December 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2017
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ASIA

Afghanistan

Expected Council Action 

In December, the Council will hold its quarterly debate on Afghanistan and will consider the latest Secretary-General’s report on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The Special Representative and head of UNAMA, Tadamichi Yamamoto, is expected to brief.

The mandate of UNAMA expires on 17 March 2018.

Key Recent Developments

The security situation in Afghanistan has continued to deteriorate with intensifying clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces. In addition, the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the increasing number of attacks perpetrated by the group have added another layer of complexity to the overall security environment. ISIL has intensified attacks on local Shi’a Muslim populations and their places of worship, exposing the potential for deepening sectarian tensions in the country.

On 17 October, more than 70 people were killed in Taliban attacks in Paktia and Ghazni provinces. The Taliban employed similar method in both attacks, with suicide bombings followed by armed attacks on the targets. In Paktia province, the Taliban attacked the regional police outpost, killing at least 21 and injuring another 48 police officers; around 130 civilians were injured and 20 killed during the attack. In Ghazni province, 25 police officers died, and ten were injured during the attack. The Council issued a press statement condemning the attacks and calling for accountability.

October and November were two of the deadliest months this year.  On 19 October, the Taliban attacked an army base in Kandahar province, killing at least 43 and injuring nine, out of 60 soldiers manning the base. A day later, ISIL claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shi’a mosque in Kabul during Friday prayers, killing at least 30 and injuring over 40 worshipers. In a separate attack on a Sunni mosque in Ghor province the same day, there were over 30 dead and scores of injured. On 21 October, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on an army base in Kabul that resulted in the death of 15 army recruits. On 16 November, ISIL claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Kabul that left 14 civilians dead and another 18 injured.

On 15 November, the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published the latest Afghan Opium Survey indicating an 87 percent increase in opium production in Afghanistan in 2017 compared to the same period last year, a 63 percent increase in the area under opium cultivation, and an expansion into regions where cultivation had not occurred previously. In his statement at the launch of the survey, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov expressed alarm at these developments, noting that the increase in opium production creates manifold challenges for Afghanistan, the region, and the rest of the world.               

In other developments, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested authorisation from the Court’s judges on 3 November to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan since May 2003. If approved, the investigation would include crimes committed by any party in the conflict, including the Taliban and Afghan and US armed forces. Afghanistan is a state party to the Rome Statute, which established the Court, but the US is not.     

Sanctions-Related Developments

From 28 to 31 October, Ambassador Kairat Umarov (Kazakhstan), Chair of the 1988 and 1267/1989/2253 ISIL/Da’esh/Al-Qaida Sanctions Committees, visited Kabul, where he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and other government officials. The purpose of the visit was to evaluate the effectiveness of the sanctions measures and assess the situation on the ground.   

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 7 November, UNAMA released a joint special report with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on attacks on civilians in places of worship, covering 1 January 2017 to 30 September. The report documented a sharp increase in such targeted attacks, recording 850 civilian casualties (273 killed and 577 injured) in 51 attacks. This is nearly double the cumulative total of such attacks documented between 2009 and 2015. The report further highlights a pattern of attacks by anti-government elements directed at Shi’a Muslims and religious scholars and leaders regarded as pro-government.

Key Issues and Options

There are multiple inter-related issues that the Council continues to face concerning Afghanistan. The persistently deteriorating security situation is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the civilian population and undermining the country’s stability. Further complicating the security environment is the increasing presence and activity of ISIL. There also continues to be a strong link between the insurgency and illicit activities related to drug production and trafficking and the exploitation of natural resources. So far, efforts to promote reconciliation have borne few results and are further undermined by the increased hostilities between government forces and the Taliban. In addition, the regional context has been difficult, with recurring cross-border tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, including accusations that Pakistan provides a safe haven for insurgents.

Addressing these issues has been challenging for the Council. An option that has been contemplated by some Council members but has not yet materialised because of security is a visiting mission to Afghanistan. The visiting mission would provide Council members with a better understanding of the situation on the ground and would showcase the Council’s support for counter-insurgency, reconciliation, and anti-corruption efforts.     

Another option would be for the Council to adopt a resolution or presidential statement that:

  • deplores the high number of civilian casualties and demands that all sides avoid killing and injuring civilians, stressing that targeting civilians is a war crime;
  • encourages efforts toward political inclusivity and dialogue within the government;
  • underscores the need for the international community, and particularly neighbouring countries, to support and cooperate with Afghanistan;
  • emphasises the importance of development assistance in promoting Afghanistan’s stability; and
  • calls for accountability for crimes committed.
Council Dynamics

Council members remain concerned about the worsening security environment in Afghanistan and its impact on the civilian population. The growing prominence of ISIL and its violent tactics have added another dimension to the conflict, with the potential to deepen ethnic and sectarian tensions. Among permanent members, Russia has been particularly vocal in emphasising the urgency of the threat posed by ISIL while expressing disappointment that some members have in its view tried to downplay its significance. Several Council members, most notably France, Egypt, Russia and Kazakhstan, continue to raise concerns regarding the connection between the insurgency and drug production and trafficking. 

Kazakhstan and Russia have continued to emphasise the important role of regional organisations, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, in addressing the situation in Afghanistan. Russia has questioned the utility of the US and NATO presence in the country, which it maintains does not help to stabilise the military and political situation. Kazakhstan has been advocating a new approach towards Afghanistan that would stress the security and development nexus. This would include strengthening regional cooperation and trade and the economic integration of Afghanistan with its Central Asian neighbours with the aim of bolstering development.          

Japan is the penholder on Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan chairs the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN 

Security Council Resolutions
17 March 2017 S/RES/2344 The Council renewed the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2018.
21 December 2015 S/RES/2255 The Council adopted this resolution containing language clarifying how the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime functions and reflecting changing conflict dynamics in Afghanistan.
Security Council Presidential Statement
24 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/15 This was a statement on the review of the implementation of resolution 2255.
Secretary-General’s Reports
15 September 2017 S/2017/783 This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNAMA.
10 August 2017 S/2017/696 This was a report on the strategic review of UNAMA.
Security Council Press Statement
17 October 2017 SC/13034 This was a press statement condemning terrorist attacks that took place in Paktia, Ghazni and Kabul on 17 October.