Arria-formula Meeting on Afghanistan
Tomorrow (24 October), Security Council members will hold a closed Arria-formula meeting titled “Engaging Afghanistan”. The meeting has been organised by Norway, the penholder on the file, and will take place at the offices of Norway’s permanent mission to the UN in New York. The expected briefers are Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov, and a civil society representative. Participation is limited to current and incoming Council members. The meeting will not be recorded, and a summary will not be prepared.
The concept note drafted by Norway says that the meeting will have a particular focus on the political situation in Afghanistan. It encourages participants to discuss how to support the implementation of the political aspect of UNAMA’s mandate, which, among other matters, directs UNAMA to “provide outreach and good offices, including by facilitating dialogue between all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, the region, and the wider international community, with a focus on promoting inclusive, representative, participatory, and responsive governance”.
While Arria-formula meetings can either be closed or open, Council members have increasingly chosen to convene them in an open format in recent years. According to the concept note, tomorrow’s meeting seeks to revive “the format of the original Arria-formula”, and will provide an opportunity for an informal discussion with the briefers and an interactive exchange between current and incoming Council members. The briefers will deliver short introductory remarks, which will be followed by an unscripted discussion moderated by Ambassador Mona Juul (Norway). Otunbayeva and Alakbarov are expected to focus on UNAMA’s work and outline how they foresee the implementation of its mandate progressing in the future, with a specific emphasis on the political pillar. The civil society representative may discuss how international actors can support political dialogue in Afghanistan and might emphasise the importance of unity in the Council and among the international community in this regard. The discussions at tomorrow’s meeting may help inform future Council discussions on UNAMA’s mandate, which is set to expire on 17 March 2023.
The concept note lists two guiding questions for the meeting:
- How can UNAMA utilise their unique role as a representative for the international community in Afghanistan to engage all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders?
- What can Security Council members and UN member states do to ensure that an inclusive set of Afghan voices, including women, are heard in the governance of their country and in the UN?
Since the Taliban came to power in August 2021, both the Council and the international community more broadly have stressed the need to form an inclusive government that represents all segments of Afghan society. In resolution 2626 of 17 March, which most recently extended UNAMA’s mandate, the Council emphasised the importance of establishing an inclusive and representative government and the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women. Council members have also repeatedly expressed similar sentiments in their statements at public meetings.
The Taliban has, however, shown little willingness to create meaningful structures for inclusive governance. When its interim cabinet was announced in September 2021, no women were included and only three appointees were not Pashtun. In early July, the Taliban convened a three-day gathering of more than 4,000 tribal elders and religious scholars to discuss key challenges facing the country. Several analysts have noted that the meeting resembled a “Loya Jirga”, a gathering of key figures that has traditionally played a role in governance of Afghan society. According to media reports, attendees were exclusively male.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on UNAMA, which was issued on 14 September, notes that “the lack of mechanisms for inclusivity, consultation, and representation in the de facto administration continues to raise concern” and suggests that “it is vital to move beyond an exchange of hardened positions towards a dialogue that places Afghan citizens at its centre”. At the last open briefing on Afghanistan (S/PV.9137), which took place on 27 September, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (Political) Markus Potzel referred to a “continued lack of political inclusiveness and transparency in decision-making” and said that “most Afghans do not see themselves represented at any level of governance”. Potzel also noted that there are no consistent mechanisms for providing feedback to the authorities and “little indication that the Taliban wish to even hear any”.
The level of engagement between the Taliban and the international community has increased during the last year. From 23 to 25 January, members of the Taliban met in Oslo with officials from France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the UK, the US, and the EU, as well as representatives of different sectors of Afghan civil society. In a 27 January statement, officials from Europe and the US who attended the meetings said they had raised the need for an “inclusive and representative political system to ensure stability and a peaceful future for Afghanistan”, among other matters.
On 26 and 27 July, Taliban officials attended a conference in Tashkent with delegates from more than 20 countries and representatives of international organisations. According to media reports, the Taliban advocated for foreign investment and greater support from the international community at the conference, while some western attendees, including US Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri, called on the Taliban to uphold the rights of women and foster an inclusive political process. Other participants in the conference reportedly appeared to push for normalisation of relations with the Taliban.
Members of the Taliban leadership have also met with regional countries, including at a conference in late March hosted by China and attended by Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
According to media reports, the US State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West and Deputy Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Cohen met with Taliban officials on 8 October. The meeting was the first time US officials have met with the Taliban since Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by a US strike in Kabul in late July.
Engagement with the Taliban has proven to be a divisive issue for Council members in recent months. In August, a standing exemption to the travel ban in the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime, which allowed certain members of the Taliban to travel abroad to attend peace and stability discussions, expired without being renewed. During negotiations aimed at extending the exemption, it appears that some members sought to limit the scope of the exemption as a means of holding the Taliban accountable for their actions, particularly the measures they have implemented that restrict the rights of women and girls. These proposals were opposed by other members, some of whom argued that the travel ban exemption should not be linked to other issues and used to punish the Taliban. Council members were unable to resolve these differences before the previous travel ban exemption expired on 19 August and, as a result, the exemption is not currently in place. This marks the first time that the exemption has not been renewed since it was first introduced several years ago.