Debate on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
Tomorrow morning (18 September) the Council is scheduled to hold its quarterly debate on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Ján Kubiš, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, is expected to brief, while Afghanistan and other non-Council member states are expected to participate in the debate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
A range of issues will likely be covered in the debate. Kubiš will probably focus largely on the political crisis that has gripped the country since the 14 June run-off presidential election between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, which Abdullah claims was marred by rampant ballot-stuffing in pro-Ghani districts. On 12 July the candidates agreed to conduct a comprehensive audit of the ballot. Kubiš may give an overview of the auditing process, which was completed on 5 September, outline the likely next steps and discuss the role of UNAMA in this process.
A major concern is the possible challenges to the new president’s legitimacy, as the losing candidate may feel cheated by the auditing process. Dissatisfied with the conduct of the process, the Abdullah campaign withdrew from the audit on 27 August. The results of the audit are expected to be released later this week, although there could be delays. Media reports have indicated that the candidates are close to agreeing on a deal on the elements of a government of national unity, but it is not clear if and when this deal might be finalised. According to the 12 July agreement, the winner will serve as president, while the runner-up, or a person he selects, will assume a new position, chief executive of the government. Within two years, a loya jirga, or meeting of tribal elders, will be convened to determine whether the chief executive position will be converted into the position of prime minister. It appears that one of the main issues being negotiated by the candidates is the precise role and responsibilities of the chief executive. (The 12 July agreement—and a subsequent deal on 7 August in which the candidates recommitted to their prior agreement—was brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry.)
The Council reacted to the election on 25 June in a presidential statement in which it called on stakeholders “to engage with the electoral institutions and processes with patience and respect, refrain from any acts that incite imminent violence… and to channel complaints through the established institutional mechanisms in line with Afghanistan’s electoral laws and constitution” (S/PRST/2014/11). Since then, it has remained silent. Members are aware that the election impasse has had implications on the security situation. Recognising the significant security challenges that continue to face Afghanistan, several Council members have argued in recent UNAMA debates that it is important for Afghanistan and the US to finalise a bilateral security agreement (BSA) that would allow a residual US force to remain in the country in a support capacity after 2014, to train Afghan government security forces and conduct counter-terrorism activities. However, while both candidates have agreed to sign the agreement if elected, this cannot be done until one of them is in office. The signing of the BSA would also pave the way for NATO to conclude its own security arrangement with Afghanistan.
Human rights issues are likely to be another prominent feature of tomorrow’s debate. The toll that the fighting takes on civilians has long been a significant concern of several Council members, and recent data on civilian casualties will add to this concern. The UNAMA Human Rights Unit mid-year report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in Afghanistan, released in July 2014, documented a 24 percent increase in civilian casualties in the first half of 2014 as compared to the first half of 2013. (Possibly in response to this increased violence, the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee has since 31 July added the names of four Taliban leaders and supporters to the list of individuals under targeted sanctions.) The need to ensure the safety and rights of women and children in Afghanistan has also frequently been voiced in Council debates on Afghanistan and will probably be raised in several interventions tomorrow.
There may also be connections drawn by some members between the electoral impasse and the economic challenges in the country. There is a sense that the political uncertainty dilutes the confidence of foreign investors, thus negatively impacting revenue generation. According to the Secretary-General’s recent report (S/2014/656), there has been a “holding back of tax by business establishments, including some large international companies” that has been detrimental to economic performance. The report also said that Afghanistan’s “Ministry of Finance indicated that the situation was unlikely to improve before the new Government came into office.”
Kubiš will likely highlight the importance of continued international engagement in Afghanistan in the midst of the transition period, with the International Security Assistance Force drawing down its presence and expected to conclude its current mission in Afghanistan by the end of the calendar year. In this sense, Kubiš, along with some Council members, may note how important it is for Afghanistan and its international partners to meet their commitments to the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework. (Through this framework, Afghanistan affirmed its commitment to the rule of law, human rights, effective financial management and good governance, while its international partners promised to enhance the effectiveness of their aid delivery.)
Counter-narcotics efforts with regard to Afghanistan is another key issue that will probably be discussed in tomorrow’s debate. France and Russia have consistently expressed their alarm with the threat to international security posed by drug production and trafficking that originates in Afghanistan, and others on the Council have echoed their concern. On 25 June, through the initiative of Russia, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2014/12) focusing on this issue.