What's In Blue

Posted Wed 7 Mar 2018

UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA): Debate and Mandate Renewal

The Council will hold its regular quarterly debate on Afghanistan on Thursday (8 March), during which a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is expected to be adopted. Briefers are expected to include Special Representative and head of UNAMA Tadamichi Yamamoto, Founding Director of the Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies (DROPS) Mariam Safi, and Deputy Chairperson of the High Peace Council Habibi Sarabi. The meeting will be held on International Women’s Day and is expected to have a focus on women, peace and security issues in Afghanistan. The Netherlands, the Council president this month and the penholder on Afghanistan, is encouraging female representation among the delegations. Its Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag, is expected to chair the debate.

UNAMA Debate

Special Representative Yamamoto is expected to describe the fragile security and political situation in the country, in light of a series of large-scale attacks carried out in January by the Taliban and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Kabul and Jalalabad that have led to the deaths of scores of civilians. This violence continues a disturbing trend in recent years; in 2017, 3,438 people died and 7,015 were wounded in the conflict. Members are expected to express their concerns about the violence against civilians.

Yamamoto and the other briefers—as well as Council members—are likely to refer to the government of national unity’s offer of unconditional negotiations with the Taliban made during the 28 February Kabul Process conference. During the meeting, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered a wide-ranging proposal to the Taliban that included talks about a ceasefire, prisoner exchange, review of the constitution, and the removal of sanctions against insurgents. The Taliban are not yet known to have given an official response. Members will most likely express their support for this proposal and urge the Taliban to participate in good faith in the reconciliation process.

Sarabi may discuss the High Peace Council’s efforts to “reach out to all sectors and levels of society to help build a national consensus on peace”, as the Secretary-General encouraged in his December 2017 UNAMA report. Of particular importance are next steps with regard to efforts to engage the Taliban, in light of Ghani’s 28 February proposal. When Ambassador Kairat Umarov (Kazakhstan) briefed on the Council’s visiting mission to Afghanistan on 17 January (S/PV.8158), he noted that: “There is no military solution in Afghanistan in the absence of a political process”, a point made by a number of interlocutors with whom members engaged during the visit.

The briefers may also discuss promising efforts to reconcile with Hizb-i-Islami, as 78 prisoners from the group were released in January in keeping with an agreement that it had made with the government. It is also likely that Sarabi will describe the important role that women play in the work of the High Peace Council, as they constitute 65 of its 480 members as of December 2017.

The civil society briefer, Marian Safi, will most likely brief on the work of the Afghanistan-based Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies (DROPS), which she leads. According to its website, DROPS is “committed to strengthening democratic ideas and values by conducting research that provide [sic] policymakers with sound alternative solutions to national issues”. As part of its work, DROPS strives to “increase women’s involvement in policy dialogue and research on a diversity of issues that are at play in building democratic governance”.

Regional efforts to advance a peace process in Afghanistan may be discussed. Along these lines, there has been high-level engagement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, including a meeting of their foreign ministers in December 2017 that was facilitated by China. Members may be interested in learning more about these exchanges. A number of members of the government and parliament of Afghanistan with whom Council members engaged with during their January visiting mission to Afghanistan cited concerns that the Taliban continue to benefit from safe havens abroad.

The security threat posed by ISIL in Afghanistan will be raised, as the group poses a growing risk to the stability of the country. ISIL has continued to conduct terrorist attacks against civilians and is trying to expand its influence on the battlefield beyond eastern Afghanistan into the northern part of the country. In the last UNAMA debate, Russia noted that ISIL has “put down roots in the country”. Several members, including France, Kazakhstan and Russia, note the linkages between insurgent groups in Afghanistan and drug production and trafficking.

The briefers may describe government efforts to address violence against women and promote women’s participation in government and politics. On 31 December 2017, the publication of the Anti-Harassment of Women and Children Law enhanced procedures for issuing complaints and clarified what constitutes harassment in public spaces. In January 2018, the government announced that it would strive to increase female participation in the civil service, although this is pending the approval of a budget for the plan.

There will most likely be reference during the meeting to Afghanistan’s new penal code, which seeks to align with international legal standards. Regarding the penal code, some members may underscore the importance of ensuring that the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women is effectively applied.

Preparations for parliamentary elections in 2018 and presidential elections in 2019 will also be an important focus of the meeting. Members are likely to emphasise the importance of holding free and fair elections in 2018 and 2019 respectively. On 18 January, the Independent Election Commission announced that the parliamentary elections, initially planned for July, would be postponed until October. The importance of women’s participation in the elections both as voters and as candidates may be emphasised by some members.

Negotiations on Resolution

The resolution to be adopted tomorrow will renew the mandate of UNAMA for one year until 17 March 2019. UNAMA’s core mandate—which includes a focus on political good offices, human rights monitoring, the protection of civilians, and the promotion of good governance and regional cooperation—remains unchanged.

There were five rounds of negotiations on the draft resolution, followed by bilateral negotiations. Several adjustments to the text were made by the Netherlands, the penholder on Afghanistan, in order to accommodate the concerns of members, and the draft is now in blue.

Among the areas requiring compromises were the extent of references to women’s empowerment and participation, and to the work of regional organisations such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). While most members were supportive of the significant references to the role of women in Afghanistan, two delegations maintained that this was not at the core of achieving sustainable peace in the country. As a compromise, while the references to women were streamlined in the final version, the text nonetheless contains significant and substantive language on the important role of women in Afghanistan. In the final version, there are more references to women’s participation and empowerment than in resolution 2344, which renewed UNAMA’s mandate last year.

Regarding the work of regional organizations, particularly noteworthy is the reference to the partners in the “Paris-Moscow” process, which strives to combat drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Those partners referenced include the EU, NATO, the OSCE, the CSTO and the SCO. The work of the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre for combating illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors (CARICC) is also referred to in the resolution.

A new paragraph has been added this year welcoming the findings of the strategic review of the mission conducted in 2017 (S/2017/696) and calling for the implementation of recommendations of the Secretary-General, including in order to align “the mission’s substantive functions in support of peace efforts”. One of the main recommendations of the review was that UNAMA’s ultimate goal in the upcoming period should be to “support all efforts to reach sustainable peace and self-reliance in Afghanistan”, and it recognized the added value of the mission as an impartial actor that could play an important mediating role.

This year’s resolution incorporates enhanced language in several areas, including with regard to finding a political solution to the conflict; women’s social, economic and political engagement in Afghanistan; counter-terrorism; and elections. In keeping with the review’s emphasis on reinforcing the political role of the mission, the operative paragraph on the good offices role of the mission has been moved up in the draft in comparison to last year’s resolution. The draft this year further includes additional references to the work of the High Peace Council in Afghanistan.

Among the numerous references to women in the resolution, a new paragraph has been added this year that is particularly notable. It calls for the “full and effective participation and leadership of women in decision-making, including in peace talks and overall peacebuilding strategies at the national and sub-national level”. It further calls on the government to identify further opportunities to support women’s participation in Afghan-led and -owned peace processes and requests UNAMA to support these efforts.

There is strong language on the importance of combatting terrorist financing. The resolution calls on states to strengthen their efforts to address the financing of terrorism through drug trafficking, incorporating new language encouraging the relevant UN sanctions committees (i.e. the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee and the 1267, 1989 and 2253 ISIL/Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee) to pay close attention to the financing of terrorism through organised crime and the drug trade.

Regarding the upcoming elections, the draft emphasises “the importance of accelerated progress on electoral reform in Afghanistan and towards the holding of credible and inclusive parliamentary and district council elections in 2018 and presidential elections in 2019”.

Following tomorrow’s adoption and debate, Council members will once again address the situation in Afghanistan on 9 March in the context of a joint meeting of the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee and 1267, 1989 and 2253 ISIL/Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, which are both chaired by Kazakhstan. During this meeting, a briefing will be provided by the US President’s Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Brett McGurk.