Expected Council Action
In December, the Security Council is scheduled to hold its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan. Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), is expected to brief on the latest Secretary-General’s report on UNAMA, due in December, and the most recent developments. Aisha Khurram, Afghanistan’s current Youth Representative to the UN, may also brief. Additionally, the Security Council will have to renew the mandate of the Monitoring Team assisting the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee, set to expire on 17 December.
The mandate of UNAMA expires on 17 September 2020.
Key Recent Developments
On 2 September, following the ninth round of negotiations with the Taliban, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that the US and the Taliban had reached an agreement “in principle”. In exchange for a timeline for US and NATO troop withdrawal, the talks were aimed at having the Taliban guarantee that they will not allow armed groups on Afghan territory to launch attacks in or outside Afghanistan. An intra-Afghan dialogue and a ceasefire were also goals of the talks. In seeking the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have insisted on talking directly with the US government, rather than with the Afghan government, whose legitimacy they do not recognise. On 7 September, US President Trump suddenly announced that he had cancelled the talks, as well as invitations to Camp David for Taliban leaders and Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. Even though the talks have not officially resumed at press time, Khalilzad continues his efforts, including confidence-building measures between the Afghan government and the Taliban. On 18 November, two hostages from America and Australia were released by the Taliban in exchange for three senior Taliban figures including Anas Haqqani, son of the deceased former leader of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. On 21 November, ten Afghan security force members that had been detained by the Taliban were released.
On 24 November, a UN vehicle was hit by a grenade, killing an international UNAMA staff member and injuring five civilians including two Afghan staff members.
On 17 September, following difficult negotiations, Council members adopted resolution 2489, renewing UNAMA’s mandate until 17 September 2020. China insisted on maintaining a reference to its “Belt and Road Initiative” (language agreed to in preceding UNAMA resolutions) in the context of welcoming regional economic cooperation, which was not acceptable to the US. An alternative draft resolution put forward by China and Russia, a few days before the adoption, still included this reference. A compromise draft–as eventually adopted–referred to UNAMA’s role to “support regional cooperation, […] as well as assisting Afghanistan in utilizing its role at the heart of Asia to promote regional cooperation and connectivity […]”.
Presidential elections took place on 28 September, with initial results still outstanding at press time. According to preliminary estimates, a quarter of registered voters went to the polls, the lowest turnout in any election in the country. On election day, according to UNAMA’s report on election-related violence, there were no mass-casualty incidents. There were, however, 100 documented election-related incidents resulting in 277 civilian casualties (28 civilians dead and 249 injured, with children accounting for over a third of the overall casualties). UNAMA reports that around 95 per cent of those incidents can be attributed to the Taliban. A 17 September suicide attack at an election rally in Parwan claimed thirty civilian lives and caused 51 injuries. On 19 September, a truck bomb attack in Zabul killed 25 civilians, injured 93 and caused extensive damage to a nearby hospital. The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks.
In a 26 September press release, UNAMA refers to “multiple credible reports” indicating that “high numbers of civilians were killed and injured when the United States military carried out airstrikes on 19 September in Nangarhar and on 22 September in Helmand”. The airstrikes in Helmand were carried out in support of a ground operation by US and Afghan forces, according to UNAMA.
UNAMA’s 17 October quarterly report on protection of civilians in armed conflict documents the highest number of civilian casualties within a single quarter since UNAMA started systematically documenting civilian casualties in 2009. UNAMA reports 4,313 civilian casualties, including 174 deaths and 3,139 injured, between 1 July and 30 September, noting that this coincided with the progression of US-Taliban talks. UNAMA attributes the increase in casualties to a rise in attacks involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs), primarily conducted by the Taliban.
At press time, the UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan for Afghanistan of $611.8 million was funded at 74.2 percent, with $147.6 million outstanding.
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 US armed forces, and the US Central Intelligence Agency) and crimes against humanity (committed by the Taliban and their affiliated Haqqani Network).
On 12 April, the judges of Pre-Trial Chamber II unanimously rejected the prosecutor’s request. Although the request met the requirements for jurisdiction and admissibility, they said the context of the situation in Afghanistan renders the “prospects for a successful investigation and prosecution extremely limited”. The judges concluded that an investigation “would not serve the interests of justice”, a criterion set out in the Rome Statute of the ICC. On 7 June, the Prosecutor requested to submit an appeal against the decision: this was granted by Pre-Trial Chamber II on 17 September, and oral arguments are scheduled for 4-6 December.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 9 October, UNAMA and OHCHR released a joint special report examining the impact on civilians of United States airstrikes on alleged drug-processing facilities on 5 May in Afghanistan. The report states that at 15 September, UNAMA had verified 39 civilian casualties as a result of the operation with reliable and credible information to substantiate at least a further 37 additional civilian casualties, including women and children. The report maintains that drug facilities and associated workers may not lawfully be made the target of attack based on their possible economic or financial contribution to the war effort of a party to a conflict, and sets out five recommendation to the US, including that it conduct an independent investigation to examine the impact on civilians of the 5 May operation.
Key Issues and Options
The immediate issue for the Council is the renewal of the mandate of the Monitoring Team assisting the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee.
One continuing set of issues facing the Council is the continued pursuit of different negotiating tracks geared towards peace in Afghanistan. In particular, if the talks between the US and the Taliban might resume, the Council will need to decide if and how it may endorse eventual outcomes.
Council members will further watch how the results of the presidential elections will affect the political situation in the country and consider reacting with a presidential or a press statement.
The last quarterly Council meeting on Afghanistan, held on 10 September, took the form of a debate, giving states outside the Council with interests in the country, including states of the region, the opportunity to speak. Considering ongoing developments in the situation, Council members may instead be interested in having a briefing followed by consultations, to allow for a more interactive and frank discussion with Yamamoto, as they did in March.
Council members are generally united in their support for UNAMA and are committed to a peace process. They remain concerned about the overall security, political, and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. Several members of the Council are engaged in different talks aimed at a peace agreement; these talks do not always include the Afghan government. Most members routinely emphasise that a peace process in Afghanistan has to be Afghan-led.
Germany and Indonesia are the co-penholders on Afghanistan, and Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia) chairs the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee. The US is the penholder on the sanctions file.
|Security Council Resolution|
|17 September 2019S/RES/2489||A unanimous adoption of resolution 2489, renewing the mandate of UNAMA until 17 September 2020.|
|3 September 2019S/2019/703||This was the report on Afghanistan.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|17 September 2019S/PV.8620||This was the adoption of resolution 2489, extending UNAMA’s mandate until 17 September 2020.|
|10 September 2019S/PV.8613||This was a debate on Afghanistan, considering the latest Secretary-General’s report on UNAMA.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|21 October 2019SC/13992||This was a press statement condemning in the strongest terms a terrorist attack on 18 October in the Haska Mena district in Nangarhar Province.|
|2 October 2019SC/13969||The Council members issued a press statement on the 28 September presidential elections.|
|19 September 2019SC/13957||This was a press statement condemning in the strongest terms the “continuing high number of attacks” in Afghanistan. Those attacks included several claimed by the Taliban: in Qalat, Zabul Province, on 19 September, resulting in at least 20 people killed and more than 95 people injured; in Kabul; and in Charikar, Parwan Province, on 17 September, resulting in at least 38 civilians killed and more than 80 civilians injured.|