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). Nicholas Haysom, the outgoing Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, is expected to brief.
UNAMA’s mandate expires on 17 March 2017.
Key Recent Developments
The insurgency continues to take a heavy toll on the population and Afghan security forces. The Taliban’s increased activity and military gains in the country—as well as activity by Al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in various areas in the east—have been met with resistance by Afghan security forces with the assistance of NATO. In April, the Taliban announced its annual spring offensive, vowing large-scale attacks against government strongholds to oust the government from power. Reacting to one such attack targeting civilians, Council members issued a press statement on 19 April, condemning a terrorist attack in Kabul by the Taliban that claimed at least 28 lives and injured more than 300 people.
The 9,800-strong US military presence assisting Afghan security forces is currently scheduled to be reduced to 5,500 by the end of the year. However, the commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, is expected to make a recommendation to US President Barack Obama in the near future as to whether current troop levels should be maintained beyond 2016. The US is the main troop contributor to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, which numbers roughly 13,000 troops.
Reconciliation efforts have made little progress. The Taliban has so far been reluctant to engage in talks with the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), which consists of Afghan, Chinese, Pakistani and US officials.
On 21 May, a US drone strike in Baluchistan province, Pakistan, killed Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the leader of the Taliban. US President Barack Obama said in a statement that “Mansour rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks” and that the Taliban should enter the reconciliation talks. Pakistan, which apparently was informed of the attack only after the fact, issued a statement on 22 May denouncing the attack as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
While reconciliation efforts with the Taliban have stalled, the government reached an agreement on 18 May with insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of the Hezb-i-Islami militant group. The group was at the height of its power before the Taliban took over the country in 1997 but has been less active in recent years. The proposed agreement would reportedly grant Hekmatyar and his group amnesty for past offences (the group is accused of numerous human rights abuses) and the release of specified Hezb-i-Islami prisoners. In addition, the government would pledge to make efforts to remove Hekmatyar from international sanctions list. Hekmatyar has been listed on the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida sanctions list since 20 February 2003.
The Council held its last quarterly debate on Afghanistan on 15 March. Briefing the Council, Haysom, who will soon take on the role of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, said bluntly that it would be an achievement for the Afghan national unity government not to collapse in 2016. He said the main challenges facing the Afghan leadership include an intensifying insurgency, poor economic growth and high unemployment, an increasingly divided political environment and the need to make progress towards sustainable peace. He emphasised the vital importance of securing continued international support for Afghanistan, including at the upcoming July NATO summit in Warsaw and the ministerial conference on Afghanistan in Brussels in October. At the Warsaw summit, NATO is expected to reaffirm its commitment to Afghanistan; donors are expected to make financial commitments to the country at the Brussels conference. As Afghanistan relies on external funding for 69 percent of its expenditures, Haysom said that a drop in international support would have a devastating effect on the country’s economy. Finally, Haysom noted that in 2015 more than 11,000 Afghan civilians, a quarter of whom were children, were killed or injured in the continuing fighting with insurgents.
During the debate, the Council adopted resolution 2274, renewing the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2017. UNAMA’s tasks continue to be, among other things, to focus on providing good offices, promote peace and reconciliation, monitor and promote human rights and the protection of civilians and promote good governance.
The resolution expresses support for Afghanistan in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism and welcomes the government’s cooperation with partners in the region to fight extremists, criminal groups and other armed groups. (These new elements mirror parts of the 2015 General Assembly resolution on Afghanistan.) On the initiative of New Zealand, the resolution also strongly condemns the flow of small arms, light weapons and improvised explosive device (IED) components to the Taliban and encourages states to share information, develop partnerships and create national strategies and capacities to counter IEDs.
The 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee met on 20 April, focusing on counter-narcotics efforts. Afghanistan’s deputy minister of the interior, Baz Mohammed Ahmadi, addressed the Committee, as did the Committee’s Monitoring Team, which discussed the efforts of the Combined Maritime Force in the Arabian Sea (consisting of the forces of 26 NATO states and Thailand) to track narcotic flows from Afghanistan.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The special rapporteur on summary executions, Christof Heyns, and the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez, released a joint statement on 10 May, condemning the execution on 8 May of six alleged members of illegal armed groups in Afghanistan for “serious crimes and crimes against civilians”. The executions were the first to take place in Afghanistan since February 2015, breaking the unofficial moratorium implemented by the government. They were carried out despite the absence of fair-trial guarantees and the continued practice of torture to obtain confessions, the statement said. The statement also expressed a concern shared with UNAMA that executions will not contribute to peace in Afghanistan, and strongly urged the government of Afghanistan to return to a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
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 ongoing heavy fighting between the insurgency and government forces.
The links between drug production and trafficking and the insurgency is an ongoing issue.
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, 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 decide to visit Afghanistan to show its support for anti-insurgency, reconciliation and anti-corruption efforts, and to learn how it can further assist efforts on the ground.
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 several members’ interventions during the June UNAMA debate.
Several Council members also recognise that the upcoming Warsaw NATO summit and Brussels conference are pivotal in continuing international support for Afghanistan. During the last debate, China, New Zealand and the UK emphasised the need for the government to tackle corruption and to ensure that aid assists the country in developing a viable and self-sustaining government.
There is also broad emphasis in the Council on the importance of the reconciliation process in bringing stability to Afghanistan. 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. At the same time, they see no alternative for achieving peace in the country.
Several Council members, in particular France and Russia, and more recently, also Egypt, have regularly raised concerns about the connection between drug production and trafficking and the insurgency.
During the 15 March briefing, Japan suggested a Council visiting mission to Afghanistan. (Japan is a key donor to Afghanistan, most recently focusing on the enhancement of Afghanistan’s security forces through capacity-building programs and providing the salaries of the Afghan National Police.) Council members have held preliminary talks for making such a visit, which will face logistical and security-related difficulties, in July.
Spain is the penholder on Afghanistan, while New Zealand is the chair of the 1988 Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|15 March 2016 S/RES/2274||This was a resolution renewing the mandate of UNAMA for one year.|
|7 March 2016 S/2016/218||This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 March 2016 S/PV.7645||This was the quarterly debate on Afghanistan.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|19 April 2016 SC/12331||Council members condemned a terrorist attack in Kabul by the Taliban that claimed at least 28 lives and injured more than 300 people.|