posted on Fri 13 Mar 2015 5:56 PM
Afghanistan: Renewal of UN Mission Mandate and Debate

On 16 March (Monday), the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for an additional year during the quarterly UNAMA debate. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNAMA Nicholas Haysom is going to brief. It is also likely that Afghanistan’s Ambassador Zahir Tanin will address the Council.

The Council began negotiating the draft resolution renewing UNAMA’s mandate in early March. The initial negotiations among Council members appear to have gone smoothly. However, a proposal from Afghanistan in recent days added a layer of complexity to the deliberations. Afghanistan requested that new elements be incorporated in the draft resolution giving Afghanistan responsibility for the coordination of international civilian efforts in the country, a role that UNAMA currently plays. Afghanistan also asked that the resolution reflect the part the UN will play in supporting the policies of the government.

Compromises were made in an effort to address Afghanistan’s requests. While Council members fully respect the principles of Afghan ownership and leadership in governance and development, some nonetheless believe that the government still lacks the capacity to play this large-scale coordination role at the present time. As a compromise, it appears that additional language has been incorporated highlighting Afghan sovereignty, leadership and ownership in governance and development. Additionally, a paragraph has been added to reflect the Afghan request that the UN system support the government’s policies. This paragraph requests that the Secretary-General begin a process, in close consultation with Afghanistan and other important stakeholders and within six months of renewing the mandate, to examine the activities, structure and role of the UN system in the country.

Following the addition of these amendments, the text was placed under silence on Thursday (12 March). It passed through silence this afternoon and is now in blue.
UNAMA will be reauthorised for an additional 12 months. While the core of the mandate will remain the same, the text has been updated to acknowledge the significant developments of the past several months. Notable among these are the establishment of a government of national unity, the completion of the NATO-led combat mission (International Security Assistance Force) at the end of 2014, the deployment of the NATO-led training mission (Resolute Support Mission), the assumption by Afghanistan of full responsibility for its security, the heightened toll the conflict has taken on civilian populations in the past year and the 4 December 2014 London Conference on Afghanistan during which Afghanistan and its international partners recommitted to the Tokyo mutual accountability framework of 2012. (Through this framework, Afghanistan’s international partners promised to maintain significant financial support for Afghanistan through 2017 contingent on Afghanistan’s ongoing efforts to make progress on good governance, the rule of law, human rights and effective financial management.)

During the debate a number of key issues are likely to be raised. One is the political situation in the country since President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing arrangement in September 2014. Council members have commended this agreement, but there are concerns over 17 ministerial positions remaining vacant. Council members may be looking for more information on how quickly these positions can be filled and the implications of delaying the process further.

Other issues that may be addressed in the debate include preparations for the district and parliamentary elections this year and electoral reform. The Secretary-General’s recent report (S/2015/151) notes that parliamentary elections are mandated by the constitution for 30 to 60 days prior to 21 June. However, the head of the Independent Electoral Commission has suggested 3 October instead as a prospective date. Council members may want to know if this later date was suggested because of particular challenges in holding the elections any earlier. There may also be interest in how the international community can support the government’s efforts to hold elections. Council members may also want to hear Haysom’s assessment of new electoral reforms that have been proposed and still need to be voted on by the parliament. According to the Secretary-General’s report, key amendments are currently before the parliament regarding how appointments are made to electoral bodies, accountability lines of these bodies and the duration of terms for elections commissioners. There may be discussion during the debate of the importance of these reforms for the integrity of electoral processes in Afghanistan, especially considering that elections in Afghanistan in recent years have been plagued by accusations of large-scale fraud.

Another important issue that will likely be raised in the debate is the troubling security situation and the conflict’s toll on Afghan civilians and security forces. More than 10,000 civilians were either killed or wounded in 2014, while more than 5,000 Afghan security personnel were killed during the year. Council members may be keen to discuss efforts the NATO-led non-combat Resolute Support Mission is taking to advise and assist Afghan government security forces and what can be done to mitigate the high-level of casualties in the conflict.

The illicit economy, including drug trafficking and the illicit exploitation of natural resources, may also be a topic discussed during the debate, as it is a key source of funding for extremists. Drug cultivation, production, and trafficking in Afghanistan have long been a concern for several Council members, especially France and Russia.

Also a significant issue that may be addressed is whether any progress can be made with regard to reconciliation with the Taliban. President Ghani has underscored a commitment to national reconciliation. Furthermore, his government appears keen for the UN to support Afghan-led efforts with regard to reconciliation, so long as the UN does so in full consultation with the government and upon its request. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the Taliban has also expressed interest in resolving the conflict, so long as certain “preconditions are met…[including] the end of the foreign military presence, the establishment of an Islamic government and the implementation of Sharia law.” At this point, the differences between the Afghan government and the Taliban are significant, but there may be interest in whether there is any common ground that can serve as a springboard for constructive negotiations.