Expected Council Action
In December, 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.
In accordance with resolution 2160, adopted in June 2014, the Council might review the measures related to the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions and make minor adjustments to the sanctions regime through a resolution, although this has yet to be confirmed.
UNAMA’s mandate expires on 17 March 2016.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation has grown more unstable in recent months, with Taliban attacks reported in various parts of the country and Afghan forces struggling to meet the challenge. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Afghans have been leaving the country. According to the UN Refugee Agency, 23 percent of the approximately 660,698 refugees who have fled by sea to Europe thus far in 2015 have come from Afghanistan. This is a higher percentage than any other country except Syria. There have also been roughly 197,000 people displaced within Afghanistan this year, as of 30 September.
On 28 September, the Taliban seized Kunduz, the capital of the province with the same name in northern Afghanistan. Fighting ensued for several days before Afghan security forces, with assistance from the US military, were able to regain control of the city.
On 3 October, a US aircraft bombed a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, killing at least 30 people. Later that day, US President Barack Obama issued a statement expressing condolences for the “tragic incident”. Calling the incident a “terrible tragic mistake”, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on 7 October that Obama had called Dr. Joanne Liu, the president of MSF, to offer condolences and apologise for the incident. Investigations are underway by NATO, the Pentagon and a US-Afghan team. However, MSF, which has conducted its own internal review, has requested an independent investigation through the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission (IHFC). An IHFC investigation could only be launched with the cooperation of Afghanistan and the US, but neither government has given its consent.
In early October, heavy fighting between government forces and the Taliban took place in north-western Faryab province. Afghan forces, with the assistance of local fighters and NATO air support, held off a Taliban assault on Maimana, the provincial capital.
The Taliban launched a major operation in southern Helmand province in mid-October. They seized significant territory around Lashkar Ghah, the provincial capital.
Between 6 and 8 November, Taliban fighters aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) decapitated seven ethnic Hazara hostages, including three children, in Zabul province in the south-eastern part of Afghanistan. On 11 November, several thousand demonstrators took to the streets of Kabul to express their anger at the executions of the Hazaras and to protest the government’s inability to protect its people. Afghan security personnel fired warning shots to prevent the crowd from entering the presidential palace. In a televised speech to the nation, President Ashraf Ghani appealed to the Afghan people to remain united and vowed to “bring the culprits to justice”.
The executions of the Hazara civilians occurred amidst heavy fighting in Zabul between two factions of the Taliban, one siding with Mullah Mansour, the former deputy of the deceased Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and the other a splinter group backing Mullah Muhammed Rassoul, a native of Kandahar who once served as the governor of Nimroz province. The splinter group appointed Rassoul as its leader on 2 November.
On 15 October, Obama announced that the US would maintain a presence of 9,800 troops through most of 2016 in Afghanistan to train Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations, and that by the end of 2016 approximately 5,500 US troops would remain in the country. The US had previously planned on keeping only 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
On 12 October, the first-ever Ulema National Conference in Support of Peacebuilding in Afghanistan was held in Kabul. (“Ulema” is a group of scholars of Islam.) According to a UNAMA press release, approximately “500 participants from Ulema councils and independent Ulema, composed of Sunni and Shi’a religious scholars and different ethnic representations from every province in Afghanistan, met to discuss the role of Ulema, the peace process and Islamic values”. At the conclusion of the meeting, the conference adopted a declaration that said fighting against the government and people of Afghanistan was not permitted from a religious standpoint and that there should be peaceful dialogue among Afghans.
The most recent Council quarterly debate on Afghanistan occurred on 17 September, during which Haysom and Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of UN Office of Drugs and Crime, briefed. Haysom reiterated his call for dialogue between the government and the Taliban. Fedotov emphasised that economic development was needed to lure Afghan farmers from cultivating opium but noted, “Widespread international political support for alternative development has not been matched by funding”.
The 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee held informal consultations on 12 October. The Monitoring Team reported that narcotics continued to be a major source of funding for the Taliban. The growing tensions between the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan were also discussed during the meeting.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 26 October statement, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein strongly condemned the attack on a bus carrying staff of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) that was struck by an explosive device earlier that day in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Two AIHRC employees were killed and six others injured. The AIHRC is one of the country’s most important institutions and has made valiant efforts to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, the statement said.
The key issue for the Council is how to address the deteriorating security situation, its negative impact on the country’s stability and the toll the conflict is taking on the civilian population.
A related issue is whether it is possible to generate momentum for reconciliation efforts, given the heavy fighting since the 7 July talks in Murree, Pakistan, between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban representatives.
The Council could adopt a resolution or presidential statement that:
- deplores the high number of civilian casualties and demands that all sides avoid killing and injuring civilians, while recalling that targeting civilians is a war crime;
- encourages efforts by the international community to support reconciliation in Afghanistan; and
- emphasises the importance of development assistance in promoting Afghanistan’s stability.
The Council may also consider welcoming the “Heart of Asia” ministerial-level meeting of regional and other key states, scheduled for 7-8 December in Islamabad, Pakistan, to discuss economic development in Afghanistan, depending on the outcome of that meeting.
If the Council decides to review the 1988 sanctions regime, it could adopt a resolution that:
- welcomes Afghanistan’s establishment of a national focal point for the sanctions regime;
- encourages Afghanistan to make use of travel exemptions for Taliban interested in reconciliation; and
- deplores the presence in Afghanistan of ISIS and calls on the Monitoring Team to investigate its sources of financial support.
There is widespread concern among Council members about the extreme fragility of the security environment and the toll that the conflict continues to take on civilians. These issues will likely be a major focus of members’ interventions during the December UNAMA debate.
There is also broad emphasis in the Council on the importance of the reconciliation process in bringing stability to Afghanistan. In particular, the US and China, whose restive Xinjiang province shares a border with Afghanistan, have tried to play a supportive role in the mediation process. However, members realise the difficulty of promoting reconciliation at the present time in a context in which the Taliban has stepped up its violence and demonstrated little interest in negotiations. During the last debate on Afghanistan in September, New Zealand pointed to another challenge in the reconciliation process, namely the fragmentation and complexity of the insurgency, which now includes the Taliban, Al-Qaida and ISIS.
The links between drug production and trafficking and the insurgency is another problem noted by several Council members, one that has frequently been reiterated by France and Russia over the years.
Spain is the penholder on Afghanistan, while New Zealand is the chair of the 1988 Sanctions Committee.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|16 March 2015 S/RES/2210||This was a resolution renewing the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2016.|
|17 June 2014 S/RES/2160||This resolution renewed, with minor adjustments, the 1988 Taliban sanctions regime.|
|17 June 2011 S/RES/1988||This resolution established a separate Taliban/Afghanistan sanctions regime, with a separate list of Taliban individuals and entities subject to sanctions and a new Afghanistan focused sanctions committee.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|17 September 2015 S/PV.7526||This was a debate on the quarterly UNAMA report.|