What's In Blue

Posted Tue 7 Mar 2023

Afghanistan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (8 March), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on Afghanistan. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva and a woman representative of Afghan civil society are expected to brief. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.

Tomorrow’s meeting takes place amid negotiations among Council members concerning the renewal of UNAMA’s mandate, which expires on 17 March. The Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Afghanistan, dated 27 February, says that the mission’s current mandate provides “sufficient flexibility for UNAMA to adapt to new developments” and recommends that it be extended for an additional 12 months. It appears that Japan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the co-penholders on the file, circulated a first draft of the resolution renewing the mandate to Council members on 1 March. Negotiations continue at the time of writing. In their statements tomorrow, several Council members may express support for UNAMA and its work.

Council members are also likely to discuss the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan tomorrow. Since seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban have implemented a series of policies 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 female students attending university. In a 9 February report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said that “measures have been taken to erase women from all public spaces”, adding that violations of the rights of women and girls are “increasing their risk of exposure to violence and abuse” and “have negative effects on the economy and the delivery of vital humanitarian services”. Some Council members might make similar points during tomorrow’s meeting.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains particularly dire. In a 28 February press conference, Deputy Special Representative and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov described the situation as “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis” and noted that the UN estimates that 28 million Afghans—approximately two thirds of the country’s population—require humanitarian assistance. Alakbarov also said that the UN and its humanitarian partners are seeking a record $4.6 billion to assist the Afghan population in 2023. At the time of writing, the UN’s Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan for 2022, which sought $4.4 billion from the international community, was 75.5 percent funded.

Despite the scale of humanitarian need, reports of Taliban interference with the provision of aid have continued to emerge. During his 20 December 2022 briefing to the Council, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths reported that humanitarian providers “face routine interference and restrictions” and indicted that the Taliban have detained humanitarian staff and “tried to influence or control the humanitarian response”.

The Taliban’s 24 December 2022 edict directing non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Afghanistan to suspend all female employees, which prompted approximately 150 aid organisations to halt their operations in the country, has exacerbated the problems described by Griffiths. While several NGOs have resumed working, particularly after the Taliban granted exceptions to female staff working in the health and education sectors, the ban reportedly continues to affect humanitarian work throughout Afghanistan. The Secretary-General’s latest report also notes that female national staff employed by the UN have received “threat calls, warnings for not travelling with a [male relative] and detentions” since the edict was handed down. During tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members are likely to call for unhindered humanitarian assistance and express concern regarding the scale of the humanitarian crisis. Some may also condemn reports of Taliban harassment of UN staff.

At a 30 January press conference regarding the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s visit to Afghanistan earlier that month, Griffiths told reporters that Taliban officials had said that exceptions to the ban on female NGO workers would be granted for additional sectors and that Taliban authorities had indicated that they were developing relevant guidelines. (The Inter-Agency Standing Committee formulates policy and mobilises resources in response to humanitarian crises and is composed of UN and partner agencies.) Council members might be interested in receiving an update from Otunbayeva about the formulation of these guidelines tomorrow.

The overall human rights situation in Afghanistan is another likely topic of discussion. According to the Secretary-General’s 27 February report, UNAMA has documented cases of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and torture carried out by the Taliban against former government officials and members of the Afghan security forces, as well as beatings and torture of individuals accused of violating “various decrees and instructions” and an increase in the “implementation of judicial corporal punishments by the de facto authorities”. The report further says that judicial corporal punishments “constitute a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and may amount to torture, both of which are strictly prohibited under international law”. Council members may condemn these reports in their statements tomorrow and call on the Taliban to end their policies and practices that violate human rights.

Some members might refer to the terrorist threat in Afghanistan. The latest report of the Monitoring Team supporting the 1267/1989/2253 Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee, which was published on 13 February, stated that “Afghanistan remains the primary source of terrorist threat for Central and South Asia” and said that terrorist groups in the country enjoy greater freedom of movement because of “the absence of an effective Taliban security strategy”. In discussing this issue, Council members may call on the Taliban to adhere to the commitments they have made regarding the prevention of terrorism.

Engagement with the Taliban is also likely to be discussed. The Secretary-General’s report says that “the welfare of the people of Afghanistan” requires “a strategy of patient and principled engagement based on a more unified and integrated international approach”. At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members might emphasise the importance of greater engagement between the international community and the Taliban, while some may be more hesitant to express their support for such engagement. Others might stress that messages regarding inclusive governance, respect for human rights, and the need to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorism should be at the forefront of any dialogue with the Taliban.

Council members may highlight the economic difficulties currently facing Afghanistan. In his 28 February press conference, Alakbarov said that Afghanistan’s gross domestic product has declined by up to 35 percent, with the cost of a basic food basket increasing by 30 percent and unemployment rising by 40 percent. In light of these difficulties, some Council members might argue that frozen assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank should be released to the Taliban. Other members may argue that the assets cannot be transferred to Afghanistan until a properly functioning central bank with adequate financial controls has been established, while some may call for the resumption of development aid.

In recent weeks, some analysts have speculated that divisions may have begun to emerge among the Taliban leadership, particularly in relation to its policies regarding women and girls. On 11 February, Acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani delivered a speech that appeared implicitly to criticise Taliban Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. Two days later, on 13 February, Acting Second Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi also seemed indirectly to critique the Taliban’s ban on education for women and girls. Council members may be interested in hearing Otunbayeva’s analysis of these developments at tomorrow’s meeting.

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