Expected Council Action
In March, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) before it expires on 17 March.
The Council is also scheduled to receive a briefing on the situation in Afghanistan from Roza Otunbayeva, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNAMA. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.
Key Recent Developments
Afghanistan continues to face a series of interlocking crises, with the humanitarian situation in the country remaining particularly dire. According to OCHA’s overview of the Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan 2022, which was published on 6 February, 26.1 million people—approximately 65 percent of the country’s population—received humanitarian assistance in 2022. The overview also notes that millions of people who received assistance will continue to require multiple rounds of support over the course of 2023 in order to survive, including tailored packages of food, cash and nutritious supplies.
The humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by the Taliban’s 24 December 2022 decree directing NGOs working in Afghanistan to suspend all female employees. Shortly after the ban was announced, approximately 150 NGOs and aid organisations working in Afghanistan halted their operations. While several organisations have resumed working in the country, particularly after the Taliban granted exceptions to female staff working in the health and education sectors, the ban reportedly continues to affect humanitarian work throughout Afghanistan.
The suspension of female NGO workers was preceded by a 20 December 2022 Taliban edict banning female students from university. In a 27 December 2022 press statement, Council members “reiterated their deep concern of the suspension of school beyond the sixth grade” for girls and “called on the Taliban to reopen schools and swiftly reverse these policies and practices”. The statement also noted that Council members were “profoundly concerned by reports that the Taliban have banned female employees of non-governmental organisations” and said that “these restrictions contradict the commitments made by the Taliban to the Afghan people, as well as the expectations of the international community”.
The Council discussed both of these edicts during a private meeting on 13 January. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 12 January). On 16 January, a UN delegation led by Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohamed visited Afghanistan for a series of meetings with Taliban officials—including members of the Taliban’s cabinet—humanitarian workers, representatives of civil society, and Afghan women, among others. In closed consultations held on 27 January, Mohamed briefed Council members on the delegation’s visit. (For more information, see our 27 January What’s in Blue story).
On 28 January, the Taliban appeared to double down on banning women from attending university by announcing that girls will not be allowed to sit university entrance exams in late February. Some media outlets reported that the Taliban had also outlawed the sale and use of contraceptives in recent weeks, a claim denied by Taliban officials.
During the last week of January, officials from the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, including Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, travelled to Afghanistan and met with the Taliban. (The Inter-Agency Standing Committee formulates policy and mobilises resources in response to humanitarian crises and is composed of UN and partner agencies.) At a 30 January press conference following the visit, Griffiths told reporters that Taliban officials said that exceptions to the ban on female NGO workers would be granted for additional sectors and that Taliban authorities had indicated that they were developing relevant guidelines.
Terrorism remains an ongoing concern in Afghanistan. On 11 January, at least 20 people were killed and dozens more wounded when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive near the Taliban foreign ministry in Kabul. According to media reports, Chinese officials were meeting representatives of the Taliban at the ministry when the blast struck. Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), claimed responsibility for the attack, which Council members condemned in a 12 January press statement. The latest report of the Monitoring Team assisting the 1267/1989/2253 Sanctions Committee, which was published on 13 February, noted that “Afghanistan remains the primary source of terrorist threat for Central and South Asia” and said that terrorist groups in the country “enjoy greater freedom of movement” because of “the absence of an effective Taliban security strategy”.
Tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan have risen in recent months. According to media reports, Pakistani authorities blamed the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group with links to the Afghan Taliban, for a 30 January terrorist attack that struck a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan. Pakistani officials reportedly suggested that the violence, which killed at least 63 people and was condemned by Council members in a 30 January press statement, emanated from Afghanistan. On 19 February, Taliban officials closed the Torkham border crossing between the two countries after accusing Pakistan of violating an agreement permitting Afghanis to enter Pakistan without medical documents to seek medical care. Pakistani border guards and Taliban forces exchanged fire along the border the following day, leaving one Pakistani soldier wounded. The border crossing was reopened on 25 February after Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif met with Taliban officials in Kabul on 22 February.
Although Afghanistan continues to face economic difficulties, some economic indicators appear to have improved. According to the World Bank’s Afghanistan Economic Monitor, which was published on 25 January, Afghanistan exported $1.7 billion worth of goods between January and November 2022, compared to $900 million and $800 million for the full years 2021 and 2020. The report also says that the exchange rate and revenue collection have remained stable, while inflation has decreased and non-food items are widely available.
In an apparent sign of differences among the Taliban leadership, acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani delivered a speech on 11 February that appeared to implicitly criticise Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. Two days later, on 13 February, acting Second Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi also seemed to indirectly critique the Taliban’s ban on education for women and girls.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 20 January joint statement, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said that lawyers, judges, prosecutors and all other actors who are part of the legal system in Afghanistan “face grave risks to their safety” and that those still practising must endeavour to navigate a “deeply challenging, non-independent legal system”. The rapporteurs noted that the Taliban has attempted to effectively ban all women from participating in the legal system and described the “all-male system implementing the Taliban’s version of Sharia law” as a “human rights catastrophe”.
On 27 December 2022, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, called on the de facto authorities in Afghanistan to immediately revoke their policies targeting the rights of women and girls. Calling the restrictions “unfathomable”, Türk noted that they will increase the suffering of all Afghans and pose a risk beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Türk also expressed deep concern that increased hardship in Afghan society is likely to increase the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence and domestic violence.
Key Issues and Options
The renewal of UNAMA’s mandate is a key issue for the Council. Given the difficult and evolving situation on the ground, the Council could choose to renew the mandate for a further 12 months without making any changes to UNAMA’s priorities in order to give the mission more time to implement its mandate.
It appears that UNAMA is encountering some difficulties in implementing aspects of its mandate. The Council could hold an informal meeting with UNAMA’s leadership ahead of the mandate renewal with a view to better understanding these challenges and to consider whether there is anything the Council can add in the renewal resolution to assist UNAMA in managing them.
The humanitarian crisis and the effect of the Taliban’s edict banning female NGO workers on the provision of humanitarian aid are also major issues. One option is for Council members to hold a closed Arria-formula meeting with humanitarian organisations working in the country. Such a meeting could provide an opportunity to receive an update regarding the impact of the ban and consider whether there is anything the Council can do to help improve the situation.
If the Taliban remains unwilling to roll back its policies that violate the rights of women and girls, the Council could consider adopting a resolution that calls on the Taliban to reverse those policies, including the bans preventing women from working for NGOs and attending universities and high schools. Such a resolution could also urge the Taliban to uphold the human rights of other groups in the country, including children and minorities.
The ongoing threat posed by terrorism in Afghanistan is another area of concern. The Council could hold an informal meeting with a counter-terrorism expert, which would give Council members the opportunity to discuss the fight against terrorism in the country and help generate ideas for bolstering the Council’s work in this area. Council members may also wish to consider whether sanctioning individuals involved with ISKP and other terrorist groups active in the country will help combat terrorism in Afghanistan.
Although Council members are generally united in their desire to see a prosperous, peaceful Afghanistan free from terrorism and ruled by an inclusive government that respects the rights of women and girls, they are divided over how to achieve this goal. Some members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states, argue that the Taliban must adhere to international norms if it wants to obtain international recognition and receive economic and development aid from the international community. China and Russia, on the other hand, have contended that the international community should provide assistance to Afghanistan without linking that assistance to other issues, such as human rights.
China and Russia have also called for Afghanistan’s frozen assets to be returned to the country, while other members have said that these assets cannot be transferred to Afghanistan until a properly functioning central bank has been established. These members often express concerns that the funds could be used for terrorist purposes. Moreover, China and Russia tend to blame the US and NATO for the problems facing Afghanistan, while the US and others contend that the Taliban bears primary responsibility for the issues facing the country.
The last negotiations concerning UNAMA’s mandate, which took place in March 2022, were difficult, reflecting sharp divisions among Council members in relation to several issues, including human rights; women, peace, and security; and inclusive governance. The prioritisation of the different components of UNAMA’s mandate was a particularly contentious issue. While China and Russia apparently contended that UNAMA should focus primarily on assisting with efforts to address the humanitarian and economic crises in the country, a majority of other Council members strongly supported a more robust mandate spanning several additional areas, including the protection of human rights and the promotion of inclusive governance and gender equality. These components were ultimately included in resolution 2626, which extended UNAMA’s mandate until 17 March. 14 Council members voted in favour of the resolution, with Russia abstaining.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|17 March 2022S/RES/2626||This resolution extended the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2023.|