Expected Council Action
In November, the Security Council will receive a briefing on the situation in Afghanistan and the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) from Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative and head of UNAMA. A civil society representative is also expected to brief the Council regarding the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.
Key Recent Developments
Hopes that the Taliban might form an inclusive government have faded, particularly following its announcements regarding the composition of its interim cabinet, which includes no women and few appointees who are not Pashtun. On 11 September, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that “[the Taliban talked] of an inclusive and representative government, but they are lying…France refuses to recognise or have any type of relationship with this government”.
Despite this rhetoric, many in the international community have acknowledged the need to cooperate with the Taliban in order to prevent a catastrophic economic and humanitarian crisis. In a 14 September speech, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that the EU had “no other option but to engage with the Taliban” and noted that the EU will maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul. On 12 October, following a G20 leaders’ meeting regarding Afghanistan hosted by Italy, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said that “addressing the humanitarian crisis will require contacts with the Taliban, but this does not mean their recognition…it is very hard to see how you can help people in Afghanistan without involving the Taliban”.
On 20 October, members of the Taliban attended a conference in Moscow with representatives of China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. This was the third meeting held in the “Moscow format”, which was established in 2017 to discuss Afghanistan. A joint statement issued following the conference, which was organised by Russia, said that practical engagement with Afghanistan needs to take account of the Taliban’s seizure of power, irrespective of whether the international community recognises “the new Afghan government”. Among other matters, the statement also called on the Taliban to form an inclusive government and proposed an international donor conference under the auspices of the UN.
Future efforts to engage with the Taliban may be complicated by a lack of unity among its leadership. In September, supporters of the Taliban’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, brawled with supporters of Khalil ur-Rahman Haqqani, the Taliban’s Minister for Refugees and a prominent figure in the Haqqani network, a militant group with ties to Al-Qaida and other terrorist organisations. The brawl reportedly took place in Kabul while Baradar and Haqqani argued with one another regarding the division of power in the interim government and who deserved more credit for the Taliban’s seizure of power. Baradar, who signed the February 2020 peace agreement with the US, is aligned with the Taliban’s political wing, while Haqqani is closely connected to its military faction. Following the dispute, the Taliban denied rumours that Baradar had been killed by Haqqani’s supporters. The Taliban is also divided along ethnic lines and split into factions that represent the northern, eastern, and southern parts of the country.
The human rights situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. In a statement delivered to the Human Rights Council on 13 September, Michele Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the OHCHR has received credible reports of reprisal killings of former members of the Afghan security forces, as well as reports which indicate that the Taliban has arbitrarily detained former government officials and conducted house-to-house searches in an effort to locate people connected with the former government. She added that women have been progressively excluded from the public sphere and that the Taliban has limited Afghan girls’ access to education, and referred to several instances of Taliban fighters using violence against protesters and journalists. In a 23 September report, Human Rights Watch found that the Taliban are committing widespread and serious human rights violations against women and girls in Herat, including by denying women freedom of movement, imposing compulsory dress codes, curtailing access to employment and education, and restricting the right to peaceful assembly.
The humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan remain a grave concern. At a high-level humanitarian conference organised by the UN in Geneva on 13 September, Secretary-General António Guterres noted that one in three Afghans do not know where their next meal is coming from and indicated that public services in the country have nearly collapsed. More than $1 billion in pledges were made at the conference. Speaking at the 12 October G20 leaders’ conference on Afghanistan, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU would provide an additional $1.15 billion in aid “to avert a major humanitarian and socioeconomic collapse”. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report on Afghanistan, which was issued on 25 October, found that 22.8 million Afghans will face crisis or emergency levels of acute hunger between November and March. As these crises worsen, pressure is mounting on the international community to unfreeze Afghan assets and resume development aid. According to a World Bank report, foreign aid accounted for nearly 75 percent of Afghanistan’s public expenditure prior to the Taliban’s takeover.
Numerous terrorist attacks have taken place in Afghanistan since mid-September. On 9 October, a suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque in Kunduz, killing at least 43 people and wounding more than 140 others. In a similar attack at another Shiite mosque in Kandahar on 15 October, at least 47 people were killed and more than 70 others injured. Council members issued press statements condemning these attacks. During the negotiation of these press statements, China apparently sought to remove language that indicated the mosques were Shiite. Other Council members, particularly India, argued that the text should describe the denomination of the mosques. As a compromise, the specific mosques that were attacked were named in the final text without mentioning their denomination.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 7 October, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted resolution 48/1, which appointed a special rapporteur to monitor the human rights situation in Afghanistan and encouraged Bachelet to update the HRC before the end of the year. The resolution was adopted with 28 votes in favour, five against, and 14 abstentions (A/HRC/48/L.24/Rev.1).
Women, Peace and Security
Fawzia Koofi, the now-exiled first woman deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament, briefed the Security Council during the 12 October high-level open debate on diversity, state-building and the search for peace. Koofi stressed that the “playbook for running today’s world was written primarily by men with men’s interests in mind”. She also noted that although women in Afghanistan have long pushed for meaningful participation in the peace process for themselves and others, their calls have gone unheeded. Underlining the importance of putting in place “a pluralistic social and political structure” for peace in Afghanistan, Koofi called on the international community to work with the Taliban only if they “map out a clear path that guarantees the fundamental rights of all segments of society, in particular women and girls”. Koofi also emphasised that the UN must demand “the protection and inclusion of Afghan female aid workers and peacebuilders and other civic professionals and community organizations”, not only as recipients of aid but also as decision-makers, particularly because the Taliban’s ideology discriminates on the basis of gender.
Key Issues and Options
A key priority for the Council is determining the role that UNAMA will be able to play in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover. Resolution 2596, which was adopted on 17 September, extended UNAMA’s mandate until 17 March 2022 and requested that the Secretary-General submit a written report by 31 January 2022 outlining strategic and operational recommendations for the mandate in light of recent political, security and social developments. With these deadlines in mind, Council members will be following the situation in Afghanistan closely, focusing particularly on the security environment and the extent to which the Taliban is willing to allow UNAMA to carry out its work.
The structure of the 1988 sanctions regime is another important issue for the Council. At present, several members of the Taliban’s interim government are on the sanctions list maintained by the 1988 Sanctions Committee, which has the potential to impede the work of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations in Afghanistan. Council members may therefore wish to consider whether there is a need to amend the 1988 sanctions regime to deal with this issue, including by formulating exemptions that allow agencies and organisations working in Afghanistan to transact with those on the 1988 sanctions list who are part of the Taliban’s interim government under certain circumstances.
The rising incidence of terrorism in Afghanistan is also a major concern for the Council. Since the Taliban came to power, several terrorist attacks have taken place in the country, many of which have targeted the Shiite community. The Council could request a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), which would provide an opportunity for Council members to better understand how the Council can contribute to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council dynamics are continuing to evolve in the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover. China and Russia, which have kept their embassies in Kabul open, have both made public statements demonstrating a willingness to work with the Taliban and have also urged the international community to unfreeze Afghan assets. While the US and the UK are apparently resisting calls to release Afghan funds, there are also signs that they may be willing to engage with the Taliban to a certain extent. The US has met with the Taliban to discuss the provision of humanitarian assistance, while the UK has also met Taliban officials and is reportedly considering reopening its embassy in Kabul.
For certain Council members, including Ireland, Mexico, Norway and other like-minded states, the issues facing women and girls in Afghanistan are a particular concern. These members are likely to prioritise keeping the situation of women and girls at the forefront of the Council’s work in relation to Afghanistan.
Council members are generally united regarding the importance of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorism. Differences have emerged, however, over whether and how to name specific terrorist organisations in Council products, particularly among China, India, Russia, and the US.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|17 September 2021S/RES/2596||This resolution extended the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2022.|
|30 August 2021S/RES/2593||This was a resolution that addressed recent developments in Afghanistan, including the Taliban’s seizure of power and the 26 August attack at Kabul airport.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|9 September 2021S/PV.8853||This was a meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.|
|16 August 2021S/PV.8834||This was a meeting following the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|15 October 2021SC/14665||On 15 October, Council members issued a press statement regarding a terrorist attack at a mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in which they condemned the attack in the strongest terms and underlined the need to hold perpetrators accountable and bring them to justice.|
|9 October 2021SC/14658||On 9 October, Council members issued a press statement regarding a terrorist attack at a mosque in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in which they condemned the attack in the strongest terms and underlined the need to hold perpetrators accountable and bring them to justice.|