posted on THU 18 JAN 2018 6:02 PM
Debate on Afghanistan and Central Asia and Security Council Visiting Mission to Afghanistan

Tomorrow (19 January), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level debate on the threats to international peace and security focusing on: “Building Regional Partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia as a Model to Link Security and Development”. Kazakhstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Kairat Abdurakhmanov will chair the debate and Secretary-General António Guterres will brief the Council. Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Salahuddin Rabbani and the representatives of the Central Asian countries will address the Council. The Council will adopt a presidential statement at the meeting. The debate follows shortly after the Council’s visiting mission to Afghanistan from 13 to 15 January.

Debate and Adoption of the Presidential Statement

Tomorrow’s debate is expected to focus on the link between security and development and the need to integrate the economies of Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbors. A concept note that Kazakhstan has circulated in preparation for the debate identifies what it views as important factors for achieving progress in Afghanistan that could be used as a template for other regions. First, it maintains that there is a need to recognize that security and development are closely interrelated. Second, it emphasises that a regional approach is often required to resolve problems. Third, international assistance requires integrated and better coordinated regional development strategies on the part of the UN.

The concept note outlines several goals for the debate that might help orient the discussion. These include, inter-alia:

• stressing the importance of coordinated actions and a regional approach in creating a zone of peace, cooperation and prosperity in Central Asia and Afghanistan;

• expressing serious concern about the serious threats to the security of Afghanistan and the region posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Qaida, and other illegal armed groups;

• recognising that an Afghanistan free of conflict and violence is critical for regional and global peace and security;

• encouraging enhanced cooperation and coordination between the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and relevant UN entities and regional organisations, to enhance the region’s capacity to overcome challenges to peace, security and development; and

• encouraging enhanced regional integration, including strengthened cooperation between Afghanistan and Central Asian states in areas such as trade, energy, and transport, among others.

Kazakhstan circulated both the concept note and the initial draft presidential statement to the Council members in December last year, although the negotiations on the statement started in January when the incoming members joined the Council. In the draft statement, the Council emphasises the importance of advancing regional, interregional and international cooperation to achieve stability and sustainable development in Afghanistan and the Central Asian region. It also welcomes the contribution of the Central Asian countries to ensuring stability and development in Afghanistan. It further reiterates concern over the ongoing threats to the security and stability of the country posed by the Taliban, ISIL, Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups and welcomes the cooperation on counter-terrorism between Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. The text also stresses the importance of coordination between Afghanistan and Central Asian countries in combating an increase in production and trafficking of illicit drugs in Afghanistan.

After several rounds of negotiations, the draft statement successfully passed silence procedure this Monday. The initially proposed draft focused mainly on issues related to regional integration, terrorism and economic development. After the successive negotiations, the scope of the text was broadened to take into account several other issues that some members deemed important.

During the negotiation process, the UK and the Netherlands proposed the inclusion of language on parliamentary and presidential elections, which will be held in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The final draft underscores the importance of electoral reforms towards holding fair and inclusive elections, a message that members conveyed during the visiting mission to Afghanistan.

Several members were keen on incorporating language on protection issues in the draft. Sweden proposed references to the women, peace, and security agenda, while France requested language related to child protection concerns. Both of these proposals were included in the final draft.

Addressing some other aspects of the situation in Afghanistan, such as rule of law and the human rights situation, seems to have been somewhat contentious. Although the final text contains such references, it seems that some members initially resisted their inclusion.

The final draft contains general language on international efforts to advance peace and stability in the country, without mentioning any specific initiatives such as the Kabul process or the Moscow format. This was done in an effort to avoid discord among permanent members that hold different views on some of these initiatives.

Security Council Visiting Mission

Tomorrow’s debate continues the Council’s focus on Afghanistan and its region this month. The purpose of the 13 to 15 January mission was to reiterate the Council’s support for Afghanistan and its government’s efforts to restore peace and stability, and to provide the Council with better understanding of the situation on the ground.

During the visit, the Council met with a wide range of stakeholders in the country. These included the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani; Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah; and other senior government officials, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Salahuddin Rabbani, Chairman of the High Peace Council Mohammad Khalili, and several other ministers. The Council also held meetings with representatives of women’s non-governmental organisations, civil society, electoral management bodies, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. Due to security concerns, the visiting mission was not publicly announced and most of the details regarding the trip were made public only following its completion.

On Wednesday morning (17 January), Ambassador Kairat Umarov of Kazakhstan briefed Council members on the visiting mission, which he led (S/PV.8158), providing several preliminary observations.

First, he emphasised that enduring insecurity remains the major impediment to stabilisation efforts. He referred to the growing number of casualties as increased violence by terrorist groups, including ISIL, has contributed to the ongoing instability. He further underscored the “linkages between violent extremism, well-organized transnational terrorist groups and criminal networks related to drug trafficking and the exploitation of natural resources.” He added that, according to a number of members of the government and parliament of Afghanistan, the Taliban continued to benefit from safe havens abroad.

Second, Umarov noted the lack of tangible results in the peace process, and said that there is a need to open negotiations between the Taliban and the government. He noted that “There is no military solution in Afghanistan in the absence of a political process,” a point made by a number of interlocutors that members engaged with during the visit. Members learned about the efforts of the High Peace Council (the body entrusted by the Afghan government to promote reconciliation), including its plans for 2017-2020.

Third, Umarov noted efforts to promote inclusive and transparent governance, elections and reforms. To this end, the Council stressed during the visit the importance of Afghan authorities holding parliamentary and presidential elections within the set timeframe in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Fourth, Umarov emphasised the need for continued international assistance and support for the country’s development as critical for peace and reconciliation. He stated that in most meetings the importance of continued support was conveyed to Council members, including support for counter-terrorism and development assistance. Ghani, he noted, reiterated “his request for increased on-budget assistance and the implementation of the one United Nations process so as to ensure coherence among United Nations organizations.”

Finally, in keeping with the theme of tomorrow’s debate, Umarov emphasised the importance of regional integration between Afghanistan and the surrounding region, as discussed during the vising mission. He underscored that there was an emphasis on “increasing investment opportunities for trade, infrastructure, energy exchanges, market solutions and connectivity,” adding that senior government officials highlighted “how the interdependence of markets and…roads between countries could create incentives for peace and development in the region.”