the potential for regional insecurity posed by an unstable Afghanistan.
Russia and France consistently emphasise the negative security implications of Afghan drug production and trafficking, although other members have noted this challenge as well.
The US and China, whose restive Xinjiang province shares a border with Afghanistan, have tried to play a supportive role in the mediation process, as reflected by their presence at the 7 July meeting.
Spain is the penholder on Afghanistan, while New Zealand is the chair of 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|
|22 June 2015 S/PV.7467||This was the quarterly debate on UNAMA.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|9 August 2015 SC/12003||This condemned the series of attacks in Kabul, at least two of them claimed by the Taliban.|
|10 July 2015 SC/11967||This was a press statement that welcomed talks between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban representatives.|
|22 June 2015 SC/11937||This was a press statement condemning the terrorist attack by the Taliban on the parliament in Kabul.|
|10 June 2015 S/2015/422||This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan.|