Expected Council Action
In March, the Council will renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (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 UNAMA. The debate is scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day (8 March), and the Netherlands, the Council president in March, and the penholder on Afghanistan, may encourage members to highlight women’s issues in their statements. Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, is expected to brief.
Key Recent Developments
The situation in Afghanistan occupied much of the Council’s attention during Kazakhstan’s presidency in January. The Council went on a visiting mission to Kabul from 12 to 15 January to get a better understanding of conditions on the ground and to demonstrate its support for the government’s efforts to restore peace and stability. On 19 January, the Council held a ministerial-level debate on the broader issue of regional partnerships in Afghanistan and Central Asia, focusing on the security and development nexus. During the meeting, the Council adopted a presidential statement that, among other things, emphasised the importance of regional, interregional and international cooperation to achieve stability and sustainable development in Afghanistan and the Central Asian region.
The security situation deteriorated further since the beginning of the year. During January, which was a particularly violent month, the Taliban and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched a series of attacks on various civilian and government targets. On 4 January, an ISIL suicide bomber killed at least 15 and injured another 25 people in Kabul. On the night of 20 January, six Taliban fighters laid siege to the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, killing more than 40 people, including 14 foreign nationals, and injuring more than a dozen others. The siege ended the next day when government forces took control of the hotel and killed the attackers. On 24 January, ISIL claimed responsibility for an attack on the international humanitarian organisation Save the Children in Jalalabad in which at least five people were killed. The deadliest attack this year occurred on 27 January when the Taliban activated a suicide car bomb in Kabul, killing more than 95 and injuring around 160 people. The Council issued press statements condemning all these attacks.
Last year, the Secretary-General concluded a report on the strategic review of UNAMA and recommended that its findings be incorporated into the next UNAMA mandate. The report states that Afghanistan is not a post-conflict situation where there is adequate stability to allow a focus on institution-building and development-oriented activities. One of the main recommendations in the report is that UNAMA should support all efforts to reach sustainable peace and self-reliance in Afghanistan. Among its main findings was that UNAMA as an impartial actor could play an important mediating role.
The Secretary-General thus recommended that UNAMA increase its role in supporting and promoting bilateral and multilateral cooperation with the aim of enhancing international support for the Afghan peace process. Regarding structural and staff changes, the Secretary-General recommended abolishing the military, police and rule of law advisory units. His report recommended closing the office in Farah province and exploring the possibility of further nationalising functions in remaining provincial offices. Furthermore, the Secretary-General recommended exploring the option of reducing international staff and forming smaller, multidisciplinary teams.
During his last Council briefing, Yamamoto emphasised the importance of holding parliamentary elections in 2018 and presidential elections in 2019, although he acknowledged that there has been little progress regarding preparatory activities for the elections. On 18 January, the Independent Election Commission announced that parliamentary elections, initially planned for July, would be postponed until October. The ability of Afghanistan to conduct inclusive elections will also depend on the security situation, which has continued to worsen over the past several months.
On 29 December 2017, the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee published its annual report detailing the activities of the committee. During 2017, the committee removed one individual from the sanctions list. By the end of the year, there were 135 individuals and five entities on the list.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 15 February, UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office released a joint annual report on the impact of the armed conflict on civilians. According to the report, a total of 10,453 civilian casualties—3,438 people killed and 7,015 injured—were documented in 2017. Women and children remained heavily affected by conflict-related violence. The report documented 359 women killed and 865 injured, as well as 861 children killed and 2,318 injured. The report attributes close to two-thirds of all casualties to anti-government elements and one-fifth to pro-government forces. Attacks where anti-government elements deliberately targeted civilians accounted for 27 percent of the total civilian casualties, mainly from suicide and complex attacks directed at civilians or civilian objects. In response to the report’s findings, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a 15 February statement that “such attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and are likely, in most cases, to constitute war crimes. The perpetrators must be identified and held accountable”. The Human Rights Council will consider the High Commissioner’s report on Afghanistan (A/HRC/37/45) during its 37th session in March.
Key Issues and Options
The Council faces a variety of ongoing issues that have continued to grow in their complexity. Afghan civilians continue to bear the heavy burden of the worsening security situation as is evident from the latest UNAMA casualty report. The security situation is further complicated by the increased presence of ISIL and other terrorist groups. Insurgency in Afghanistan continues to be closely interlinked with illicit drug production and trafficking, activities that reached record levels during 2017. Efforts for negotiations between the government and the Taliban have borne no results so far and are further jeopardised by the Taliban’s increased hostilities. Amidst all these concerns, holding credible and inclusive parliamentary elections in 2018 and presidential elections in 2019 is a top priority for the Council.
However, the most immediate issue for the Council is the renewal of UNAMA’s mandate. In this regard, the Council could endorse the strategic review recommendations and also consider including specific language in the renewal resolution 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;
- underscores the need for the international community—and particularly neighbouring countries—to continue to support and cooperate with Afghanistan;
- stresses the need for holding parliamentary and presidential elections in an inclusive and timely manner;
- emphasises the linkages between extremism, drug production and illegal exploitation of natural resources (e.g. talcum, marble and gold); and
- highlights the importance of reconciliation in an effort to bring an end to the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Council members are generally concerned about the progressively volatile security environment and its implications for the civilian population. In addition to concerns regarding the recent surge of hostilities by the Taliban, the presence of ISIL and its violent tactics has added another layer of complexity to the conflict with a potential to deepen ethnic and sectarian tensions. Among permanent members, Russia has continued to emphasise the threat posed by ISIL in Afghanistan, given that the group has now been defeated in its former strongholds in the Middle East. At the last debate, Russia noted that Afghanistan is now the main centre where the terrorists are concentrated, and that ISIL has “put down roots in the country”. Several other Council members, most notably France, Kazakhstan and Russia, continue to stress concerns regarding the interlinkages between insurgency and drug production and trafficking.
Council members have been generally supportive of the strategic review recommendations and have called for their implementation. Russia and Kazakhstan have both emphasised the importance of the regional context and the valuable role played by 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.
The Netherlands 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 Statements|
|19 January 2018 S/PRST/2018/2||This presidential statement emphasised the importance of advancing regional, interregional and international cooperation to achieve stability and sustainable development in Afghanistan and the Central Asian region.|
|24 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/15||This was a statement on the review of the implementation of resolution 2255.|
|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 Letters|
|12 January 2018 S/2018/37||This was a letter containing the terms of reference for the visiting mission to Afghanistan.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|27 January 2018 SC/13185||This was a press statement on the terrorist attack in Kabul, which resulted in at least 95 people killed and 158 injured, and for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.|
|25 January 2018 SC/13180||This was a press statement condemning the terrorist attack in Jalalabad targeting an international humanitarian organisation which resulted in at least five people killed and numerous injured.|
|22 January 2018 SC/13172||This press statement condemned the terrorist attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, which resulted in 22 people killed and nine injured.|
|5 January 2018 SC/13153||This was a press release condemning the 4 January terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, which resulted in at least 15 people killed and 25 injured.|
|28 December 2017 SC/13148||This was a press statement condemning the terrorist attacks in Kabul carried out by ISIL in which more than 40 people were killed and 80 injured.|