posted on Tue 24 Jun 2014 7:11 PM
UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Debate and Draft Presidential Statements

Tomorrow morning (25 June), the Security Council is scheduled to hold a debate on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNAMA Ján Kubis (via VTC) and Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Yuri Fedotov are expected to brief. The Council has been negotiating two draft presidential statements on Afghanistan-one on drug trafficking and another on the electoral process. At press time, both had been put under silence until 9:00 am tomorrow morning. If silence is not broken, both will likely be issued tomorrow.

UNAMA Debate

Tomorrow’s debate is likely to focus on a number of issues critical to Afghanistan’s future. In recent months, several Council members have emphasised the importance of fair and inclusive presidential and provincial elections as a key element of the political transition. This appears to have been a well-founded concern, especially given the violence and fraud that marred the 2009 presidential elections.

Council members were generally encouraged by the first round of elections on 5 April, during which there was high voter turnout (approximately 7 million out of 12 million eligible voters went to the polls) in the face of efforts by the Taliban to disrupt the vote with violence and intimidation. Among the eight presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, received 45 percent and 31.5 percent of the vote, respectively, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). As neither candidate got 50 percent, a run-off election between Abdullah and Ghani was held on 14 June.

However, events that have transpired since the runoff appear to be a source of consternation among Council members, as they threaten to undermine the political transition. On 18 June, accusing Ghani and current President Hamid Karzai of orchestrating ballot stuffing, Abdullah announced that he would withdraw from the electoral process and demanded that the vote counting be stopped to allow the IEC to investigate his claims of fraud. He also alleged that one of the members of the IEC, Zia ul-Haq Amarkhel, was complicit in the fraud. Amarkhel subsequently resigned on 23 June, denying the accusations and stating that he was resigning “in the national interest” while calling on Abdullah to “end his boycott”.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Council members might be interested in receiving an update from Kubis on the role that UNAMA might be able to play in addressing this electoral crisis. On 18 June, UNAMA stated in a press statement that “the electoral process should continue as laid out in the laws passed by the National Assembly” (i.e.: allegations of fraud should be investigated only once the vote counting is finalised). At the same time the Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and deputy head of UNAMA, Nicholas Haysom, has said the UN would be willing to assist in resolving the crisis “subject to agreement by the stakeholders on a role for the UN and the ways in which…[it]…would perform that role.” This would certainly be consistent with UNAMA’s current mandate, as resolution 2145 of 17 March calls on the mission to “support, at the request of the Afghan authorities…the sustainability, integrity and inclusiveness of the electoral process”. Abdullah and Karzai have both mentioned a potential role for the UN in helping to resolve the crisis, and on 23 June, Abdullah met with the IEC in a meeting facilitated by UNAMA.

In addition to the electoral crisis, drug production and trafficking is likely to be another important focus of the discussion, especially given Fedotov’s participation in the debate. UNODC’s Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2013 noted that opium production was at a record high in Afghanistan last year, and Fedotov may underscore the importance of an integrated counter-narcotics approach among security, development and humanitarian actors. Drug-production and trafficking in Afghanistan has long been a concern of several Council members. Chad, France, Russia and Rwanda have been most outspoken about this threat, arguing that that the illicit funds from narcotics fuel extremism. In their statements, it is possible that they may emphasise the importance of concerted national, regional and international efforts to address this challenge.

The ongoing importance of security will likely be a topic of discussion tomorrow, especially as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) continues to drawdown its presence. Some members may commend the progress made by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in countering violence during this drawdown. The impasse in the elections is also closely linked to the security situation, as the electoral process will likely need to be finalised before Afghanistan signs a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US. While Karzai has refused to sign the BSA, both Abdullah and Ghani have pledged to do so if they assume office. Signing this agreement would provide the legal basis for the US to fulfill its commitment to leave approximately 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2016, after the current ISAF mission expires at the end of 2014. It would likewise pave the way for NATO and Afghanistan to finalise a status of forces agreement that would provide the legal foundation for other NATO countries to participate in any post-2014 mission in Afghanistan. NATO foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels tomorrow, and the status of forces agreement with Afghanistan is expected to be one topic of discussion.

Council members may also express concern tomorrow about the potential impact that the electoral impasse could have on the security situation. Demonstrations numbering in the hundreds have already taken place in support of Abdullah in various locations. While noting that free expression is a democratic right, Haysom cautioned that violence resulting from protests “could lead to a spiral of instability”. UNAMA also issued a press statement on 22 June in which it warned that social media platforms should be used responsibly in ways that do not incite violence. Council members may be interested in hearing from Kubis about further measures that UNAMA and Afghan authorities are taking to prevent the outbreak of violence amidst the current political tensions.

The human rights situation in Afghanistan may also be addressed by Kubis, and will likely be raised by a number of Council members. Most members are keen to ensure that the human rights gains that have been made in Afghanistan since 2001 continue to be built upon, including the rights of women and children.

Another issue that may be considered is the need for Afghanistan and its international partners to fulfill their commitments to the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework. According to this framework, donors promise to honour financial commitments to Afghanistan in return for the government progress in meeting commitments to good governance, the rule of law, human rights and effective financial management.

Finally, there may be some discussion of the reconciliation process between the government and the Taliban, although little progress appears to have been made on this front in recent months.

Negotiation of presidential statements

On 11 June, Russia circulated a draft presidential statement recognising the threat posed by illegal Afghan drug production and trafficking, with the hope that it could be adopted during tomorrow’s debate. Some of the ISAF countries in the Council believed that the statement was too narrowly focused, given other challenges facing Afghanistan, notably the elections and the security transition. A compromise was ultimately reached, as Council members decided to pursue two draft presidential statements: one on counter-narcotics and the other on the elections.

After several rounds of negotiations and the circulation of at least six drafts, the counter-narcotics draft was put under silence this afternoon until 9:00 am tomorrow. It appears that two difficult issues in the negotiations were ISAF’s role with regard to counter-narcotics efforts and the role the UN should play in addressing this issue in Afghanistan moving forward. Regarding the first issue, it appears that the text under silence encourages ISAF to support Afghan-led efforts to combat drug production and trafficking in cooperation with regional and international actors and within its designated responsibilities. With respect to the UN’s counter-narcotics efforts, it seems that the draft under silence broadly notes the continuing importance for the UN in addressing drug production and trafficking. This was a compromise, as earlier drafts specifically mentioned the importance of strengthening the counter-narcotics elements of future UN missions in Afghanistan, language that Russia in particular was keen on but was unacceptable to some members.

It seems that the negotiations on the draft presidential statement on the elections were less difficult. After minor modifications to the original draft, the text was put under silence this morning until 3:00 pm today. Russia apparently requested that silence be extended until 9:00 am tomorrow. It appears that the draft statement on the electoral process welcomes the second round of the presidential elections held on 14 June. It seems that it commends the participation of Afghans, including women, in the process, in spite of threats from extremists. While it does not specifically mention the current electoral impasse or the candidates, it appears that there are nonetheless references to how the crisis should be addressed. Calling on electoral institutions to demonstrate the highest standards of integrity, the draft underscores the need to detect and prevent electoral fraud. It also calls on all stakeholders to demonstrate respect with regard to electoral processes and institutions, to direct their complaints through established institutional mechanisms in keeping with Afghan laws and to refrain from acts that could lead to instability and violence.

In negotiating this statement, Council members may be attempting to send a signal of their continued engagement on the electoral process, unlike the silence the Council kept following the fraud that occurred during the 20 August 2009 elections. At the time, despite the allegations of fraud then raised by Abdullah, whose withdrawal led to the eventual cancellation of the scheduled 7 November run-off against Karzai, the Council only issued a 6 November press statement (SC/9784) acknowledging “the conclusion of the electoral process” following the IEC decision to declare Karzai President-elect.

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