Expected Council Action
In March, the Council plans to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of UNAMA, which expires on 17 March. It will also 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.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation in Afghanistan remains dire, with the Taliban carrying out a spate of attacks in Kabul and other parts of the country in early 2016, causing high levels of casualties to civilians and security forces. On 1 January, the Taliban exploded a bomb and engaged in a firefight at a restaurant in Kabul, leading to the death of a child and wounding 15 others. On 4 January, a bomb-filled truck exploded at a facility for workers in Kabul, killing one civilian and injuring another 22 civilians. A Taliban suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying media personnel in Kabul on 20 January, killing seven people and wounding more than 20; Council members issued a press statement condemning that attack. On 26 January, in Uruzgun province in south-central Afghanistan, a police officer allied with the Taliban poisoned ten of his co-workers, who were then shot to death by the Taliban. A police facility in Kabul was struck by a suicide bomber on 1 February, resulting in the deaths of more than 20 police officers. On 8 February, three people died as a result of a suicide bombing in Mazari Sharif in northern Balkh province.
In recent months, the Taliban has engaged in heavy fighting with Afghan security forces in southern Helmand Province, as well as in the northern provinces of Baglan and Kunduz. On 9 February, the US military announced that it would deploy several hundred troops to Helmand to assist and train Afghan security forces.
Militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) remain a security threat in Afghanistan, especially in eastern Nangarhar province. On 13 January, they attacked an Afghan government facility near Pakistan’s consulate in Jalalabad, resulting in the deaths of seven Afghan security personnel.
Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, visited Afghanistan from 13 to 17 February. While there, she expressed concern at the significant rise in the recruitment of child soldiers during 2015, primarily by armed groups, including the Taliban. On 17 February, Human Rights Watch reported that in Kunduz province “the Taliban has increasingly used madrasas, or Islamic religious schools, to provide military training to children between the ages of 13 and 17, many of whom have been deployed in combat”.
There has been very limited progress regarding reconciliation. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QGC)—consisting of Afghan, Chinese, Pakistani and US officials—convened on 11 January in Islamabad, Pakistan, to discuss how to chart a course for negotiations with the Taliban, who were not present at these discussions. On 23 February, the QGC reconvened in Kabul, again without the Taliban present, announcing that direct talks would be held in early March in Islamabad between representatives of the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban. The Taliban’s commitment to the talks is questionable, with some key figures against negotiations and other key figures placing conditions on negotiations such as the departure of foreign troops.
On 18 January, Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that provincial and district council elections would be held on 15 October. The decision has been criticised by some in the national unity government, who believe that electoral reforms must take place prior to the elections. For example, some question the IEC’s legitimacy and advocate the replacement of its members, in part because of its handling of the 2014 presidential elections, which were marred by accusations of malfeasance.
Haysom last briefed the Council during the 21 December 2015 debate on Afghanistan. He said that the war was hindering attempts to produce the political and economic progress needed to ensure stability in the country.
Human Rights-Related Developments
UNAMA, in coordination with the UN Human Rights Office, released its 2015 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict on 14 February. The report documented 11,002 civilian casualties (3,545 deaths and 7,457 injuries) in 2015, exceeding by 4 percent the previous record levels of civilian casualties that occurred in 2014. Anti-government elements continued to cause the most harm, accounting for 62 percent of all civilian casualties. Ground engagements caused the highest number of total civilian casualties, followed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide and complex attacks. The Human Rights Council will consider the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and on the achievements of technical assistance in the field of human rights in 2015 (A/HRC/31/46) during its 31st session in March.
A key issue for the Council is how the deteriorating security situation can be addressed, 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 fragmentation of the insurgency.
Considering the security and political difficulties facing the country, another important issue is ensuring that UNAMA effectively discharges its mandate, which covers a wide array of tasks, including exercising good offices, promoting human rights and the rule of law, coordinating humanitarian assistance and donor support and countering narcotics. In September 2015, the Tripartite Review Commission—which included representatives of the donor community, the UN and the government of Afghanistan and which was formed to examine the UN’s role in Afghanistan—highlighted the importance of UNAMA’s work in the country and observed that Afghanistan “continue[s] to demand significant international assistance…to achieve political and economic stability and security”.
The most likely option for the Council is to renew UNAMA’s mandate for an additional year. In doing so, the Council may consider:
- underscoring the need for the international community to continue to support Afghanistan, including through military commitments expected at NATO’s July 2016 Warsaw Summit and financial commitments anticipated at the Brussels Conference in October 2016;
- emphasising the linkages between extremism on the one hand and drug production and illegal exploitation of natural resources (e.g. talcum, marble and gold) on the other hand, in keeping with the findings of the recent report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team;
- emphasising the need to improve efforts to prevent the transfer of small arms and light weapons to the Taliban and to trace the flow of IED components to them;
- expressing concern at the increasing presence and potential growth of ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan; and
- highlighting the importance of electoral reforms, given the irregularities in the 2014 presidential elections and the fact that parliamentary elections are scheduled for later this year.
Members are broadly supportive of UNAMA’s work. However, there is widespread concern about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the toll that the conflict continues to inflict on civilians, especially women and children. While the Taliban remains the greatest threat to the country’s security, several Council members are expressing alarm at the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan. New Zealand has underscored the devastating impact of IEDs in the conflict, noting in the December 2015 debate that “IEDs remain one of the biggest killers of Afghan security forces and civilians, including children”.
There is also broad emphasis in the Council on the importance of the reconciliation process in bringing stability to Afghanistan. In particular, China and the US have tried to play a supportive role in the mediation process.
Several members continue to be worried about the links between the cultivation of narcotics and their trafficking and terrorist financing, a concern that has been reiterated for several years by France and Russia but that is increasingly voiced by other members as well.
Spain is the penholder on Afghanistan, 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 Letter|
|15 September 2016 S/2015/713||This contained the report of the Tripartite Review Commission on the UN in Afghanistan.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|21 December 2015 S/PV.7591||The Council held its quarterly debate on Afghanistan.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|21 January 2016 SC/12215||Council members condemned a terrorist attack carried out by the Taliban on 20 January 2016.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|1 June 2015 S/2015/648||The 6th report of the Monitoring Team of the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee. It describes a military impasse on the ground and underscores 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.|
Useful Additional Resource
Martine van Bijlert, “Political Landscape: The IEC Announces 2016 Election Date—but what about electoral reform?” Afghanistan Analysts Network, 18 January 2016; available at https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/the-iec-announces-an-election-date/