March 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2019
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ASIA

Afghanistan

Expected Council Action 

In March, the Council is expected to hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on Afghanistan and to extend the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, is expected to brief.

The mandate of UNAMA expires on 17 March.

Key Recent Developments 

The October 2018 parliamentary elections were marked by widespread disruptions and irregularities, and exposed a range of vulnerabilities within the Afghan electoral system. After consulting stakeholders, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) postponed the presidential elections from April to July to address outstanding problems. In a statement, UNAMA urged the IEC to take corrective measures and implement necessary reforms, noting that mismanagement of the presidential elections would be unacceptable.

On 12 February, the Afghan government fired all twelve commissioners of the IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commission (EEC), which were blamed for widespread irregularities and disorganisation during the parliamentary elections. IEC is tasked with supervising all aspects of the elections while EEC reviews complaints and reports irregularities during the elections. Among other requirements, members of both commissions, who are appointed by the president, cannot be members of any political party. At press time, no appointments were made.

Over the past several months, representatives of the US and the Taliban have held several rounds of talks on a possible withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced on 28 January that a framework agreement with the Taliban had been reached. The announcement came following six days of talks in Qatar between the US and Taliban delegations. The framework agreement envisions a phased withdrawal of US and international troops in exchange for the Taliban’s assurance that it would not host terrorist organisations on Afghan territory. The Taliban is estimated to control around 18 percent of the Afghan territory while also contesting another 26 percent with the government. The talks left uncertainty on several other issues, however, chief among them the question of the Taliban’s participation in future Afghan governments. The Taliban still refuses to engage in direct talks with the government, whose legitimacy it does not recognise.

While there has been no agreement on specific timelines, Khalilzad seemed to have indicated that he is hopeful that a deal could be reached before Afghanistan’s July presidential elections.

In a separate political process in Moscow, the Taliban delegation met on 5 February with prominent Afghan political opposition actors, led by former president Hamid Karzai. The Afghan government criticised the Taliban for not engaging in direct talks with the government, emphasising that a political solution must be the result of an inclusive Afghan-led process.

Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on 11 February, during which he met with the Afghan leadership, including President Ashraf Ghani. Shanahan assured the government that the US maintains a strong interest in the security of Afghanistan and the wider region. Addressing the question of a possible troop withdrawal, he said that the Pentagon has not been instructed to draw down the US military presence in the country.

On 14 February, Pakistan announced that it would host the next round of talks between the Taliban and US negotiating teams. The talks did not take place, however; the meeting, initially scheduled for 18 February, was later cancelled. The US has indicated that it did not receive any formal invitation from Pakistan while the Taliban claimed its delegation could not travel because of UN Security Council travel restrictions.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 21 March, during its 40th session, the Human Rights Council expects to consider the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and technical assistance achievements in the field of human rights (A/HRC/40/45).

Women, Peace and Security-Related Developments

The Secretary-General’s December 2018 report on Afghanistan expressed concern about the prevalence of violence against women and girls, which causes “profound human suffering, inflicts grave harm on families and inhibits the full participation of women in public life.” The report welcomed the establishment by the government of a technical committee to review the Elimination of Violence against Women Law of 2009 and expressed hope that this would result in stronger legal protection from violence for all Afghan women and girls.

Issues and Options

Key issues for the Council include how it can help the mission to support the organisation of the presidential elections and how the mission can play a constructive role with regard to the peace talks with the Taliban. The Council could furthermore consider adopting a presidential statement encouraging a free, fair and transparent electoral process and urging the new IEC to implement the necessary reforms. Regarding the peace process, the Council could request that Khalilzad brief members in an informal interactive dialogue on the framework agreement. This would be an opportunity for members to learn more about the agreement and solicit insights from Khalilzad, an Afghanistan-born former US ambassador to the UN (2007 to 2009), on how the Council can best support negotiating efforts in the future.

Council Dynamics

Long-standing concerns remain in the Council about the difficult security, political and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the under-development of the country. Members recognise the importance of holding fair, transparent and inclusive presidential elections as a means of promoting political stability in Afghanistan. At the most recent UNAMA debate on 17 December, the US said that Khalilzad’s appointment in September 2018 sent “a clear message” that the US believes that peace is possible in Afghanistan. During the debate, a number of other members—Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait and the UK—expressed support for Khalilzad’s efforts. Equatorial Guinea, France and Russia continue to express concerns about the connection of drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan to terrorism.

Germany and Indonesia are co-penholders on Afghanistan, and Indonesia chairs the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN

Security Council Resolutions
8 March 2018S/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.
Security Council Presidential Statements
23 July 2018S/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 2018S/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.
Secretary-General’s Report
7 December 2018S/2018/1092 This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security.
Security Council Letter
12 January 2018S/2018/37 This was a letter containing the terms of reference for the visiting mission to Afghanistan.
Security Council Meeting Record
17 December 2018S/PV.8426 This was the Council’s latest quarterly debate on UNAMA.
Security Council Press Statement
3 January 2019SC/13655 Council members issued press statement condemning the terrorist attack in northern Sar-e-Pul Province and Balkh Province on 31 December 2018, targeted at the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, resulting in at least 27 security forces killed and 20 injured.