Expected Council Action
In January, the Security Council will receive a briefing on the situation in Afghanistan and the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Either the Secretary-General or Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative and head of UNAMA, will brief. A female representative of civil society is also expected to brief the Council.
Key Recent Developments
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. According to OCHA, 24.4 million Afghans, including 12.9 million children, are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report on Afghanistan notes that 55 percent of the population will experience crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity between November 2021 and March, a 35 percent increase over the same period last year. In a 14 December statement, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that recent WFP surveys found that an estimated 98 percent of Afghans have insufficient food.
The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is compounded by the country’s economic woes. Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, 75 percent of Afghanistan’s public expenditure and 40 percent of its GDP were funded by international aid. International donors have largely suspended this aid in recent months, and the US has frozen approximately $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank, leading to a widespread liquidity crisis in the country. The de facto authorities are unable to pay the salaries of most civil servants, including teachers and doctors, and many Afghans cannot access basic public services. In a 22 November 2021 report, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) noted that Afghanistan’s financial system is critical to the provision of humanitarian assistance in the country and suggested that the system may be on the brink of collapse.
On 2 December 2021, Martin Griffiths, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, announced that the UN was considering measures designed to inject liquidity into the Afghan economy. Griffiths told reporters that the UN is “trying to urgently establish with support from the World Bank as well as the UN system, a currency swap initiative which will allow liquidity to go into the economy” and that he hopes “we get it up and running before the end of the month”. The World Bank has also taken steps to ease the crisis in Afghanistan. On 10 December, it announced that the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund will give $180 million to the WFP and $100 million to UNICEF. The World Bank administers the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund.
Many Afghans are fleeing the country. On 10 November 2021, Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned that thousands of Afghan refugees were crossing the border into Iran every day. Egeland noted that these refugees receive very little assistance and that he expects the flow of refugees to increase throughout the winter.
In a 3 December 2021 statement, a UNHCR spokesperson noted that internally displaced Afghans lack insulated shelters, sufficient fuel for heating, adequate food, and necessary medical supplies. The spokesperson called for an additional $374.9 million in funding to assist UNHCR “for the Afghanistan Situation in 2022 – including continued winter response”.
As these crises mount, the Taliban regime has continued to seek recognition and assistance from the international community. In a speech delivered on 27 November 2021, the Taliban’s acting prime minister, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, called for international support and said that “the Islamic Emirate wants good relations with all countries and economic relations with them”. On 12 December, de facto Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told the Associated Press that the Taliban seek “mercy and compassion” and urged the international community to lift sanctions on the group and unfreeze Afghan assets. Despite these requests, the Taliban have shown little willingness in their talks with the international community to make concessions regarding women’s rights or the establishment of an inclusive government, according to media reports.
The Taliban’s hopes for formal international recognition were dealt a blow on 2 December 2021 when Ambassador Anna Karin Eneström (Sweden) announced that the General Assembly’s Credentials Committee had deferred its decision regarding the Taliban’s claim for UN recognition. On 6 December, the General Assembly adopted a resolution approving the Credentials Committee’s recommendation. Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN, Ghulam M. Isaczai, who had been appointed in June 2021 prior to the Taliban takeover, resigned on 15 December. On the following day, Afghanistan’s permanent mission to the UN issued a press statement indicating that: “Naseer Ahmad Faiq, Minister Counsellor, has assumed the leadership of the Mission in the capacity of Charge d’Affaires”.
The security situation in Afghanistan remains an ongoing concern. During her 17 November 2021 briefing, Lyons noted the Taliban’s “inability to curb the expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-K)” and described it as a “major negative development”. She also observed that 334 attacks had been attributed to ISIL-K in 2021, compared to 60 attacks in 2020, and that the group continues to target the Shiite community.
On 17 December 2021, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2611, which renewed the mandate of the Monitoring Team supporting the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee for a period of one year.
On 22 December 2021, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2615, which determines that “humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan” will not constitute a violation of paragraph 1 (a) of resolution 2255 of 22 December 2015, that prohibits the provision of funds, financial assets, or economic resources to individuals listed under the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime. It indicates the Council’s intention to “review the implementation of this provision after a period of one year”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 14 December 2021, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif delivered an oral update in Geneva on the human rights situation in Afghanistan. Al-Nashif observed that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan “threatens the most basic of human rights” and noted that “the situation is compounded by the impact of sanctions and the freezing of state assets”. She expressed alarm over credible allegations that more than 100 members of the former Afghan national security forces had been killed, despite the general amnesty announced by the Taliban in August. She also observed that women and girls now “face great uncertainty with respect to the rights to education, to livelihoods, and to participation, in which they made important gains in the past two decades”.
Women, Peace and Security
In a 25 November 2021 press release to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Alison Davidian, Deputy Country Representative for UN Women Afghanistan, said that “lifesaving services” for survivors of gender-based violence have closed in the country “on account of fear of being targeted”. According to the press release, nine in ten Afghan women experience at least one form of intimate partner violence during their lives. Violence against women in Afghanistan has increased because of restrictions on women’s freedoms and rights, including their freedom of movement and the right to work. According to research by Amnesty International that was published on 6 December, key services for survivors of gender-based violence have been drastically curtailed since the Taliban takeover, leaving survivors and personnel involved in the delivery of protective services, including women’s shelter staff, at risk of violence and death. Amnesty International urged the Taliban to support and reopen shelters and ensure that the providers of protective services can work without fear of reprisals. It also called on the international community to provide funding for protective services and to urge the Taliban to uphold their obligations to women and girls.
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 2021, extended UNAMA’s mandate until 17 March and requested that the Secretary-General submit a written report by 31 January 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 are willing to allow UNAMA to carry out its work and adhere to Afghanistan’s international commitments.
The humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan are another issue for the Council to consider. An informal, closed meeting with humanitarian organisations that play a key role in Afghanistan could enable Council members to engage in a dialogue with these organisations and learn more about the current challenges and opportunities of aid delivery to the country.
The rising incidence of terrorism in Afghanistan is also a major concern for the Council. The Council could request a briefing from a counter-terrorism expert, which would provide an opportunity for Council members to understand better 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 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; the UK has also met Taliban officials and is reportedly considering reopening its embassy in Kabul. China and Russia have also expressed their support for regional solutions to the problems facing Afghanistan.
For certain Council members—including Ireland, Mexico, Norway, and states that share similar views—the challenges 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 united regarding the importance of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorism. Differences (particularly among China, India, Russia, and the US) have emerged, however, over whether and how to name specific terrorist organisations in Council products.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|22 December 2021S/RES/2615||This resolution was on the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime and addressed the provision of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.|
|17 December 2021S/RES/2611||This resolution renewed the mandate of the Monitoring Team supporting the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee for a period of one year.|
|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.|