What's In Blue

Posted Wed 8 Sep 2021

Afghanistan: Quarterly Meeting on UNAMA

Tomorrow (9 September) afternoon, the Security Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan. Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), will brief on the Secretary-General’s latest report. Two female Afghan civil society representatives are also expected to brief. Other member states may participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Lyons is expected to provide an overview of the political situation in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Taliban’s seizure of power. On 7 September, the Taliban announced the appointment of a caretaker government. The acting cabinet largely comprises hard-line loyalists who held positions of power when the Taliban last governed Afghanistan during the 1990s and early 2000s, several of whom are currently subject to Security Council or US sanctions. The 33-member cabinet does not include women and, according to media reports, it appears that only three appointees are not Pashtun.

In an 8 September statement, Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the EU’s foreign policy service, criticised the Taliban’s announcement and said that the caretaker government “does not look like the inclusive and representative formation in terms of the rich ethnic and religious diversity of Afghanistan [that] we [had] hoped to see and that the Taliban were promising over the past weeks”. He added that “such inclusivity and representation is expected in the composition of a future transitional government, and as a result of negotiations”. Some Council members, including European members of the Council and the US, may take similar positions during tomorrow’s meeting. They may also be interested to hear from Lyons regarding the status of the negotiations between the Taliban and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the Chair of the High Council for National Reconciliation, regarding the formation of an inclusive government.

While some Council members have been critical of the Taliban, in recent weeks Russia has expressed the view that the international community should unwind measures adopted in response to the Taliban’s takeover. On 30 August, Russia’s Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that the international community should unfreeze the Afghan government’s funding reserves after the US Treasury Department blocked access to $9.4 billion in funds held by Afghanistan’s central bank in the US and the International Monetary Fund halted plans to distribute more than $400 million in emergency reserves to Afghanistan. Similarly, China has suggested that the international community should be more supportive of the Taliban. On 29 August, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the international community should engage with the Taliban and “positively guide” them as they begin to govern. China and Russia may reiterate these points at tomorrow’s meeting.

Although large-scale evacuations of Afghan citizens and foreign nationals from Kabul airport have now ceased, resolution 2593 of 30 August noted that the Taliban has made a commitment to allowing Afghan nationals to travel abroad freely. Council members may be interested to hear whether the Taliban has upheld this promise.

Council members are also likely to discuss the human rights situation in Afghanistan, with a particular focus on the rights of women and girls. Although the Taliban has made public assurances that it will not persecute Afghans who opposed them or seek to impose severe restrictions on women, reports of reprisals against its opponents and serious violations of the rights of women have nonetheless begun to emerge.

A women’s protest that began in Kabul on 4 September turned violent, with Taliban fighters reportedly using gunfire, tear gas, rifle butts, and metal clubs to disperse approximately 100 women who demanded that their human rights be upheld and that women be given the opportunity to participate in Afghanistan’s new government. The Secretary-General’s latest report on UNAMA, which was issued on 2 September, says that the rights and freedoms of women and girls have been curtailed since the Taliban took control and refers to several incidents where human rights defenders were targeted by violent attacks. Some Council members might condemn these reports and call on the Taliban to adhere to its public commitments during tomorrow’s meeting. They may also highlight the connection between ensuring that women can participate fully in Afghan society and the provision of effective humanitarian aid, as some Council members take the view that humanitarian assistance cannot be rendered effectively if women are prevented from working with or being employed by humanitarian organisations.

During her briefing, Lyons might discuss the increased threat posed by terrorist groups in Afghanistan. The Secretary-General’s report notes that 88 attacks were claimed by or attributed to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) between 16 May and 18 August, compared with 15 during the same period in 2020. It also condemns the 26 August attack outside Kabul airport and notes that Afghanistan must never again be used as a haven for terrorist organisations. Council members are also likely to say that Afghanistan should not become a launching pad for terrorist attacks and may stress the need to hold the Taliban accountable for commitments it has made in this regard.

The increasingly dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is another likely focus of the meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s report, a series of overlapping challenges—including drought, conflict-induced displacements, flooding, and a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic—have left almost half of Afghanistan’s population of 38.04 million in need of humanitarian assistance. The report also notes that the UN’s humanitarian response plan in Afghanistan was 38 percent funded by 22 August, leaving a shortfall of approximately $790 million.

In a 1 September statement, Ramiz Alakbarov, the Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, announced that emergency food stocks in Afghanistan could run out by the end of September and that a further $200 million in funding is needed to continue providing food to the most vulnerable. On 7 September, OCHA warned that basic services in Afghanistan are collapsing and called on the international community to respond to its appeal for nearly $600 million in additional donations. In response to this looming humanitarian crisis, the Secretary-General has announced that he will convene a high-level humanitarian conference in Geneva on 13 September. The conference will provide a platform to advocate for increased funding for humanitarian operations and full, unimpeded access to Afghans in need. In discussing these developments, some Council members are expected to emphasise the importance of humanitarian assistance and the need to guarantee the safety and freedom of movement of humanitarian workers.

With UNAMA’s mandate due to expire on 17 September, Council members are also expected to highlight the importance of ensuring that UNAMA is able to carry out its work and emphasise the need to provide it with adequate funding and resources.