March 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 February 2024
Download Complete Forecast: PDF


Expected Council Action

In March, the Security Council is expected to consider the renewal of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which is set to expire on 17 March. Prior to that, the Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNAMA Roza Otunbayeva is expected to brief. A civil society representative may also brief.

Key Recent Developments

Afghanistan continues to suffer from a multifaceted crisis, as the international community grapples with how to approach international engagement with the Taliban and to address the country’s many challenges. The humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan, which is currently experiencing one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, remain a chief concern.

The 2024 Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan (HNRP), launched in December 2023, estimates that approximately 23.7 million people—more than half the country’s population—will require some form of humanitarian assistance in 2024. A 14 December 2023 Integrated Food Security Classification Phase (IPC) report projected that, between November 2023 and March, 15.8 million Afghans will experience either crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. Due to funding shortfalls, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that it will be able to provide emergency food and nutrition assistance to around seven million people, less than half of those in need.

Human rights have continued to be curtailed in recent months, particularly those of women and girls. Since January, UNAMA has been documenting a trend of arbitrary arrests and detentions of women and girls because of alleged non-compliance with the Islamic dress code related to the wearing of hijab. In an 11 January statement, UNAMA said that it was examining allegations of ill-treatment during the detentions and that ethnic minorities have been disproportionally targeted by such enforcement operations. Analysts have characterised the direct enforcement against women, rather than punishing male relatives or guardians, as a new tactic by the Taliban that signals an escalation of their crackdown on women’s rights. The Taliban has rejected reports that women are being arrested and mistreated for not complying with the dress code, with the Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, saying that “Afghan women wear hijab on their own [accord]”.

A 16 February report of quarterly country-wide consultations with Afghan women conducted by UN Women, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and UNAMA reflects the detrimental effects of the Taliban’s restrictive decrees against women and girls, noting that 50 such edicts have been issued since August 2021. It says that the strict enforcement of the hijab decree has deepened depression and anxiety among women, many of whom have been staying at home, fearing arrest. According to the report, the women consulted “did not accept the current plight as their future” and called on the international community to make women’s rights a priority in their engagements on Afghanistan, including by linking international aid to better conditions for women and by facilitating opportunities for women to talk directly with the Taliban.

Against this backdrop, UN Secretary-General António Guterres convened the second meeting of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan on 18 and 19 February in Doha, Qatar. According to Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric, the Doha meeting aimed “to discuss how to approach increasing international engagement in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner, including through consideration of the recommendations of the independent assessment on Afghanistan”. The Taliban did not attend, partly due to their objection to the participation of representatives from Afghan civil society and women’s groups at the meeting. They have also expressed opposition to some of the recommendations of the independent assessment, which the Security Council requested in resolution 2679 of 16 March 2023, particularly the appointment of a UN Special Envoy who would focus on diplomacy between Afghanistan and international stakeholders and advancing intra-Afghan dialogue. (For more information on the independent assessment, see our What’s in Blue stories of 27 November 2023 and 8 December 2023.)

Speaking at a 19 February press conference, Guterres stated that there was consensus during the Doha meeting about the independent assessment’s “programmatic proposals”, while acknowledging that deadlock persists over an “essential set of questions”, including over the rights of women and girls. (For more information on the Doha conference, see our What’s in Blue story of 25 February.)

On 26 February, the Security Council held a private meeting in line with resolution 2721 of 29 December 2023, which requested the Secretary-General to brief the Council about the second meeting of the group of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan and about his consultations on the appointment of a Special Envoy for Afghanistan. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo briefed at the meeting, at which India, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, and Türkiye also participated. Council members that have signed on to the Shared Commitments on Women, Peace and Security (WPS)—Ecuador, France, Guyana, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—read a statement prior to the meeting. They called for “Afghan women’s equal, meaningful, and safe participation and leadership at all levels and stages of decision-making, including in all fora and mechanisms seeking to advance international engagement on Afghanistan”.

Women, Peace and Security

Shaharzad Akbar—Executive Director of the civil society organisation Rawadari—briefed the Council during the 20 December 2023 open briefing on Afghanistan. She said that, since the Taliban’s takeover, her organisation has documented an alarming pattern of human rights violations, including the “repression of women’s rights in every conceivable sphere of life”. Among other recommendations, Akbar urged the Security Council to “be clear that the normalization of relations with the Taliban is not possible without swiftly reversing all restrictions on women’s rights” and Afghanistan meeting its international legal obligations, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She further urged the Council to support justice and accountability for human rights violations by the Taliban and called on UN member states and UN bodies to investigate “the Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women as both gender persecution and gender apartheid”.

Key Issues and Options

The main issue for the Security Council in March will be the renewal of UNAMA’s mandate. The Council could choose to pursue a straightforward renewal of the mission’s mandate, which many Council members and civil society representatives view as robust. Looking ahead, if a Special Envoy is appointed, members could have an informal discussion with the UN Secretariat to discuss the division of labour and cooperation between the Special Envoy and UNAMA.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is a significant issue for the Council. An informal meeting with humanitarian organisations working in Afghanistan could allow Council members to learn more about the problems facing those working to deliver aid in the country, while also providing an opportunity to consider whether there are steps that the Council could take to help manage these challenges.

The human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls, is another major issue. Council members could hold an informal meeting with representatives of UN Women, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and civil society to discuss how the Council can exert pressure on the Taliban regarding its practices and policies that restrict human rights.

The terrorist threat in Afghanistan is also a key concern. The Council could meet with a counter-terrorism expert, which would give members a chance to discuss possible options for bolstering the Council’s effort to manage the threat posed by terrorism in Afghanistan.

Insecurity affecting children in Afghanistan is another matter of concern. The Secretary-General’s most recent report on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan, which was released on 22 December 2023 and covers the period between 1 January 2021 and 31 December 2022, noted that 3,248 children were killed or maimed during the reporting period, mostly from incidents involving explosive devices, which are ubiquitous throughout Afghanistan. Members could consider inviting a representative of UNICEF to brief in their quarterly meeting on Afghanistan to learn more about what the international community could do to address such issues.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Although Council members are generally united in their desire to see a prosperous, peaceful Afghanistan free from terrorism and ruled by an inclusive government, they have been divided over how to achieve this goal. Some members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states, have argued that the Taliban must adhere to international norms if they want to obtain international recognition and receive economic and development aid from the international community. Several of these members appear to favour maintaining pressure on the Taliban, particularly regarding their policies and practices that violate the rights of women and girls.

China and Russia, on the other hand, have contended that the international community should provide assistance to Afghanistan without linking it to other issues, such as human rights, and appear to prefer dialogue and engagement with the Taliban over increased pressure. China has sent an ambassador to Kabul, and on 30 January became the first country to accept diplomatic credentials from a Taliban envoy. Beijing has emphasised that it has not officially recognised the Taliban regime as Afghanistan’s government, however.

Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries have taken a similar approach, pursuing trade relations with Kabul and cooperation to address issues such as poppy cultivation. This has also been reflected in diplomatic engagement; the Taliban have participated in meetings held in regional countries, and on 29 January hosted their first international meeting in Kabul, titled “Afghanistan Regional Cooperation Initiative”, which was attended by representatives from neighbouring and regional countries, including China, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia.

Some analysts have suggested that some Western countries, including the US, are concerned that increasing cooperation between regional states and Afghanistan can weaken international leverage over the Taliban by giving it the economic benefits and appearance of legitimacy that it seeks.

There are also differences of view among Council members about the implementation of the independent assessment on Afghanistan. China and Russia have emphasised the importance of taking into account the Taliban’s views on the assessment, and have questioned the added value of a UN Special Envoy. Other members, including the US, have expressed support for the appointment of a Special Envoy, maintaining that such a position will be crucial in coordinating international engagement on Afghanistan. It seems that these positions were reiterated during the Doha meeting and the Council’s 26 February private meeting.

Although there is general support among Council members for UNAMA’s work, negotiations on renewing the mission’s mandate in the past two years were difficult. During the negotiations on resolution 2626 of 17 March 2022, which extended the mission’s mandate, China and Russia contended that UNAMA’s primary focus should be assisting with efforts to address the humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan. Other members, including the P3, sought a more robust mandate for UNAMA spanning several additional areas, including the protection of human rights and the promotion of inclusive governance and gender equality. Such provisions were retained over China and Russia’s objection, leading Russia to abstain on the resolution. A contentious issue during last year’s mandate renewal negotiations was a provision requesting the Secretary-General to conduct an independent assessment, leading the then-penholders (Japan and the United Arab Emirates) to seek two separate resolutions, one addressing UNAMA’s mandate and another on the independent assessment. (For background, see our What’s in Blue stories of 17 March 2022 and 15 March 2023.)

It seems that many Council members, including several of the elected members that joined the Council in 2024—Algeria, Guyana, the ROK, Sierra Leone, and Slovenia—support retaining a robust mandate for UNAMA. During the upcoming mandate renewal negotiations, these members may express a preference for a straightforward renewal of the mission’s mandate and seek to insulate the discussions on UNAMA from more controversial issues, such as the appointment of a Special Envoy for Afghanistan.

Japan is the penholder on Afghanistan.

Sign up for SCR emails

Security Council Resolutions
29 December 2023S/RES/2721 This resolution, among other matters, requested the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy on Afghanistan in consultation with a range of stakeholders, welcomed the Secretary-General’s intention to convene the next meeting of the group of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan, and encouraged the meeting to discuss the recommendations of the independent assessment on Afghanistan.
16 March 2023S/RES/2678 This resolution extended UNAMA’s mandate until 17 March 2024.

Subscribe to receive SCR publications