Expected Council Action
In September, 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). Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, is expected to brief. A civil society representative might also brief.
The mandate of UNAMA expires on 17 March 2019.
Key Recent Developments
On 19 August, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced another ceasefire with the Taliban, following a unilateral ceasefire in June for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. In response, the Taliban had observed a three-day ceasefire, limited to the Afghan government. Conditional upon reciprocity by the insurgents, the latest government ceasefire started on 20 August, the holiday of Eid al-Adha, and may last until 21 November (the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad). This announcement was welcomed by Council members with a press statement, urging the Taliban to reciprocate. At press time, the Taliban had not shown willingness to adhere to a ceasefire.
Following a large-scale assault by the Taliban and five days of heavy fighting in Ghazni City in mid-August, Afghan security forces, supported by US forces, regained full control of the city. According to preliminary UN estimates, 300 civilians were killed. The latest quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an oversight body reporting to the US Congress, puts Taliban control at almost one-fifth of Afghan territory.
Preparations for the forthcoming elections are a major preoccupation. Parliamentary and district council elections are to be held on 20 October, and the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on 1 August that the presidential election would be held on 20 April 2019. During his last Security Council briefing, on 26 June, Yamamoto raised concerns about the electoral process so far. For instance, in some provinces, only a small percentage of eligible voters registered; in other regions, people were unable to register for security and logistical reasons. Considering the multi-ethnic composition of the Afghan population, Yamamoto warned that these registration disparities among communities might lead to challenges to the election results. The voter registration process concluded on 18 July with 8.9 million Afghans registered, according to a preliminary estimate. In a 23 July presidential statement, the Council pointed out matters in which progress is still needed, including a central database of registered voters and the publication of a final list of candidates for this year’s elections. The Council also requested UNAMA to update Council members on electoral preparations within one month of the adoption of the statement. On 22 August, under “any other business”, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča, who had travelled to Afghanistan from 6 to 8 August, gave the requested update. He repeated Yamamoto’s concerns, adding that recent disqualification of over 30 candidates for supposed connections to armed groups had led to protests in Kabul.
In late July, a meeting was held in Qatar between representatives of the US and the Taliban for the first time in seven years, with the next round of talks planned for later this year.
President Ghani’s wide-ranging offer to the Taliban during the second meeting of the Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation in Afghanistan in February is still standing. It includes talks about a ceasefire, prisoner exchange, a review of the constitution, and the removal of sanctions against insurgents. The Taliban usually do not respond formally to offers by the Afghan government, as they do not recognise its legitimacy.
Terrorist attacks, perpetrated mostly by the Taliban and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), continued to shape the security situation. In line with its usual practice, the Council reacted by issuing press statements condemning these attacks.
Additionally, two-thirds of Afghanistan is currently suffering an unusually severe drought, resulting in over 100,000 people having left their homes in search of water, according to OCHA.
On 20 November 2017, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested authorisation from the Court’s judges to initiate an investigation into alleged international crimes in the context of the ongoing armed conflict in Afghanistan since 2003. These included war crimes (committed by the Taliban and their affiliated Haqqani Network, Afghan security forces, the United States armed forces, and the US Central Intelligence Agency) and crimes against humanity (committed by the Taliban and their affiliated Haqqani Network). The victims representation process at the ICC concluded on 31 January. The judges received a report prepared by the Victims Participation and Reparations Section; a redacted version of the report was made public on 20 February. The judges will consider the report and the facts presented by the prosecutor in deciding whether to comply with her request.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 29 May, UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office released a joint report, Injustice and Impunity: Mediation of Criminal Offences against Women, which examined the wide use of mediation by community leaders, as well as institutions aimed at eliminating violence against women, to resolve criminal offences against women. The report is based on 280 cases of murder, including “honour killings” in 2016 and 2017, a further 237 documented cases of violence against women between 1 August 2015 and 31 December 2017, and focus group discussions with 1,826 mediators. It concluded that the wide use of mediation in criminal offences of violence against women promotes impunity, enables the recurrence of violence, and erodes trust in the legal system. Among its recommendations, the report calls for the expansion of authorities’ obligation to investigate and prosecute criminal offences of violence against women, particularly to include forced marriages and harmful traditional practices.
Key Issues and Options
The Council faces a variety of ongoing issues that continue to grow in complexity. Afghan civilians still bear the heaviest burden of the security situation, as evident from the latest UNAMA mid-year update on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, which reported 5,122 civilian casualties in the first six months of 2018. 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, when opium cultivation was up 63 percent over 2016. Council priorities include awaiting the next steps in the framework of the Kabul process and holding inclusive, transparent and credible parliamentary and district council elections in 2018 and presidential elections in 2019.
Council members are generally concerned about the progressively more volatile security environment and its implications for the civilian population, specifically in the context of the upcoming elections. In addition to the recent surge of hostilities by the Taliban, the presence of ISIL and its violent tactics have added another layer of complexity to the conflict, with a potential to deepen ethnic and sectarian tensions. Among permanent members, Russia in particular has continued to emphasise the threat ISIL poses in Afghanistan. The issue of attributing responsibility for civilian casualties remains a sensitive matter among the permanent members.
The Netherlands is the penholder on Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan chairs the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|8 March 2018 S/RES/2405||This was a resolution, unanimously adopted, extending the mandate of UNAMA for another year, welcoming the strategic review of the mission, and calling for implementation of its recommendations.|
|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|
|23 July 2018 S/PRST/2018/15||This was a presidential statement on the electoral process in Afghanistan, following the conclusion of the voter registration process on 18 July for this year’s parliamentary and district council elections and for the 2019 presidential elections.|
|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.|
|6 June 2018 S/2018/539||This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Afghanistan.|
|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 August 2018 SC/13467||This was a press statement welcoming the announcement by the government of Afghanistan on 19 August of a second conditional ceasefire with the Taliban from the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday and urged the Taliban to reciprocate without delay.|
|15 August 2018 SC/13457||This was a press statement condemning in the strongest terms the terrorist attack that took place in Kabul on 15 August against an education centre, which resulted in at least 48 people killed and numerous wounded.|
|3 August 2018 SC/13444||This was a press statement condemning the terrorist attacks that took place the previous week, targeting a medical centre for midwives and a government building in Jalalabad, as well as the Khawaja Hassan mosque in Gardez, resulting in at least 48 people killed and numerous wounded.|
|2 July 2018 SC/13408||This was a press statement condemning in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly terrorist attack that took place in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on 1 July.|
|18 June 2018 SC/13386||This was a press statement condemning the two terrorist attacks that took place in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, on 16 and 17 June, which resulted in at least 43 people killed and 45 injured.|
|18 June 2018 SC/13385||This was a press statement welcoming the announcement by the government of Afghanistan on 16 June, to extend the temporary ceasefire with the Taliban after the Eid al-Fitr holiday. The Council also expressed their strong disappointment that the Taliban has not extended their previously announced partial ceasefire.|
|11 June 2018 SC/13376||This was a press statement welcoming the announcement by the government of Afghanistan on 7 June of a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban for the end of Ramadan and the Eid al‑Fitr holiday. The Council also welcomed the subsequent announcement by the Taliban of a three‑day partial ceasefire.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|26 June 2018 S/PV.8294||This was the quarterly debate on UNAMI.|