Afghanistan: Quarterly Meeting on UNAMA
Tomorrow (22 June), the Security Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan via videoconference (VTC). The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia, Eva-Maria Liimets, is expected to chair the debate. 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 the Secretary-General’s 15 June report on UNAMA. Ghada Fathi Waly, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and a civil society representative will also brief the Council.
Developments in the Afghan peace process, including the impact of the expected withdrawal of foreign troops, are likely to be a major focus of the meeting. On 14 April, US President Joe Biden announced that the US would begin withdrawing troops on 1 May, with the aim of completing the withdrawal by 11 September. Recent media reports have suggested that US and NATO troops are expected to leave Afghanistan entirely by the first half of July. In an 8 June press release, the US Central Command noted that it had already handed over six facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and estimated that it had completed more than 50 percent of the equipment removal process.
Biden’s announcement and the expected acceleration of the withdrawal have had a significant slowing effect on the already lagging peace negotiations, in which there is deep distrust between the two sides. The Taliban have stated that they will not attend any high-level events, including the proposed conference in Istanbul that was originally scheduled to take place from 24 April to 4 May, until the withdrawal process is complete. However, it appears that the negotiations in Doha have continued, as representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban have reportedly met in recent days to discuss procedural issues.
The Taliban has also dramatically escalated their attacks on the Afghan government, with at least 263 members of the Afghan security forces killed and 11 districts captured by the Taliban between 4 and 10 June. A further 56 civilians were killed in attacks during the same period, as reported by the New York Times. Media reports have also indicated that the military capability of the Afghan government will be significantly affected by the withdrawal, particularly considering its heavy reliance on US-funded contractors for maintenance and repair of the Afghan Air Force’s aircraft. These developments have led Abdullah Abdullah, the chair of the High Council for National Reconciliation, to suggest that the Taliban now consider a military victory to be a real possibility. There has also been a marked increase in violence in northern parts of Afghanistan, with the Taliban entering Kunduz and Maimana on 20 June following a sustained offensive in recent weeks. This has raised the prospect of future conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan mujahideen.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Lyons may discuss her engagement with the parties to advance the peace process. She has recently held meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar and Abdullah Abdullah. Lyons also attended a meeting on 5 June with Afghan government officials and members of the Taliban to discuss the progress of peace negotiations. Council members are likely to be interested in learning more about these discussions and may be particularly interested in hearing Lyons’ analysis of the prospects for the peace negotiations given the expected withdrawal of US and NATO troops.
The precarious security situation in the country is likely to be another key focus of tomorrow’s meeting. Council members are expected to express concern regarding continued attacks against civilians and the recent attacks on humanitarian workers in Afghanistan. On 8 June, ten mine-clearing workers employed by the HALO Trust in northern Afghanistan were killed, and 16 others were injured in an attack which was claimed by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province. The HALO Trust is an NGO headquartered in the United Kingdom that removes debris left behind by war. In an 11 June press statement, Council members strongly condemned this attack and underlined the need to hold the perpetrators accountable and bring them to justice. On 14 June, an attack on humanitarian workers in five different locations in Nangarhar province killed five people and injured four. These workers were part of a polio vaccination campaign that was launched by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, in collaboration with UNICEF and the World Health Organization, on 13 June. The attack resulted in the suspension of the campaign.
On 10 June, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for member states to consider urging the UN Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry into possible violations of international humanitarian law in Afghanistan. A similar idea was initially proposed by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Afghanistan’s national human rights institution, which apparently sent a letter to the Security Council in May calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into civilian casualties in Afghanistan. This letter reportedly urged the Council to adopt a resolution recognising the prevalence of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and the need to hold perpetrators to account. Some Council members might refer to this development at tomorrow’s debate.
Council members are also likely to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Afghanistan is currently battling a severe outbreak of COVID-19, with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health reporting that there were more than 1,500 new cases a day in early June. It is likely that these figures do not reflect the true severity of the outbreak, as many Afghans do not report their illness, while others have fallen ill and died in their own homes. Council members may highlight the importance of humanitarian assistance in responding to this crisis and may emphasise the key role that the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility has to play.
During her briefing, Waly is expected to discuss the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2020, which was prepared by UNODC in collaboration with the National Statistics and Information Authority in Kabul. This report notes that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 37 percent from 2019 to 2020. Council members may wish to discuss the impact that this could have on the security situation in Afghanistan, as the activities of a number of terrorist groups are understood to be funded by the narcotics trade. Waly may also discuss the World Drug Report 2021, which is due to be launched on 25 June.
Several Council members are expected to articulate their strong support for the peace process and the need to maintain the momentum of negotiations. Council members are also expected to highlight the importance of regional actors supporting the peace process, while some members may suggest that they are in favour of an enhanced role for the UN in Afghanistan. Others are likely to reiterate the need to ensure that the gains which have been made in relation to the rights of women, children and minorities are not lost, particularly given the significant progress that has been made in Afghanistan during the last 20 years.