What's In Blue

Briefing and Consultations on Afghanistan

Tomorrow morning (17 December), the Security Council will convene its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan via videoconference. Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), is expected to brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s 9 December report on UNAMA. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia), the chair of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee, and Shkula Zadran, Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the UN, will also brief. Consultations are scheduled to follow.

Additionally, Council members are continuing to negotiate a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the Monitoring Team supporting the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee ahead of its 17 December expiry. A draft text was put under silence today (16 December) by the US, the penholder on Afghanistan sanctions, until 10 am tomorrow.

The progress in the Afghan peace process is expected to be a focus of tomorrow’s meeting. The intra-Afghan negotiations that started in Doha, Qatar, on 12 September, had stalled for more than two months as the negotiation teams of the Afghan government and the Taliban failed to agree on the procedural rules for the talks. One area of contention related to the Taliban’s demand that the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence serve as the principal source for a future legal dispute resolution mechanism. The Afghan government expressed concern that this could lead to discrimination against religious minorities in the country. Another point of disagreement was the Taliban’s insistence that the 29 February US-Taliban agreement serve as the putative basis for the negotiations.

On 2 December, representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban announced that they had reached an understanding on the rules of procedure for the talks. According to media reports, the disagreement about the reference to the Hanafi school of Islamic thought was resolved by agreeing that future disputes will be referred to a religious committee. To address the issue of referencing the US-Taliban agreement, it appears that the guidelines allude to at least one other framing document.

The negotiation teams agreed to adjourn the talks until 5 January 2021. As the procedural issues have been resolved, the sides are expected to start substantive talks once the negotiations resume. According to media reports, they have exchanged lists of proposed agenda items and demands for the talks. Representatives of the Afghan government have stressed on multiple occasions that one of their first priorities for the negotiations is achieving a lasting ceasefire.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Lyons and Council members are likely to express concern over the endemic violence in Afghanistan and call on the parties to work swiftly towards a reduction of violence and a ceasefire agreement. Attacks have continued unabated in Afghanistan during the Doha peace negotiations, with the period between October and early December having witnessed deadly terror attacks and targeted assassinations in the capital, Kabul, and increased fighting in rural areas across the country. In recent weeks, high-profile assassinations included the killing of journalist Malalai Maiwand on 10 December in Jalalabad. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) claimed responsibility, and the Taliban denied any involvement. According to the civil society organisation Nai, that supports open media in Afghanistan, ten journalists and media workers have been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year. On 15 December, Kabul’s Deputy Governor Mahboobullah Mohebi was killed in a bomb attack on his car. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Secretary-General in his 9 December UNAMA report (S/2020/1182) warned that the high levels of violence can erode trust in the peace process. He called for the de-escalation of conflict to save lives and protect public confidence, while noting that “including the voices of victims in the early stages of the peace process will be a critical step towards achieving true reconciliation”. In welcoming the progress in the peace negotiations, US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad stated that “as negotiations on a political roadmap and permanent ceasefire begin, we will work hard with all sides for serious reduction of violence and even a ceasefire during this period”.

Zadran is likely to emphasise the important role that youth and civil society should play in the peace negotiations and the need to give young people a voice as the talks progress. As it stands, there are officially no youth delegates (that is, representatives under the age of 30) to the intra-Afghan talks. Zadran is likely to discuss opportunities for empowering youth in the country, as well as the challenges faced by Afghan youth, including the detrimental effect on young people of the prevalent violence. Two recent attacks in Kabul—on 24 October near the Kawsar-e Danish educational centre and on 2 November at Kabul University—resulted in the deaths of at least 46 people and injured dozens, most of whom were young students.

Council members are likely to emphasise in their statements the need to facilitate the meaningful participation of youth, women and minorities in the peace process as the parties prepare for the substantive talks. They are expected to highlight the importance of preserving and building upon the country’s gains of the past 19 years, including the human rights and constitutional rights of women, girls and minorities.  Council members have often expressed these positions, including most recently in a 20 November Arria-formula meeting on the peace process in Afghanistan. EU members of the Council may also reiterate the position that the de-listing of Taliban members from the 1988 sanctions regime should be conditioned on the implementation of provisions listed in resolution 2513, including the need to advance the peace process and reduce violence.

Some members may reference the 2020 Afghanistan Conference that was convened in Geneva between 23 and 24 November by Afghanistan, Finland and the UN. The communiqué adopted at the conference called for an immediate, permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and a meaningful, inclusive peace process.  Donors pledged at least $3.3 billion for the first year of the upcoming quadrennium (2021-24) and approximately $12 billion in total over the four years. Unlike in the 2016 Afghanistan Conference, many of the donors made pledges only for the first year, and made funding for the following years conditional on several elements such as progress in the peace talks and the Afghan government’s efforts to fight corruption.

Several Council members, including EU members of the Council, may express concern about the level of violence affecting children and women in Afghanistan. Council members such as Belgium might emphasise the need for the incorporation of child protection matters in the peace negotiations and call on the sides to carry out confidence-building measures such as the release of children from detention. Some may reference findings by UNAMA indicating that violence against women and girls has increased against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, while difficulties for victims in reporting crimes and accessing justice have grown. In this regard, a 7 December report by UNAMA on justice for crimes against women and girls in Afghanistan, covering the period between September 2018 and February 2020, states that impunity for crimes against women and girls remains high, as only half of such reported crimes reached a primary court, with perpetrators convicted in around 40 per cent of all documented cases.

The dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan may also be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s latest UNAMA report, 18.4 million people are projected to need humanitarian assistance in 2021, due to growing needs created by violence, natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic. This would mark a substantial increase of those in need, who numbered 14 million in mid-2020. The Secretary-General warned of an acute food insecurity crisis, as 16.9 million people are in “crisis” and “emergency” levels of food insecurity in Afghanistan—one of the highest of any country in the world. The 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan seeks $1.1 billion to provide humanitarian assistance to 11.1 million Afghans. At 15 November, the plan was 43 percent funded, leaving a funding gap of $640 million.

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