Afghanistan: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (26 January), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Afghanistan. Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre will chair the meeting. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to make brief introductory remarks. Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Deborah Lyons and a representative of Afghan civil society will brief. The Chair of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti (India), is also scheduled to provide the annual briefing on the Committee’s activities.
Tomorrow’s meeting is being held pursuant to resolution 2596 of 17 September 2021, which extended UNAMA’s mandate until 17 March and requested the Secretary-General to brief the Council “every other month” until that time. Resolution 2596 also requested the Secretary-General to submit a written report to the Council “on strategic and operational recommendations for the mandate of UNAMA, in light of recent political, security and social developments”. This report is due by 31 January. At the time of writing, it appears that it is still being finalised.
Lyons is likely to provide an updated assessment of the de facto Taliban administration based on UNAMA’s interactions with Taliban officials. In recent weeks, the Taliban have continued to push for diplomatic recognition and the release of approximately $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. These assets were frozen by the US after the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021.
On 19 January, a conference on Afghanistan’s economy was held in Kabul and reportedly attended by representatives of 20 countries, members of civil society and several UN officials, including Lyons. The Taliban’s acting prime minister, Mullah Hasan Akhund, called for official recognition of his administration, saying “I ask all governments, especially Islamic countries, that they should start recognition”. According to media reports, the Taliban’s acting finance minister, Mullah Hidayatullah Badri, also told attendees that Afghanistan’s economy needs its assets to be unfrozen to continue functioning.
The Taliban, however, appear to have shown little willingness to make serious concessions regarding human rights, including the rights of women, girls and minorities, or the establishment of an inclusive government. Many in the international community have insisted that progress on these issues is a prerequisite for formal recognition of the Taliban’s administration.
In December 2021, the Taliban dissolved Afghanistan’s electoral commissions, the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, and announced that the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association will merge with the Ministry of Justice. Although Taliban officials reportedly met with leaders of several resistance groups in Tehran on 9 January, a spokesperson for these groups subsequently said that the talks had “achieved nothing” and accused the Taliban of being a tyrannical regime that opposes human rights and freedoms, according to media reports. Council members are likely to be interested in hearing Lyons’ analysis of these developments at tomorrow’s meeting. Some members are expected to call on the Taliban to form an inclusive government that represents all segments of Afghan society.
On 26 December 2021, the Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued guidance prohibiting women from travelling long distances unless accompanied by a close male relative. The guidance also called on taxi drivers to refuse rides to women not wearing headscarves. Protests staged by Afghan women over these developments appear to have been violently suppressed by the Taliban. According to Human Rights Watch, members of the Taliban used electric devices, chemical substances and physical violence to break up a 16 January protest calling for the Taliban to respect women’s rights. On 19 January, two women’s rights activists were reportedly abducted from their homes in Kabul. UNAMA subsequently issued a tweet urging the Taliban to provide information regarding their whereabouts and protect the rights of all Afghans.
In a 17 January statement, a group of human rights experts from the special procedures of the Human Rights Council said that the Taliban are “institutionalising large scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls”. The statement also noted that the experts were “deeply troubled by the harsh manner with which the de facto authorities have responded to Afghan women and girls claiming their fundamental rights” and “extremely disturbed by the reports of extrajudicial killings and forced displacement of ethnic and religious minorities”. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members are expected to refer to these developments, stress that the rights of women, girls and minorities must be respected, and call for accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is another likely topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. The Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan 2022, which was prepared by OCHA, notes that 24.4 million Afghans—more than half of the population—are currently in humanitarian need and says that Afghanistan now has the highest number of people experiencing emergency food insecurity in the world, a 35 percent increase from last year. The Plan also calls for $4.4 billion in aid to allow humanitarian organisations “to reach 22.1 million people with life-saving multi-sectoral assistance”. Council members are expected to express concern at the scale of the crisis in their statements tomorrow. Some members may also highlight the need for women humanitarian workers to be able to carry out their work.
Lyons is expected to raise the economic difficulties facing Afghanistan during her briefing. The country is currently experiencing a widespread liquidity crisis, with many Afghans unable to withdraw cash from their bank accounts. Prices of basic goods are also climbing rapidly, while access to public services has been severely curtailed. In a statement delivered during a 13 January press conference, the Secretary-General said that “rules and conditions that prevent money from being used to save lives and the economy must be suspended in this emergency situation” and called for international funding to be used “to pay the salaries of public sector workers”. The Secretary-General also urged the international community “to rapidly inject liquidity into the economy and avoid a meltdown that would lead to poverty, hunger, and destitution for millions”.
Council members are also likely to discuss the threat posed by terrorism in Afghanistan. During her previous Council briefing on 17 November 2021, Lyons observed that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-K) had carried out 334 attacks in Afghanistan during 2021, compared to 60 in 2020. Lyons also noted the Taliban’s “inability to curb the expansion of ISIL-K” and described it as a “major negative development”. Although ISIL-K has not claimed responsibility for any major attacks since this meeting, Council members are nonetheless expected to emphasise the importance of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorism in their statements tomorrow.
On 23 January, Taliban representatives began a series of meetings in Oslo with members of Afghan civil society, including women’s rights activists and human rights defenders, as well as representatives of the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The meetings were scheduled to run until today (25 January). According to media reports, Taliban officials were expected to push for diplomatic recognition and access to frozen Afghan assets, while other attendees were likely to press the Taliban regarding the formation of an inclusive government, human rights (including the rights of women, girls, and minorities), counter-terrorism, and the Taliban’s response to the humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may be interested in hearing more about the positions adopted by the Taliban during these meetings.