What's In Blue

Posted Sun 25 Feb 2024

Afghanistan: Private Meeting  

Tomorrow morning (26 February), the Security Council will hold a private meeting on Afghanistan, at which Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief. The meeting is being held in accordance with resolution 2721 of 29 December 2023, which, among other matters, requested the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy for Afghanistan in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, welcomed the Secretary-General’s intention to convene the second meeting of the group of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan, and requested the Secretary-General to brief the Council within 60 days on the outcome of these consultations and discussions.

Council members that have signed on to the Shared Commitments on Women, Peace and Security (WPS)—Ecuador, France, Guyana, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—are expected to read a joint statement on Afghanistan ahead of the private meeting.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres convened the second meeting of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan on 18 and 19 February in Doha, Qatar. Officials from 25 counties and several regional organisations participated in the conference, which was also attended by representatives from Afghan civil society and women’s groups. The Taliban, who were not invited to the first meeting of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan held in Doha on 1 and 2 May 2023, refused to participate in the 18-19 February meeting.

Speaking at a 19 February press conference, Guterres said that the Taliban had sent him a letter outlining “unacceptable” conditions for their participation. These included preventing the meeting’s participants from speaking to other representatives of Afghan society and demanding “treatment that would to a large extent be similar to recognition”, according to Guterres. Russia expressed support for the Taliban’s position and did not participate in the session with the civil society representatives. DiCarlo reportedly met separately with a representative from the Taliban’s Doha-based political office.

According to Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric, the second Doha meeting aimed “to discuss how to approach increasing international engagement in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner, including through consideration of the recommendations of the independent assessment on Afghanistan”. The independent assessment report, which was provided to Council members on 9 November 2023, proposes an “engagement architecture” and makes four broad recommendations for an integrated approach among relevant political, humanitarian, and development actors in order to address the current challenges faced by Afghanistan. These recommendations include a series of measures aimed at addressing the basic needs of the Afghan people and strengthening trust, as well as a roadmap for political engagement designed to reintegrate Afghanistan into the international community in line with its international commitments and obligations.

The independent assessment report proposes that three mechanisms oversee the implementation of its recommendations: a “large group format” comprising member states’ special envoys on Afghanistan who attended the first Doha meeting; 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. (For more information on the independent assessment, see our 27 November 2023 and 8 December 2023 What’s in Blue stories.)

The Taliban has expressed opposition to some of the independent assessment’s recommendations, including the appointment of a UN Special Envoy. It has argued that such a position is unnecessary since Afghanistan is not a conflict zone, adding that the country has had throughout its history a negative experience with UN Special Envoys.

China and Russia have emphasised the importance of taking into account the Taliban’s views on the assessment and have raised questions regarding the composition of the “smaller contact group”. These issues led both Council members to abstain on resolution 2721, which received 13 votes in favour. (For more information on the negotiations on resolution 2721, see our 28 December 2023 What’s in Blue story.) Other members, including the US, have expressed support for the appointment of a Special Envoy, maintaining that such a position will be crucial in coordinating international engagement on Afghanistan. It seems that these respective positions were reiterated during the Doha meeting.

At the 19 February press conference, Guterres said that there was unanimous support during the Doha meeting regarding the ultimate outcome for Afghanistan—a country at peace with itself and its neighbours, able to assume its international commitments and obligations, and fully integrated into the mechanisms of the international community—as well as consensus about the assessment’s “programmatic proposals”. He acknowledged, however, that there is still deadlock over an “essential set of questions”, including the rights of women and girls. In order to find a way forward, the Secretary-General said that the meetings of the group of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan should continue, but in a manner which facilitates the Taliban’s presence, potentially by convening the meeting with lower-level representatives. Guterres added that he will start a process of consultations to see if there are conditions to appoint a Special Envoy, who will have a coordinating role on the various engagements that are taking place and will be able work to effectively with the Taliban.

Regarding the idea of a “smaller contact group”, Guterres said that this issue should be decided by member states. He did suggest, however, that such a group could comprise the Security Council’s five permanent members, a group of neighbouring countries, and relevant donors. This group could help to facilitate coherence on how the international community is engaging with the Taliban, Guterres added.

In this regard, it seems that the Doha meeting also addressed issues relating to existing engagement with Afghanistan, including trade relations with neighbouring countries and cooperation to address issues such as poppy cultivation. The Secretary-General described such cooperation as positive in his press conference, saying that it should continue. Some analysts have suggested that Western countries, including the US, are concerned that increasing cooperation between regional states and Afghanistan can weaken international leverage over the Taliban by giving it the economic benefits and appearance of legitimacy that it seeks. International aid to Afghanistan was also discussed during the Doha meeting. While some countries advocate a principled position, involving only the provision of life-saving aid, other countries call for a more proactive approach that includes development assistance.

Tomorrow, Council members are likely to be interested in DiCarlo’s assessment of the second Doha conference and her separate meeting with the Taliban representative present in the city. They may also be keen to learn more about progress in the consultations regarding the appointment of a UN Special Envoy, including possible timelines. Members might be interested to hear more about the expected division of labour and cooperation between the Special Envoy and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). China and Russia are expected to reiterate that the Taliban’s position on the matter should be taken into consideration, while other members are likely to express support for the appointment of a UN Special Envoy.

In January, Sierra Leone and Switzerland, the co-chairs of the Informal Expert Group (IEG) on WPS, wrote to the Secretary-General ahead of the second Doha meeting, apparently stressing the importance of centering Afghan women’s rights and participation in all aspects of the meeting, including through the adoption of direct participation mechanisms. It seems that the letter also encouraged the Secretary-General to appoint a UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan with demonstrated expertise in women’s rights, gender equality, and inclusive decision-making, and to ensure that the Special Envoy’s team has robust gender expertise. At tomorrow’s meeting, these Council members and other members supportive of the WPS agenda are likely to highlight the need to ensure the full, equal, meaningful, and safe participation of Afghan women throughout the process of implementing the independent assessment’s recommendations and in Afghanistan more broadly.

Looking ahead, Council members are expected to soon begin negotiating the renewal of UNAMA’s mandate, which expires on 17 March. Prior to that, the Council will convene for its regular quarterly meeting on Afghanistan in early March. As tomorrow’s meeting is expected to focus on the second Doha meeting and the consultations on the appointment of a Special Envoy, it seems that members intend to address broader developments related to Afghanistan—including those relating to political, humanitarian, and human rights issues—in the next regular meeting.

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