What's In Blue

Posted Mon 27 Nov 2023

Afghanistan: Private Meeting*

Tomorrow afternoon (28 November), the Security Council will convene for a private meeting on the independent assessment on Afghanistan, which was requested by resolution 2679 of 16 March.* Feridun Sinirlioğlu, the special coordinator of the independent assessment, is expected to brief.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first formal Council meeting on the independent assessment report (S/2023/856), which was circulated to Council members on 9 November. On 10 November, Council members discussed the report during an informal lunch organised by Japan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the co-penholders on the file.

Resolution 2679 requested that the independent assessment “provide forward-looking recommendations for an integrated and coherent approach among relevant political, humanitarian, and development actors, within and outside of the [UN] system, in order to address the current challenges faced by Afghanistan, including, but not limited to, humanitarian, human rights and especially the rights of women and girls, religious and ethnic minorities, security and terrorism, narcotics, development, economic and social challenges, dialogue, governance and the rule of law; and to advance the objective of a secure, stable, prosperous and inclusive Afghanistan in line with the elements set out by the [Council] in previous resolutions”. The Council also requested that the independent assessment be provided “after consultations with all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, including relevant authorities, Afghan women and civil society, as well as the region and the wider international community”. Sinirlioğlu was appointed to lead the independent assessment on 25 April.

The independent assessment report, an advance copy of which was posted online by media organisations, proposes an “engagement architecture” to guide the international community’s political, humanitarian, and development activities in Afghanistan. It makes four broad recommendations and offers an analysis of the justification for those recommendations as well as suggestions regarding their implementation. The four recommendations are:

  1. A series of measures aimed at addressing the basic needs of Afghan people and strengthening trust through structured engagement.
  2. Greater international attention to, and cooperation on, issues that impact regional and global security and stability.
  3. A roadmap for political engagement intended to fully reintegrate Afghanistan into the international community in line with its international commitments and obligations.
  4. The establishment of a set of mechanisms designed to coordinate and oversee the recommendations made in the report.

Regarding the measures aimed at addressing the basic needs of Afghan people, the report suggests several priority areas, including expanding international assistance; economic dialogue and reforms; partial restoration of regular transit and trade; and assisting activities that help Afghans realise their political, economic, cultural, and social rights. It argues that cooperation in these areas could build confidence between the international community and Afghan stakeholders and emphasises that principles of non-discrimination, the meaningful participation of women, and respect for the fundamental rights of all Afghans “should be ensured and advanced” if these measures are pursued.

In a similar vein, the section of the report that focuses on international cooperation with the Taliban on issues that affect global and regional stability identifies several priority areas that could benefit from “more coherent and focused attention and engagement”. These include supporting bilateral and multilateral security cooperation; cooperating with international counter-narcotics efforts; reviewing and updating the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions list; and gradually resuming diplomatic engagement inside Afghanistan. It also suggests that “international stakeholders should reciprocate cooperative action on the part of the [Taliban] with assistance and support, in full accordance with international human rights law, treaties and conditions”.

The roadmap for the reintegration of Afghanistan into the international system outlined in the report is founded on two components: adherence by the Taliban administration to Afghanistan’s international obligations and the establishment of an intra-Afghan political dialogue. Regarding the first component, the report notes that Afghanistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a party to several core human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and says that the Taliban must demonstrate that they can carry out Afghanistan’s treaty obligations and commitments under international law in order for there to be “any forward progress on normalisation and recognition”. It suggests that progress in this area would be demonstrated by measurable steps to implement several key benchmarks, including the removal of restrictions on the rights of women and girls to education, employment, freedom of movement, and access to public spaces and essential facilities; embedding protections for key rights in the law; and reviewing current laws and policies to ensure that they align with Afghanistan’s treaty obligations.

In relation to the second component, the report suggests that the dialogue should reflect the views of all Afghans and “lead to the establishment of a predictable rule of law-based governance and an inclusive constitutional order” that protects the rights of citizens and “creates a predictable legal landscape”. It also makes several suggestions for structuring intra-Afghan political dialogue, such as drawing on traditional Afghan institutions and considering strategies to ensure the meaningful participation of Afghan women, and says that measurable progress on this issue “would permit movement toward…full normalisation and integration of Afghanistan within the international system”.

The report recommends that three mechanisms oversee the implementation of its recommendations: a “large group format” comprising member states’ special envoys on Afghanistan who attended the meeting convened by the UN Secretary-General in Doha on 1 and 2 May; a “smaller contact group” selected from and linked to the larger group; and a UN Special Envoy who would focus on diplomacy between Afghanistan and international stakeholders and advancing intra-Afghan dialogue.

It seems that Council members are generally supportive of the report and its recommendations, albeit to varying degrees. Members are likely to welcome the report and express a willingness to work on its recommendations in their statements tomorrow.

Council members do, however, appear to have questions about how the recommendations outlined in the report would work in practice and may raise these questions tomorrow. Some members have apparently expressed concerns about the sequencing of the different measures and emphasised the importance of the Taliban making progress on human rights, particularly those of women and girls. It seems that members have also asked questions about the key benchmarks that would measure the Taliban’s progress towards fulfilling Afghanistan’s treaty obligations.

It appears that members have also questioned the composition of the smaller contact group, with some members expressing concern that it could conflict with regional mechanisms regarding Afghanistan that are already in place. Members have also apparently queried whether the mandate of the UN Special Envoy would conflict with the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and asked how the two mandate-holders would work together.

Some Council members are also concerned about the Taliban’s willingness to implement the report’s recommendations. In a response to the independent assessment that was provided to Council members, the Taliban defended their record on several issues—including women’s rights, security, and narcotics—and appeared to reject the possibility of intra-Afghan dialogue and the creation of the oversight mechanisms referred to in the report, particularly the Special Envoy.

It appears that Council members are currently considering how to respond to the independent assessment and may use tomorrow’s meeting as an opportunity to discuss the possibility of adopting a resolution. At the time of writing, a draft resolution has not been circulated by the co-penholders.


Post-script (29 November): An earlier version of this story indicated that closed consultations are expected to take place after the private meeting. The story and its title were amended to reflect that the scheduled closed consultations were cancelled at the end of the private meeting and did not take place.

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