Expected Council Action
In March, the Security Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan. A senior UN secretariat representative is expected to brief on the latest Secretary-General’s report on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), due in March. A civil society representative may also brief the Council.
The mandate of UNAMA expires on 17 September, and the mandate of the Monitoring Team assisting the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee expires on 16 December.
Key Recent Developments
On 21 February, following an extensive period of negotiations between the US and the Taliban, the US State Department announced that an understanding had been reached on a seven-day reduction in violence across Afghanistan, beginning on 22 February. It said that after a successful implementation of this understanding, a US-Taliban peace agreement would be signed on 29 February. The envisioned agreement stipulates a timeline for the reduction of US troops in Afghanistan from about 13,000 currently to 8,600 and includes a pledge from the Taliban that terrorist groups targeting the US or its allies will not be able to operate in Afghanistan. At press time, no major violations of the reduction in violence were reported.
The State Department’s announcement noted that intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon after the signing of the agreement and that these negotiations “will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan”. The Taliban has previously maintained that the conclusion of an agreement with the US was a precondition for it to begin negotiations with the Afghan government, whose legitimacy it does not recognise.
The contours of the envisioned peace agreement resemble that of the US-Taliban agreement announced on 2 September 2019. The signing of that agreement was cancelled on 7 September 2019 when US President Donald Trump called off the negotiations as well as a meeting with Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David, citing the Taliban’s responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul on 5 September that had killed an American soldier and 11 others.
On 18 February, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that Ghani had won the election that took place on 28 September 2019 with 50.64 percent of the vote. His main opponent—Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who according to the IEC won 39.52 percent of the vote—contested the results, declared himself the rightful victor, and vowed to form his own government. The IEC’s announcement came after five months of investigations into complaints of electoral irregularities, which were primarily related to the process of counting votes and technical issues with biometric voter verification devices.
UNAMA issued a statement which took note of the IEC’s announcement and stressed that any challenges to the election results need to be consistent with the country’s constitutional order. It further said that it will provide advice to “encourage the electoral management bodies to address the candidates’ understandable desire to have clarity on decisions taken related to audits and recounts”. At press time, no official complaint contesting the results of the election had been filed with the electoral complaints commission in Afghanistan. The Taliban, which opposed the election from the outset, issued a statement criticising the IEC’s declaration that President Ghani won the election and said that this announcement went against the ongoing peace negotiations.
At press time, several key international stakeholders, including the US, had yet to formally acknowledge Ghani’s electoral victory. Other stakeholders such as Russia issued statements that expressed concern regarding the political tensions created by the contested results and noted that they could have a negative impact on the future intra-Afghan negotiations.
On 26 February, Afghanistan’s presidential palace announced that Ghani’s inauguration ceremony is expected to take place on 9 March.
According to UNAMA’s annual report on protection of civilians in armed conflict in Afghanistan, 3,403 civilians were killed and 6,989 were injured in 2019. The majority of civilian casualties in the past year–62 percent–are attributed to anti-government elements, with the Taliban bearing responsibility for 47 percent of civilian casualties. Pro-government forces were responsible for 28 percent of civilian casualties, with the Afghan national security forces causing 16 percent of casualties and eight percent attributed to international military forces. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were the leading cause of civilian casualties caused by anti-government groups, while civilian casualties caused by airstrikes reached a record-high level, accounting for almost half of civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate in 2019 because of persistent violence and natural disasters. The 2020 humanitarian response plan for Afghanistan, which calls for $733 million, aims to assist 7.12 million people out of 9.4 million people in need.
On 20 November 2017, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested authorisation from the Court’s judges to initiate an investigation into alleged crimes in the context of the armed conflict in Afghanistan since 2003. Following the rejection of the prosecutor’s request by the Pre-Trial Chamber II on 12 April 2018, the prosecutor submitted an appeal against the decision.
On 4-6 December 2019, the ICC’s Appeals Chamber heard oral arguments in the appeals of victims and of the prosecutor against the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber II. Lawyers representing the Afghanistan government also provided oral arguments, in which they opposed an ICC investigation in the country, maintaining that Afghanistan has the willingness and ability to carry out an investigation into alleged crimes through its own courts. The Appeals Chamber is expected to deliver its decision on the appeal on 5 March.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 18 March, the Human Rights Council is expected to consider the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan (A/HRC/43/74) as part of its 43rd session. The report, covering 1 January to 30 November 2019, focused on the protection of civilians in armed conflict; children and armed conflict; the elimination of violence against women and the promotion of women’s rights; the prevention of torture and respect for procedural safeguards; and civic space and the integration of human rights into peace and reconciliation processes. It contained several conclusions, including that the negative impact on civilians remained the same or was even greater than in 2019; the right to political participation came under serious threat by anti-government elements; violence against women and girls and harmful traditional practices remain prevalent; and despite the decrease in allegations of torture and ill-treatment of persons in the custody of the government, such practices also remain prevalent. The report also contained recommendations for the government, anti-government elements and the international community.
Women, Peace and Security
During his 16 December 2019 briefing, Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, emphasised “the importance of women’s participation in all the activities of Afghan society”. He further noted the parliament’s passing of a 25 November resolution “calling for the protection and promotion of women’s rights and for the inclusion of women in the peace process”. He called this action a strong expression of commitment “to supporting Afghan women, particularly in promoting their participation in the peace process and in addressing the continuing pervasiveness of violence against women and girls”. During the same meeting, Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN, stressed that “the gains of the past 18 years, particularly those of women, must also be protected and expanded on further”.
Key Issues and Options
The key priority for the Council is supporting political and security stability in the country to facilitate the continuance of negotiations geared towards achieving peace in Afghanistan.
Council members will be watching closely how the announcement of Ghani’s victory in the presidential elections affects the delicate political climate in the country. Concerns have been raised that disagreements between Afghanistan’s ruling elites will weaken the government’s position in the intra-Afghan negotiations envisioned in the US-Taliban deal. If consensus is achieved and the winning candidate is inaugurated, Council members might consider issuing a press statement to express their support for the electoral process in Afghanistan and its conclusion.
Council members will also be following developments regarding the US-Taliban peace agreement. If such an agreement is concluded, the Council can adopt a product to endorse the agreement and detail the possible role the UN might have in the future intra-Afghan negotiations.
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, which 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.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|16 December 2019S/RES/2501||This was a renewal of the mandate of the Monitoring Team assisting the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee until December 2020.|
|17 September 2019S/RES/2489||This was a unanimous adoption of resolution 2489, renewing the mandate of UNAMA until 17 September 2020.|
|10 December 2019S/2019/935||This was the latest Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for
international peace and security.
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|16 December 2019S/PV.8687||This was a quarterly meeting on Afghanistan.|