posted on Wed 16 Sep 2015 2:37 PM
Debate on UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

On Thursday (17 September), the Council will hold its quarterly debate on UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNAMA Nicholas Haysom and Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Yury Fedotov are expected to brief.

In resolution 2210, which renewed UNAMA’s mandate on 16 March, the Council called for examination of the role, structure and activities of all UN entities in Afghanistan to be completed within six months (i.e. by 16 September). As of this morning, the results of this examination had yet to be forwarded to Council members, although it was possible that a letter from the Secretary-General outlining the findings could be made available to them ahead of tomorrow’s debate. It seems that the Secretary-General in his letter may emphasise the continuing importance of promoting human rights and coordinating and facilitating the provision of aid as important elements of the UN’s work in Afghanistan moving forward. Haysom is expected to discuss the findings of the examination, especially if they are circulated to members prior to the debate.

An ongoing challenge in Afghanistan that will probably be noted in Haysom’s remarks and in the interventions of Council members is the difficult security environment, and the toll that the conflict continues to take on the population. The conflict, traditionally centered in the southern and eastern parts of the country, has become more prevalent in the northeast as well. UNAMA’s midyear report on the protection of civilians indicated a slight increase in civilian casualties in the first half of 2015 as compared to the first half of 2014, with 1,592 killed in the conflict and 3,329 wounded. On 7 August, three separate attacks by anti-government elements in Kabul claimed the lives of more than 20 people and wounded over 300. A UNAMA press release issued the following day said that this represented “the highest number of civilians killed and injured in one day since [UNAMA] began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009.” A new dimension to the fighting and a growing concern among Council members has been the emergence of fighters in Afghanistan pledging their support for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which has battled the Taliban for control of parts of Nangarhar province in the eastern part of the country. While Council members may express general concern about civilian casualties and the increased role of ISIS in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that in a public format such as a debate the Council can have a strategic discussion on how these security threats can be addressed.

Prospects for the reconciliation process may be covered in the debate. There appeared to be some progress made during the meeting between Afghan government officials and Taliban representatives in Murree, Pakistan, on 7 July. Among Council members, China and the US have made particular efforts to support the mediation process, as reflected by the presence of officials from these states at the Murree meeting. But a subsequent meeting between the parties, scheduled for 27 July, was suspended at the request of the Taliban after public confirmation that its leader, Mullah Omar, had died in April 2013. The commitment of the Taliban to the peace process at the current time is questionable. According to the Secretary-General’s recent UNAMA report, new Taliban leader Mullah Mansour “released a statement on 1 August calling for Taliban unity and continued jihad, while characterizing reports of a peace process as enemy propaganda.” This statement was followed by a spate of attacks by the Taliban in August in Kabul that resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties.

Another issue that will probably be discussed is the electoral reform process in Afghanistan. On 30 August, the Special Electoral Reform Commission proposed a series of recommendations to reform the electoral system. On 6 September, President Ashraf Ghani issued a decree in which he expressed support for some of the proposals, while indicating that others needed to be further studied. Among other things, the proposals call for the allocation of parliamentary seats to political parties based on levels of national support, the establishment of an Afghanistan-wide voters list, and the creation of smaller polling districts. Members may want more clarity on which reforms are most controversial and which might be mutually acceptable to the parties. Reforms to the electoral system will need to be decided before the next parliamentary elections, which have been postponed until next year.

Fedotov’s briefing will probably focus on efforts that have been taken by the Afghan government and international actors to eradicate drug production and trafficking. He may refer to the recently initiated Afghan Drug Reporting System, a collaborative effort between the UN and the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics that strives to integrate all counter-narcotics-related information from various government ministries and international actors, in order “to inform trend analysis, policy development and evaluation,” according to the Secretary-General’s report. Among Council members, France and Russia consistently emphasise the negative implications of Afghan drug production and trafficking, although other members have noted this challenge as well. There is general recognition on the Council that, as a key source of funding for terrorism, the illegal trade in narcotics fuels instability in Afghanistan and the broader region.