Afghanistan Debate and Resolution
Tomorrow (15 March), the Security Council is scheduled to hold its quarterly debate on Afghanistan and adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for an additional year. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNAMA Nicholas Haysom will present the Secretary-General’s 7 March UNAMA report and brief on recent developments.
Tomorrow’s briefing comes in the midst of an increasingly difficult security, humanitarian and economic environment in Afghanistan, with efforts on the reconciliation front showing little if any progress. One ongoing concern that will most likely be reiterated by a number of Council members is the continuing rise in civilian casualties as a result of the conflict, including the toll that it is taking on women and children. On 14 February, UNAMA released its 2015 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The report documented 11,002 civilians casualties (3,545 deaths and 7,457 injuries) in 2015, the highest level of civilian casualties since the mission began producing these reports in 2007.
Haysom may emphasise the importance of continued international support for Afghanistan, including through NATO’s July 2016 Warsaw Summit and the ministerial conference on Afghanistan in Brussels in October 2016. At the Warsaw Summit, NATO is expected to emphasise its commitment to Afghanistan, while donors are expected to make financial commitments to Afghanistan at the Brussels conference. Some member states may highlight the importance of these two events in helping to create a more secure and prosperous future for Afghanistan, while emphasising the need for Afghanistan to move forward with much needed reforms.
With the Taliban engaging in heavy fighting with Afghan security forces and perpetrating suicide and other attacks against both military and civilian targets throughout the country, members will be interested in hearing from Haysom about recent developments with regard to reconciliation. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QGC) – which consists of Afghan, Chinese, Pakistani and US officials – met on 11 January in Islamabad and on 23 February in Kabul, to develop a strategy for engaging the Taliban in direct negotiations. The QGC had planned to hold talks with the Taliban this month, but the Taliban have expressed reluctance to engage. Members may be interested in any information that Haysom may be able to offer on the status of the peace and reconciliation process and efforts to convince the Taliban to enter into peace talks, as well as reports of fragmentation within the Taliban and how this might impact the peace and reconciliation process.
The presence and activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL) in Afghanistan, especially in eastern Nangarhar province, will probably be raised by some Council members. On 13 January, ISIL-affiliated forces attacked an Afghan government facility near Pakistan’s consulate in Jalalabad, the capital city of Nangarhar, killing seven Afghan security personnel. At the last Council debate on Afghanistan, held on 21 December 2015, Afghanistan, participating under rule 37 of the provisional rules of procedure as a member state whose interests are “specially affected”, and current Council members Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand and Russia all expressed their concerns about the involvement of ISIL in Afghanistan.
Another issue that may be raised in the meeting relates to Afghan elections. On 18 January, Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that provincial and district council elections would be held on 15 October. This decision has been criticised by many in the national unity government, who believe that electoral reforms must take place prior to the elections. For example, some question the IEC’s legitimacy and advocate the replacement of its members, in part because of its handling of the 2014 presidential elections, which were marred by accusations of fraud. It is possible that Haysom will discuss the status of the recommendations submitted by the Special Electoral Reform Commission in December 2015.
Members may be interested in hearing about UNAMA’s efforts to coordinate and facilitate humanitarian assistance, given the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. The most recent Secretary-General’s report noted that there had been a significant rise in internal displacement in the country in 2015 in a difficult operating environment in which humanitarian access is restricted and humanitarian workers are subject to violence, with 66 aid workers killed in 2015.
The link between drug cultivation and trafficking and terrorist financing has long been a problem in Afghanistan. France and Russia repeatedly raise this issue at UNAMA debates, and may do so again tomorrow.
The draft resolution renewing UNAMA’s mandate was circulated to all Council members on 4 March, after negotiations within the Core Group, which includes several donor countries, including a number of Council members. There were two rounds of Council negotiations, one on 7 March and an additional one on 9 March. Last year’s UNAMA resolution was 17 pages, and this year’s is expected to be 20 pages.
The negotiations were cordial with few major disagreements. Some members have suggested that the differences of view regarding language resolved during the difficult negotiations on the General Assembly resolution adopted in December made the discussions on the current UNAMA draft less contentious. When there were differences of view during the UNAMA negotiations, these were apparently often settled by referring to the language of the General Assembly resolution. The draft resolution passed through silence procedure on Saturday (12 March) and is now in blue.
The core mandate of the mission remains untouched. Among other things, UNAMA will continue to focus on providing good offices; promoting peace and reconciliation; monitoring and promoting human rights and the protection of civilians; and promoting good governance. There is unanimous Council support for this mandate.
As is typical in mandate renewals, new language has been incorporated to reflect developments since the last UNAMA resolution. It welcomes the September 2015 report of the Tripartite Review Commission, which consisted of representatives of the donor community, the UN and the government of Afghanistan and examined “the role, structure and activities of all United Nations entities in Afghanistan” in keeping with resolution 2210. Based on the recommendations of this Commission, the draft resolution calls for a review of the UN’s role in supporting the government of Afghanistan to combat the illegal economy, including counter-narcotics.
There is new language expressing support for Afghanistan in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism and welcoming the government’s cooperation with partners in the region to fight extremists, criminal groups, and other armed groups. These additions were taken from the 2015 General Assembly resolution on Afghanistan. Language was incorporated in the draft strongly condemning the flow of small arms and light weapons and improvised explosive device (IED) components to the Taliban, and encouraging states to share information, develop partnerships and create national strategies and capacities to counter IEDs. This was drawn from resolution 2255 on the Taliban sanctions regime, using language suggested by New Zealand, which chairs the Taliban sanctions committee.
There is an update on the peace and reconciliation efforts, including references to formation of the QCG and the finalisation of a roadmap on the steps for the peace and reconciliation process. There were some differences over how to calibrate the language on human rights and women’s participation in the political, economic and social life of the country. Some members wanted to build on the existing UNAMA resolution’s language to highlight the importance of these issues. It seems that China and Russia did not favour this approach. Ultimately, the draft retains and in some cases builds on the language on these issues, but does not do so as extensively as some members would have liked.
The language on children and armed conflict has been further strengthened. Among other things, the text notes concern over the increase in child casualties, the continued recruitment of child soldiers, and the need for protection of schools and hospitals. It also updates the Afghan government’s implementation of the Action Plan and its annex on children associated with the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and the Road Map to Compliance.
Historically, Afghanistan has had the opportunity to provide input on the UNAMA resolution. This year was no different. The Afghan government offered some amendments that have been incorporated into the text. One of these welcomes the appointment of the chairman and senior members of the High Peace Council, the Afghan body that is entrusted with engaging the Taliban in peace talks. Another one welcomes steps taken by the Afghan government to establish a transparent and fair justice system, including by ensuring that members of the Supreme Court declare their assets, by initiating a systematic performance review, and by increasing the number of female judges.