Expected Council Action
In September, the Security Council will convene for its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan. An official from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) and a representative of civil society are expected to brief.
The mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expires on 17 March 2023.
Key Recent Developments
Just over a year after the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan continues to face a series of overlapping crises. The humanitarian situation in the country is particularly dire. According to the latest World Food Programme (WFP) Afghanistan Situation Report, which was issued on 15 August, Afghanistan is currently experiencing the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption in the world, with 92 percent of Afghan households struggling to meet their food needs. During a 15 August press briefing, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov described the situation as a “pure catastrophe” and noted that only 40 percent of the $4.4 billion required for the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan has been received.
Afghanistan’s economic difficulties are one of the main drivers of its humanitarian crisis. Although official GDP statistics are not being produced, the World Bank estimates that Afghanistan’s economic output has shrunk by 20 to 30 percent since August 2021. Afghanistan is also experiencing widespread illiquidity and a shortage of banknotes, as well as significant inflation. As described in the World Bank’s Afghanistan Economic Monitor for August, prices for basic household goods saw 43.4 percent year-on-year inflation during July, while cash withdrawals from banks remain regulated for firms and individuals.
The links between Afghanistan’s economic and humanitarian emergencies were outlined by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths during his 23 June briefing to the Council. He noted that the economy “continues to be the primary driver of humanitarian need across Afghanistan” and described the formal banking system as an impediment to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the country, “due to excessive de-risking, which affects payment channels and causes breakdowns in supply chains”. Griffiths also said that the Taliban has been interfering with the delivery of humanitarian aid, including by seeking to play a role in the selection of beneficiaries and channelling assistance to people on their own priority lists.
The perilous state of Afghanistan’s economy has led some experts to call for the release of approximately $9 billion in frozen assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank, $7 billion of which are currently held in the US. In a 10 August letter, 71 economists and development experts, including Nobel economics prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, said they were “deeply concerned by the compounding economic and humanitarian catastrophes unfolding in Afghanistan” and urged the US to return these funds to Afghanistan’s central bank. US and Taliban officials have reportedly held meetings to discuss possible mechanisms for releasing the funds in recent months.
Although recent media reports indicate these talks will continue, they appear to have been complicated by the 31 July killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, who was discovered living in a Kabul safehouse reportedly controlled by a member of the Taliban. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West said, “we do not see recapitalisation of the Afghan central bank as a near-term option…the Taliban’s sheltering of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups”.
Concerns regarding the spread of terrorism in Afghanistan have also increased following a spate of terrorist attacks throughout the country this month, including a 17 August attack on a mosque in Kabul that resulted in at least 54 casualties. Several of these attacks were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan (ISIL-K), the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). On 18 August, UNAMA deplored the 17 August attack and noted that it was “the latest in a disturbing series of bombings which have killed [and] injured more than 250 people in recent weeks”. The tweet also called on the Taliban “to take concrete steps to prevent all forms of terrorism in Afghanistan”.
The human rights situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated markedly since the Taliban came to power. UNAMA’s latest report on human rights in the country, which was published on 20 July, notes that UNAMA has “documented persistent allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and torture and ill-treatment carried out by the de facto authorities” and further says that “women and girls in particular have been subjected to severe restrictions on their human rights, resulting in their exclusion from most aspects of everyday and public life”.
Despite its worsening record on human rights, the Taliban administration has continued to push for international recognition. In a 2 July statement, participants in a three-day gathering of more than 4,000 male Taliban supporters, most of whom were religious scholars, asked “regional and international countries, especially Islamic countries…to recognise the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan…release all sanctions, unfreeze funds and support development in Afghanistan”. Taliban Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada delivered a statement at the conference that appeared to signal the Taliban’s unwillingness to respond to international pressure, reportedly saying, “we are now an independent country. [Foreigners] should not give us their orders, it is our system and we have our own decisions”.
From 26 to 27 July, Taliban officials attended a conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, with delegates from more than 20 countries and representatives of international organisations, including the EU, the UN, and the US. According to media reports, Taliban officials advocated for foreign investment and greater support from the international community at the conference, while some western attendees, including US Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri, called on the Taliban to uphold the rights of women and foster an inclusive political process. Other participants in the conference reportedly appeared to push for normalisation of relations with the Taliban.
On 29 August, the Council convened for an open briefing on Afghanistan. Russia requested the meeting, citing the need to discuss the “humanitarian and economic situation and other consequences of the US and NATO military intervention” in the country. The briefers were: Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths; Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Markus Potzel; and Lucy Morgan Edwards, an independent researcher and author who focuses on Afghanistan.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 8 July, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution without a vote that reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all women, girls and children in Afghanistan, including the right to freedom of movement, the right to education, and the right to health. The resolution also urged the Taliban to end practices that have restricted women’s rights and requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to organise an enhanced interactive dialogue with the participation of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan during the HRC’s next session.
In a joint statement on 12 August, a group of human rights experts warned of an “immensely bleak” future for Afghans unless the international community acts to reverse the deteriorating human rights situation, particularly for women and girls, and called for dramatically stepped-up efforts to urge de facto authorities to adhere to basic human rights principles.
On 12 September, during its 51st session, the HRC is expected to hold an interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, and consider his most recent report (A/HRC/51/6) the HRC will also hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, with the participation of Bennett; other relevant human rights mechanisms; UN bodies and agencies, including UNAMA; and non-governmental organisations, including Afghan women’s rights organisations.
Women, Peace, and Security
On 15 August, UN Women issued a Gender Alert saying that one year on from the Taliban take-over in Afghanistan, women “are systematically excluded from public and political life, and restricted in their access to education, humanitarian assistance, employment, justice and health services”. The Gender Alert, which was developed using secondary data and insights from UN Women visits across Afghan provinces in 2022, says that presently there are no indicators that women’s fundamental rights and freedoms will be restored and that, instead, the past year’s trend suggests that oppressive and discriminatory measures will persist. Among other recommendations, the Gender Alert calls for supporting Afghan women representatives to negotiate directly with the Taliban, for advocating for the restoration of the full spectrum of women’s rights, and for including Afghan women as equal partners to inform programming, advocacy and policy priorities.
Key Issues and Options
The humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan are important issues for the Council. An informal, closed meeting with humanitarian organisations working in Afghanistan and economic experts could enable Council members to learn more about the challenges facing those working to deliver aid in the country and the interaction between Afghanistan’s economic difficulties and the humanitarian emergency. This discussion could focus on exploring whether the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime is playing a significant role in these crises, and could also consider the impact of the humanitarian exception formulated in resolution 2615 of 22 December 2021. The implementation of the exception is due to be reviewed by the Council in December.
The human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls, is another major issue for the Council. Council members could hold an informal meeting with representatives of UN Women, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and civil society to discuss what the Council can do to exert pressure on the Taliban regarding its practices and policies that restrict human rights.
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 discuss the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and help generate ideas for bolstering the Council’s work in this area.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members appear to be divided regarding Afghanistan. Some members, such as France, the US, and other like-minded states, take the view that the Taliban must adhere to international standards if it wants to obtain international recognition and receive economic and development aid from the international community. Russia, on the other hand, argues that the international community should provide development assistance to the Taliban administration without conditions. During the 23 June briefing, for example, Russia urged “Western donors” to return Afghanistan’s “resources and to begin to provide comprehensive assistance to normalise the socioeconomic and humanitarian situations without reservations or preconditions”. In a similar vein, China said that “comprehensive measures should be taken to support sound development in Afghanistan”. China and Russia also seek to blame the US and NATO for the problems facing Afghanistan, while the US and others contend that the Taliban bears the primary responsibility for the issues plaguing the country.
Some of these differences have played out in recent negotiations concerning the standing exemption to the travel ban in the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime, which allows certain members of the Taliban to travel abroad to attend peace and stability discussions. During the negotiations, it appears that some members sought to limit the scope of the exemption as a means of holding the Taliban accountable for their actions, particularly the measures they have implemented that restrict the rights of women and girls. These proposals were opposed by other members, who argued that the travel ban exemption should not be linked to other issues and used to punish the Taliban. Council members were unable to resolve these differences before the previous travel ban exemption expired on 19 August and, as a result, the exemption is not currently in place. At the time of writing, negotiations concerning this issue are ongoing.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|17 March 2022S/RES/2626||This resolution extended the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2023.|