What's In Blue

Posted Mon 26 Sep 2022

Afghanistan: Briefing and Closed Consultations

Tomorrow (27 September), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on Afghanistan. Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Markus Potzel, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Ghada Fathi Waly, and a representative of civil society are expected to brief. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.

Council members are likely to discuss the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan during tomorrow’s meeting. Since seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban have implemented a series of measures that impose increasingly severe restrictions on the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls, including a decree requiring women to cover their faces in public and a ban on girls attending high school. On 18 September, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a statement marking the one-year anniversary of the Taliban’s decision to exclude girls from high school. The statement noted that “the ongoing exclusion of girls from high school has no credible justification and no parallel anywhere in the world [and] is profoundly damaging to a generation of girls and to the future of Afghanistan itself”. It also called on the Taliban to “reverse the slew of measures they have introduced restricting Afghan women and girls’ enjoyment of their basic rights and freedoms”. Some Council members are expected to echo these sentiments in their statements tomorrow.

It appears that Norway, the penholder on Afghanistan, circulated a draft press statement to other Council members on the Taliban’s decision to ban girls from attending high school ahead of the one-year anniversary. It seems that negotiations concerning the press statement were difficult. China and Russia apparently argued that it would be inappropriate for Council members to issue a product that only focuses on one aspect of the file and sought to include language on other issues, including text on the frozen assets of Afghanistan’s central bank. The differences between China and Russia and other members could not be resolved and the press statement was not issued by Council members.

The broader human rights situation in Afghanistan is also likely to be discussed tomorrow. In a 9 September report to the Human Rights Council, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan said that the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated, “primarily due to the Taliban’s actions and failure to meet their obligations as duty bearers”. The special rapporteur warned that the situation is very serious and that Afghanistan “is showing strong signs of descending into authoritarianism”. During tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members are expected to call on the Taliban to uphold human rights and adhere to the international human rights instruments to which Afghanistan is party.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is another likely topic of discussion tomorrow. According to the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNAMA, which was issued on 14 September, 18.9 million Afghans will face acute food insecurity between June and November, a nearly 98 percent increase from the same period in 2021. The report also notes that six million of these people are likely to experience emergency levels of food insecurity, the second highest level under the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, a system developed by a partnership of aid organisations and intergovernmental institutions to monitor food security worldwide. OCHA’s 26 August white paper on food insecurity further notes that Afghanistan is also facing pockets of the highest degree of food insecurity for the first time, with 20,000 people experiencing catastrophic levels of food insecurity in Ghor earlier this year. The white paper also says that economic shocks are the primary driver of food insecurity in Afghanistan, “aggravated by drought, ongoing violence, and political tumult.”

Despite the scale of the humanitarian crisis facing the country, reports of interference with the work of humanitarian organisations have continued to emerge. OCHA’s latest humanitarian access snapshot for Afghanistan documents 129 constraints on humanitarian access in August, the highest monthly number so far this year, 70 percent of which were attributed to the Taliban and its security forces. The Secretary-General’s report also notes that humanitarian organisations have experienced access impediments, including movement restrictions imposed on their female staff. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to express concern regarding the scale of the humanitarian crisis and emphasise the importance of unhindered humanitarian assistance. Some members are expected to urge the Taliban to allow female humanitarian workers to carry out their work without interference.

The economic difficulties confronting Afghanistan, including widespread illiquidity and a severe contraction in economic growth, are expected to be discussed tomorrow. In this context, Council members may refer to the US’ 14 September announcement that it will move to establish a fund in Switzerland to disburse to the Afghan people $3.5 billion in frozen assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank. According to a joint statement issued by the US Treasury and the US State Department, the fund will be overseen by a board of trustees comprising two Afghan economists, a US government representative, and a Swiss government official, and will have the authority to “authorise targeted disbursements to promote monetary and macroeconomic stability and benefit the Afghan people”. Some Council members might criticise the US for establishing the fund and call for the frozen funds to be returned in their entirety. Some members may also call for the resumption of development aid to Afghanistan.

Council members are likely to be interested in hearing Potzel’s analysis of the overall security situation in Afghanistan. According to the Secretary-General’s report, border tensions and security incidents have continued in recent months with Pakistan, Iran, and Uzbekistan, including an alleged armed clash between Taliban security forces and the Pakistani army on 8 August. Reports of clashes between the Taliban and opposition groups have also emerged, with the Taliban announcing on 13 September that 40 people had been killed during a “clearance operation against rebels” in Panjshir province.

Terrorist attacks have taken place with increasing frequency throughout the country, including a 5 September attack outside Russia’s embassy in Kabul that was claimed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISKP) and a 2 September attack on Guzargh mosque in Herat. Council members issued press statements condemning these attacks on 3 September and 6 September, respectively. In their statements tomorrow, members are expected to emphasise the importance of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorism and call on the Taliban to adhere to the commitments it has made in this regard. Some members may refer to the spate of terrorist attacks that have targeted religious or ethnic minorities in Afghanistan. (According to Human Rights Watch, for example, ISKP has claimed responsibility for 13 attacks on the Hazara community and has been linked to at least three more since the Taliban came to power.)

On 2 September, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Roza Otunbayeva, former president of Kyrgyzstan, as his new Special Representative and head of UNAMA. Council members are likely to welcome Otunbayeva’s appointment and express their ongoing support for UNAMA. Some may refer to reports of UNAMA staff being temporarily detained by the Taliban and criticise the Taliban for harassing UNAMA officials.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails

Subscribe to receive SCR publications