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Afghanistan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (23 June), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Afghanistan. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov will brief. An Afghan human rights activist and a journalist with experience covering Afghanistan are also expected to brief.

Griffiths will deliver his briefing pursuant to resolution 2615 of 21 December 2021, which requested a briefing from the Emergency Relief Coordinator every six months “on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan including on any available information regarding payments of funds to, or for the benefit of, designated individuals or entities, any diversion of funds by the same, risk management and due diligence processes in place”. Alakbarov is expected to brief on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Afghanistan and the implementation of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which was issued on 15 June. The former Special Representative and head of UNAMA, Deborah Lyons, finished her term in mid-June.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is likely to be a focus of tomorrow’s meeting. According to an OCHA report from January, 24.4 million Afghans, or more than half of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance, a 32.6 percent increase from the beginning of 2021. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report on Afghanistan, which was published on 9 May, warns that 19.7 million Afghans are facing high levels of acute food insecurity, with 6.6 million experiencing food insecurity at emergency levels.

The 5.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Khost and Paktika provinces in eastern Afghanistan today (22 June) is likely to exacerbate the humanitarian situation in the country. At the time of writing, more than 1,000 people are estimated to have died in the quake, with at least another 1,500 injured. According to OCHA’s 22 June flash report on the quake, several UN entities and humanitarian organisations have already deployed teams to Khost and Paktika. The report also notes that the number of casualties is expected to rise as search and rescue operations continue. In a 22 June press conference, Alakbarov said that $15 million is already required to respond to the quake and that this number is likely to increase over the coming days and weeks. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to express their condolences to victims and commend the efforts of those working on the ground to provide relief. Some members may also call for greater support from the international community for the 2022 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for $4.4 billion in aid to allow humanitarian organisations “to reach 22.1 million people with life-saving multi-sectoral assistance”. At present, the plan is 31.9 percent funded.

The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan is likely to be discussed tomorrow. Since seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban have implemented several measures that impose increasingly severe restrictions on the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls, including a ban on girls attending high school and a decree requiring most women to cover their faces in public. In a 26 May statement issued following his first visit to Afghanistan, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett called on the Taliban to “immediately reverse policies and directives that negatively impact women as well as prioritise women’s and girls’ rights to equal participation in education, employment, and all other aspects of public life”. Some Council members may convey similar messages during tomorrow’s meeting.

On 20 June, the 1988 Sanctions Committee decided to update and renew an existing exemption to the travel ban imposed on designated individuals by resolution 2255 of 21 December 2015. The exemption allows certain members of the Taliban to travel abroad to attend peace and stability discussions in a range of countries. It appears that negotiations concerning this decision were contentious, with differences emerging both among the permanent Council members (P5) and between the P5 and one elected member. Following the update, the exemption no longer applies to Deputy Minister of Education Said Ahmed Shahidkhel or Minister of Higher Education Abdul Baqi Basir Awal Shah. The exemption runs for 60 days and will be automatically extended for a further 30 days, if no objection is raised by a committee member before the end of the initial 60-day period. It has been in place for several years and has been regularly renewed every 90 days during that time. This decision marks the first occasion that the exemption has not been renewed for a full 90 days. Some members may refer to the renewal of this exemption during tomorrow’s meeting.

The political situation in Afghanistan is another possible topic of discussion. The Secretary-General’s report notes that the Taliban’s caretaker cabinet and the 34 provincial governors are all men and predominantly Pashtun, despite calls from both the international community and Afghans for greater diversity. It also says that the Taliban have continued to restructure state institutions and replace former government personnel with their affiliates. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members might refer to these findings and call on the Taliban to form an inclusive government that represents all segments of Afghan society.

Council members are also likely to discuss the threat posed by terrorism in Afghanistan, as well as the overall security situation in the country. The 29th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), which was issued on 3 February, says that “there are no recent signs that the Taliban has taken steps to limit the activities of foreign terrorist fighters in the country. On the contrary, terrorist groups enjoy greater freedom there than at any time in recent history”. ISIL’s Afghan affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant–Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP), has also claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in recent months, including an 18 June attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul that killed at least two people and injured seven. The attack follows a spate of terrorist attacks that have taken place in Afghanistan in recent months, some of which have also been claimed by ISIL-KP. Council members are expected to emphasise the importance of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorism and call on the Taliban to adhere to its commitments in this regard in their statements tomorrow.

Tensions between the Taliban and some of Afghanistan’s neighbours have increased in recent months. On 10 May, the Taliban closed the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan and reportedly seized the vehicles of Tajik drivers stranded by the closure. The move followed ISIL-KP’s 8 May announcement that it had fired rockets into Tajikistan, a claim denied by Tajik authorities, who said that ISIL-KP fired bullets rather than rockets into its territory. On 16 April, at least 47 people were reportedly killed by air strikes in Khost and Kunar provinces, near the border with Pakistan. On the same day, a Taliban official claimed that the strikes were carried out by Pakistan, a claim that Islamabad rejects. Council members might be interested learning more about these developments and others like them, and some members may emphasise the importance of regional stability in their statements.

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