posted on Mon 16 Sep 2019 11:07 AM
Afghanistan: Council to Vote on UNAMA Mandate

Today (16 September), the Security Council is scheduled to renew the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The negotiations were difficult, and there are currently two drafts in blue that would both renew the mandate for one year: one produced by the co-penholders on Afghanistan, Germany and Indonesia, that has been negotiated by the Council for over two weeks; and a second much shorter text put forward by China and supported by Russia on Friday evening (13 September) that is similar in content to the technical rollover resolution adopted by the Council this March (S/RES/2460). A further and potential middle-ground option would be a shorter third draft by the co-penholders that is apparently under discussion and includes the key operative paragraphs related to UNAMA’s mandate.

The original draft produced by Germany and Indonesia was put into blue on Friday evening; soon thereafter, China, supported by Russia, put their draft in blue. While several efforts were made by Germany and Indonesia to compromise, the omission of a reference to the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” appears to be unacceptable to China.  It also seems unlikely that the Chinese draft would receive the requisite support to be adopted, as most members want a substantive mandate renewal. The UNAMA mandate expires tomorrow (17 September), giving members little time to reach a compromise, were the two drafts in blue to go to a vote with neither being adopted.

Resolution negotiations: Germany-Indonesia Draft

The co-penholders on Afghanistan, Germany and Indonesia, circulated a first draft of the UNAMA mandate renewal resolution in late August. Four rounds of sit-down negotiations with all Council members took place on 29 August, and 3, 5 and 11 September. It appears that the co-penholders also aimed at clarifying UNAMA’s mandate in the resolution while shortening the text. The draft in blue retains the core mandate of UNAMA with strengthened language on aspects such as the continued monitoring and reporting on “violations and abuses against children”. It also includes additional language on women, peace and security; children and armed conflict; and international humanitarian law proposed by Belgium.

Council members are generally united in their support for UNAMA. However, the negotiations reached an impasse, as they had ahead of UNAMA’s last mandate renewal in March, after several rounds of negotiations and bilateral meetings, leading the co-penholders to pursue a six-month technical rollover of the mandate. Then, as now, China and the US were deadlocked on whether to maintain a reference to the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” (language agreed to in preceding resolutions) in the context of welcoming regional economic cooperation.

The initial draft circulated by the co-penholders late last month did not reference the “Belt and Road Initiative”, but referred to “regional economic cooperation, including measures to facilitate regional connectivity, trade and transit”. It appears that this was meant to be in line with the overall goal of streamlining the text and finding a solution to the dispute between China and the US. It seems that during the first round of negotiations on 29 August, China argued that the streamlining exercise was imbalanced and therefore not a basis for negotiation, threatening to block the text and expressing a preference for a technical rollover of the mandate. China was supported by Russia in its desire for “Belt and Road” to be included in the text.

In addition to the reference to the “Belt and Road Initiative”, other contentious issues arose in the negotiations. Reference to creating “a community of shared future for mankind” in the context of regional cooperation, a concept promoted by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, was also excluded from the draft; this phrase had been incorporated in recent UNAMA renewals in March 2017 (S/RES/2344) and March 2018 (S/RES/2405). Initially, language relating to regional organisations had also been excluded from the text. However, such references, including the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, were later reinstated, apparently as a compromise to China and Russia.

Other than China, it appears that Council members believed that the initial draft circulated by Germany and Indonesia was a good basis for negotiations. However, during the course of the negotiations, concerns were raised by a number of members as revisions were made to the text. In this regard, the US and the UK wanted mention of the “Moscow Format consultations” to be omitted from a revised version of the draft late last week, breaking silence on this and other issues. It appears that the penholders had incorporated this reference as a compromise to Russia, as it had not been in the original version they circulated. The reference has remained in the Germany-Indonesia draft in blue.

The German-Indonesian draft in blue incorporates language not seen in previous UNAMA resolutions, emphasising “the need for adequate risk assessment and risk management strategies by the Government of Afghanistan and the UN, of climate change, other ecological changes, natural disasters, and other factors on the stability of Afghanistan, and further requests the Secretary-General to provide information of such assessments in mandated reporting as appropriate”. China and Russia opposed the language on climate change, but it remained in the text. The US objected to the omission of “energy access” as among the factors affecting the stability of Afghanistan—which had been in the initial version of the draft resolution—but the text in blue was not altered.

Discussions also surrounded the length of the mandate renewal. It seems that a few members argued that a twelve-month renewal would again put the Council in a position of having to negotiate the mandate shortly ahead of the busy high-level opening of the UN General Assembly next September. One member had suggested renewing the mandate until March 2021, while another apparently proposed a renewal of nine months. During the 10 September debate, the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN, Adela Raz, expressed Afghanistan’s hope for a renewal of at least twelve months. As noted above, both drafts in blue call for a 12-month mandate renewal.

The situation in Afghanistan and the recent Council debate

The discussions on the UNAMA resolution have taken place amidst considerable activity on the diplomatic front that looked promising but appears to have stalled for now. On Monday (2 September), following the ninth round of negotiations with the Taliban, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that the US and the Taliban had reached an agreement “in principle”. In exchange for a timeline for the US and NATO troop withdrawal, the talks were aimed at having the Taliban guarantee that they will not allow armed groups on Afghan territory to launch attacks in or outside Afghanistan. An intra-Afghan dialogue and a ceasefire had also been goals of the talks. The Taliban have insisted on holding talks with the US government, as they seek the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, rather than with the Afghan government, whose legitimacy they do not recognise.

On 7 September, US President Trump announced that he had cancelled the talks, as well as invitations to Camp David to Taliban leaders and the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, citing a Taliban attack that killed, among others, one US soldier.

On 10 September, the Council held a debate on the situation in Afghanistan. Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA; Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia), as chair of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee; and Yuri Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, briefed.

Presidential elections are scheduled for 28 September. In his 10 September briefing, Yamamoto stressed that in relation to the presidential elections “we have a sense that interest in the elections is not as high as it could be”. He further elaborated that “this may be partly because there have been stronger interests in the peace process”.

Postscript (19 September 2019):  The vote eventually took place on Tuesday, 16 September, following further negotiations. A compromise draft which focuses on the key operative paragraphs related to UNAMA’s mandate was unanimously adopted (S/RES/2489), renewing UNAMA’s mandate for one year. A last-minute oral amendment from Germany, at Afghanistan’s request, was agreed on in the chamber before the adoption (S/PV.8620).