UN Security Council Resolution on Afghanistan: Just another ‘much ado about nothing’?

AAN Team

Afghanistan Analysts Network

31 Dec 2024print sharing button

The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution on the Independent Assessment on Afghanistan, which former Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Feridun Sinirlioğlu had put together. UNSC Resolution 2721 only passed after a month and a half of Security Council meetings, mainly held behind closed doors, and two weeks of intensive negotiations on its language. The result is a resolution which failed to fully endorse the Sinirlioğlu report. AAN’s team here summarises the developments around the Independent Assessment, from how it came to be proposed, to its contents, to the Resolution passed on 29 December, the last working day of the Council in 2023. 

The Security Council adopts resolution 2721 (2023) on the independent assessment on Afghanistan. The resolution was adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation). Photo by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, 29 December 2023.

The Independent Assessment on Afghanistan, mandated by the UN Security Council on 16 March 2023 (see UNSC Resolution 2679), was given to UNSC members on 9 November. Since then, it has been the subject of much discussion among Security Council members, Afghans and other interested parties and Afghanistan has loomed large on the Council’s agenda, both formally and informally.[1] On 11 December, the co-penholders, Japan and the UAE, circulated a first draft of a resolution concerning the Assessment to Council members. The members then met to discuss the draft on 12 December and later provided written comments. A second draft was shared on 18 December, and after an additional round of comments and edits, a third draft was shared with council members’ under silence ‘on 26 December.[2]

The following day, China, France and Russia broke the silence, with Malta, Switzerland and the United States providing additional comments. The penholders then put a fourth and final draft ‘in blue’ on 28 December (here). This was the resolution that was put to a vote on 29 December.

This report is structured around four questions. The first deals with the events that preceded the Assessment and how the Security Council embarked upon this course of action. The second and third summarises the Assessment, while the fourth sums up what the Resolution says.

Why did the UN Security Council ask for an assessment? 

In the two years following the dramatic collapse of the Islamic Republic, the question of ‘what to do’ about Afghanistan has been of great concern to the UN Security Council (UNSC). Three of its permanent members – the United States, United Kingdom and France had given military and financial backing to the Republic and, for greater or lesser periods of time, had fought the Taleban, who took power on 15 August 2021.

Afghanistan has been high on the Security Council’s agenda as it concerns the Council’s specific powers, especially Chapter VI (articles 33-38) on the specific settlement of disputes and Chapter VII (articles 39-51) on actions with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression.[3]

On the day after the takeover, 16 August 2021, Afghanistan was the priority item on the agenda for the 8834th meeting of the Security Council (see here); UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to the Security Council and the ‘international community’ to “stand together, work together, act together and use all tools at their disposal to suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan and to guarantee that basic human rights will be respected.” Since then, the Security Council has continued to single out these two primary concerns, what it casts as the ‘global terrorist threat’ and ‘respect for basic human rights’.

The 2021 annual report on Chapter VI related practices of the UNSC also touched on the situation in Afghanistan, encouraging all parties to:

[S]eek an inclusive, negotiated political settlement, with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women, that responded to the desire of Afghans to sustain and build upon the country’s gains over the past 20 years in adherence to the rule of law, and underlined that all parties must respect their obligations (see page 434 here).

The 2022 UNSC annual report on Chapter VII concerns named Afghanistan as one of the countries which it saw threats to international peace and security as continuing to emanate from and expressed particular concern over:

[T]he cultivation, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs and acknowledged that illicit proceeds of the drug trafficking in Afghanistan were a source of financing for terrorist groups and non-state actors that threatened regional and international security. (page 4)

[T]he Council reiterated the need to ensure that the sanctions regime pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011) contributed effectively to ongoing efforts to bring about sustainable and inclusive peace, stability and security in Afghanistan, and noted the importance of the sanctions review when and if appropriate, while taking into account the situation on the ground, in a manner that was consistent with the overall objective of promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan (pages 24 and 25).

Afghanistan continued to figure prominently on the UNSC agenda in 2022. Of the 127 UNSC consultations in 2022, seven were about Afghanistan and the country was referenced 11 times in the list of highlights of UNSC activities that year (see here). It was discussed, among other places, at a country-specific high-level meeting on 26 January and also at an informal, confidential gathering under the Arria-formula on 24 October. (see here).

However, differences in how the member states of the UNSC wanted to deal with Afghanistan emerged in 2023 in discussions surrounding the extension of the United Nation’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) mandate in March. The lack of a consensus became evident. Initially, the co-authors of two March resolutions on Afghanistan — Japan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – envisioned an extension of the UNAMA mandate without any changes for nine months and an independent assessment regarding Afghanistan by October 2023. The United States, in particular, strongly opposed extending UNAMA’s mandate for only nine months, saying that shortening the mandate for four months would “negatively affect both UNAMA and the Secretary-General’s plan to convene Afghanistan special envoys” (see AAN reporting here).

The result was two resolutions, both passed on 16 March 2023. One extended UNAMA’s mandate until 17 March 2024. The second, Resolution 2679 (2023), requested the UN Secretary-General, in his role as the UN’s chief administrative officer, to provide the Security Council with “an integrated, independent assessment” no later than 17 November 2023 (see AAN reporting here), following consultations with “all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, including relevant authorities, Afghan women and civil society, as well as the region and the wider international community.” The Assessment should:

[P]rovide forward-looking recommendations for an integrated and coherent approach among relevant political, humanitarian, and development actors, within and outside of the United Nations system, in order to address the current challenges faced by Afghanistan, including, but not limited to, humanitarian, human rights and especially the rights of women and girls, religious and ethnic minorities, security and terrorism, narcotics, development, economic and social challenges, dialogue, governance and the rule of law; and advance the objective of a secure, stable, prosperous and inclusive Afghanistan in line with the elements set out by the Security Council in previous resolutions”

The mandate was broad and somewhat vague, covering the actions not only of the UN but also other ‘relevant political, humanitarian, and development actors’, in other words, everyone concerned with Afghanistan.

About a month later, Guterres appointed senior Turkish diplomat Feridun Sinirlioğlu as the Special Coordinator for the independent assessment (announcement on 25 April here). The appointment preceded a long-awaited meeting of special envoys on Afghanistan, held in Qatar’s capital Doha, on 1-2 May 2023. The meeting, said Guterres, was “about developing a common international approach, not about recognition of the de facto Taliban authorities,” and that it was important to “understand each other’s concerns and limitations” (see readout of the press conference here). Participants in this meeting, Guterres said, agreed on “the need for a strategy of engagement that allows for the stabilisation of Afghanistan but also allows for addressing important concerns” (see also AAN analysis here).

What key issues does the independent assessment identify? 

The Independent Assessment on Afghanistan was not published on the UN website until 6 December 2023 (here), but was leaked and widely distributed soon after it was circulated to UNSC members (see for example, the independent, women-led non-profit news website Pass Blue here).

The Assessment says it has one “overarching goal” – to “advance the objective of a secure, stable, prosperous and inclusive Afghanistan in line with elements set out by the Security Council in previous resolutions.” It does not, however, identify what those elements are.[4] Widespread consultations with Afghans and others, it says, have underlined that “international engagement is not working.” It does not “serve the humanitarian, economic, political or social needs of the Afghan people,” nor does it address the concerns and priorities of “international stakeholders, including the neighbouring countries.”

Following what the Assessment coyly refers to as “the political transition in August 2021” (ie the military defeat of the Islamic Republic, which donor countries and the UN itself had done so much to support, and the re-establishment of the IEA, which many of those countries had previously been fighting), it says that many Afghans, nations and UN bodies had been concerned about IEA governance and the protection of rights, especially of women and girls. They are also concerned about “potential threats” to regional stability. From the IEA’s point of view, the Assessment says, it controls Afghanistan’s territory and governs the country, but has “appealed unsuccessfully for political and economic normalisation.” This situation “has led to an impasse, leaving much of the international community’s relations with Afghanistan in a state of uncertainty, with serious repercussions for the Afghan people.”

It concludes that it is necessary to find a ‘political pathway, basing this premise on current problems with aid (more on which below) and the fact that Afghanistan has the potential to both “enrich the region” as a hub for “trade, connectivity and people-to-people contacts” and destabilise it as a potential source of “transnational terrorism,” illegal narcotics and migrants” and because Afghans and others do not want to see renewed conflict. It says the pathway should allow all sides to discuss and deliberate their interests fairly.

The end state of those discussions, the Assessment says, is the “definition of a future where the State of Afghanistan is fully reintegrated into the international system without passing through a further cycle of violence while respecting all legal obligations.” It offers proposals “for a way forward and an engagement architecture to guide and bring more coherence to political, humanitarian and development activities” and that it presents “a substantive roadmap” that will “enable more effective negotiation and implementation of the priorities of Afghan and international stakeholders.”

This is a grand vision, but even at the earliest stage of the document where these quotes are from – page 2 of 19 – questions are raised and not answered, for example, given that the various Afghan and international stakeholders have contradictory priorities, how can Sinirlioğlu confidently assert that they will be implemented?

The Assessment then identifies five “key issues and priorities”. The first is human rights, especially what it calls the “basic rights of women and girls,” including to education, work and representation in public and political life. It also mentions “other patterns of unequal treatment and discrimination” towards citizens of “a number of ethnic or religious minority groups” (without specifying which – here or anywhere else), reports of extrajudicial killings by the IEA, especially of former officials and members of the security forces, the shrinking of civil space, including the harassment of civil society and the media, and restricted access to justice.

second, shorter section outlines concerns about “counterterrorism, counternarcotics and regional security”. Security has improved since August 2021, it says – not surprisingly, given the (unmentioned in this document) the complete victory of the Taleban over the Republic. It acknowledges Emirate moves against the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), again not surprising as it is the IEA’s most dangerous armed opponent. It then points to the Emirate’s “limited responsiveness” to international calls to contain or control “terrorist groups and individuals inside Afghanistan, including members of Al Qaeda,” who, it says, have shown a “persistent presence.” These groups include significant numbers of Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan (TTP) fighters who “appear to have free movement and shelter in Afghanistan and are carrying out an intensifying campaign of violence inside Pakistan.” This section also acknowledges the IEA’s “significant progress” on counter-narcotics (although as AAN has reported, so far, that has focused on cultivation, while trade has largely continued) and says “many stakeholders” want to help with “alternative crops and livelihoods”.

The Assessment then moves on to a third key issue/priority – economic, humanitarian and development issues. Those consulted by Sinirlioğlu and his team “across the spectrum” urged, the Assessment says, for “any international engagement strategy” to give attention to the combined humanitarian, development, and economic challenges facing Afghanistan.” Neighbouring countries, it says, see their interests served by Afghanistan having a robust and healthy economy. Afghans want urgent relief, it said, but also “but also an ability to fully invest in and pursue their own economic futures and livelihood opportunities freely.”

The Assessment describes the collapse of the economy in August 2021 as a consequence of the abrupt halt to aid and the freezing of Afghan access to the international banking system and (for the new IEA government) offshore foreign exchange reserves. Although the economy has, it says, for now stabilised, albeit at a low level, it warns that aid, already insufficient, is expected to fall, and that the banking system is still not functioning properly. It devotes one bullet point to shortcomings in IEA policy, which have contributed to “chilling” the economy: “Failure to institute measures of fiscal transparency, abrogation of the judicial system and basic legal guarantees, and lack of equal economic participation among all sectors of society have all contributed to continued low confidence among international donors and investors.” It also cites the IEA’s “exclusionary policies” towards women and some former technocrats.

The Assessment recognises that the nature of the aid – off-budget, with little development funding and no technical assistance – “limits the degree to which [it] can respond to basic needs in a sustainable and cost-effective way” and that delivery via an “overlapping network” of UN agencies and NGOs is costly and lacks necessary scale and coordination. It hones in on the particular damage of restricting technical assistance in agriculture, water management, demining and public health and denying Afghanistan access to funds aimed at helping the poorest countries adapt in the face of the climate crisis.

The last bullet point in this section feels significant. Stakeholders, the Assessment says, suggested ways to improve the effectiveness of aid or ensure economic recovery, but it warns: “[T]he triggers that have led to the current situation are as much political as economic, and economic recovery will depend significantly on a political decision, by donors in particular, to promote the development of the economy for the benefit of the Afghan people.” It lays Afghanistan’s problems with development and the economy squarely at the door of donors, alone.

fourth key areaInclusive Governance and Rule of Law, deals with what the Assessment describes as the call by many Afghan stakeholders, member states, multilateral institutions, the Security Council, neighbouring countries and near-neighbours that the IEA establish “an inclusive system of governance.” A “balanced, broad-based, inclusive, accountable and responsible government” is both a “reflection of fundamental rights” and “a key ingredient for peace, stability and harmony within the country and in the region.” It says that in this “diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural society,” the inclusion of all communities in governance structures is “central to the social and political stability.” Many Afghans, it says, “expressed perceptions of exclusion and discriminatory practices on the basis of ethnicity, language and gender” under the IEA. Many spoke of their disenfranchisement from the “full ability to participate in political life” and the “marked decline in the space for political engagement”, to raise concerns and affect policy-making.

This, it says, was especially the case for Afghan women.

It says the IEA interprets such calls as a demand for power-sharing and “specifically for a return to government of some former political leaders”. The IEA also denies the charge that it is exclusive, insisting its government is ethnically diverse and that it has retained much of the Republic’s civil service.

The Assessment acknowledges that the IEA has established some limited means for consultation and complaint and that “many Afghan civil society actors” have continued to “build bridges and create spaces for dialogue among themselves and with the [de facto authorities] on an informal basis.” It believes these could be “built upon and be complemented by national dialogue.” Re-establishing “a justice and rule of law system that protects equal participation and fulfilment of rights,” it says, “would advance inclusive governance, while also contributing to economic growth and stability”. Notably, no mention is made of elections.

The fifth key indicator deals with Political Representation and Implications for Regional and International Priorities. In this short section, the Assessment acknowledges the IEA’s call for recognition, bilaterally and at the UN, and its assertion that it meets the requirements for occupying Afghanistan’s seat at the UN General Assembly (a decision on this was postponed for the third year in December 2023, see AAN report here). The Assessment acknowledges that this lack of recognition disadvantages Afghans and has limited the means to deal with regional concerns, including on trade, connectivity and transboundary resource management. However, “International stakeholders,” the Assessment says, remain “aligned behind the position expressed at the Secretary-General convened meeting of Special Envoys on Afghanistan in May 2023, which supported engagement with Afghanistan and the development of a common international approach, but that acknowledged the DFA [de factor authorities] should not be recognized at this stage”.

Already, in this laying out of the key issues, assumptions have come into play: that donors are overwhelmingly responsible for the economic woes of Afghanistan, or that the IEA will change what it fundamentally believes to be correct, for example, why would the Emirate want to ‘re-establish’ something it believes it has already instituted, the establishment of a justice system based on holy law that fulfils the rights of both God and people?

What are the Assessment’s recommendations?

The Assessment makes four broad recommendations and offers an analysis of the justification for those recommendations as well as suggestions regarding their implementation.

The first set of recommendations proposes a series of measures aimed at addressing the basic needs of Afghan people and strengthening trust through structured engagement. These include:

  • Expanding international assistance, including technical assistance, to improve the capacities of relevant Afghan institutions to deliver services to Afghan people more effectively.
  • Supporting food security and agricultural livelihoods, including the IEA’s ongoing counternarcotics campaign, environmental security and water management, the health sector, and demining, prioritising the most vulnerable groups and women and girls.
  • Finalising some near-finished infrastructure projects that were started before August 2021.
  • Establishing economic dialogue and financial reforms to reduce the effects of existing sanctions on the banking sector and supporting efforts to rehabilitate Afghanistan’s central bank, but only after the Emirate demonstrates transparent and accountable fiscal governance.

The Assessment point out that while “economic dialogue may positively impact blockages to private investment and banking transactions,” the “chilling” economic effects will likely ease only after significant policy changes, including removing restrictions on women and girls. The Assessment envisages that progress on economic issues would promote the Switzerland-based Fund for the Afghan People to disperse funds, which would stabilise the currency and offer a “gradual transition from current cash shipment-based assistance.”

  • Enabling partial restoration of regular transit, trade, and other means of connectivity between Afghans and the world, including airport safety and capacity, which would pave the way for more flights at Kabul International Airport.
  • Restoring regular administrative processes inside the country and abroad to issue passports and visas.
  • Encouraging and assisting activities that help Afghans realise their political, economic, cultural and social rights, including support for media, civil society, and victim-centred approaches to justice and reconciliation.

Recommendations to provide women and girls “educational opportunities, including for online learning, employment, micro-finance, preventing gender-based violence and providing psycho-social support” seem to fall well short of pursuing avenues that would see Afghan women benefit from the full spectrum of their rights as guaranteed by international law. This section also includes assistance to “women and girls and vulnerable Afghan groups and individuals who have sought protection and refuge outside Afghanistan” and dialogue with the IEA on its human rights obligations.

The second set of recommendations addresses what the Assessment calls security-related concerns of “International stakeholders and UN bodies” about “the use of Afghan soil to threaten or attack any other country, the planning and financing of terrorist acts, and the production, sale and trafficking of illegal narcotics.” The Assessment stresses the need for coordination and cooperation between the IEA and international stakeholders to address these concerns and enumerate priority areas as:

  • Supporting bilateral and multilateral security cooperation, which it says will require significant capacity and resources.
  • Cooperating with international counter-narcotics efforts to maintain the current pace of the IEA’s plan to eradicate illegal narcotics.
  • Strengthening international borders, including border controls and issuance of identity papers and travel documents.
  • Expanding international cooperation and assistance in areas that advance regional and global priorities, including in response to climate change, transboundary water issues (presumably on the Helmand Water Treaty, see AAN report here), counter-narcotics and global health security.
  • Reviewing and updating relevant provisions of the UN 1988 Sanctions list to “facilitate better compliance … and make the sanctions regime more relevant to current realities.”
  • Gradually resuming diplomatic engagement inside Afghanistan, which would pave the way for more sustained dialogue with all Afghan stakeholders, without specifying who these might be, as well as the delivery of international aid, including development assistance.

The third set of recommendation lays out a roadmap for political engagement intended to fully reintegrate Afghanistan into the international community in line with its international commitments and obligations. This section sets out to explain how the Assessment’s stated objective: “An end state of Afghanistan’s full reintegration into the international system” can be achieved using a “more coherent political engagement process…. pursued through a performance-based roadmap.” The outline of which is explained broadly as: “(A) international obligations of the State of Afghanistan with suggested benchmarks to indicate progress in meeting them, and (B) a call for an intra-Afghan political process that will build toward inclusive constitution-making. Progress in both of these components will build toward (C) an end state of the international community’s normalisation of relations with the State of Afghanistan.”

The final and fourth set of recommendations suggests a set of mechanisms designed to coordinate and oversee the recommendations made in the report. The Assessment stresses that significant resources and coordination platforms are needed to implement its recommendations effectively. To this end, it recommends three interlinked mechanisms:

  • UN-Convened Large Group Format: This group currently exists and was first convened by the UN Secretary-General in May 2023 in the Special Envoys format. The Assessment recommends another meeting of the large group format to discuss and advance its recommendations.
  • International Contact Group: This smaller group, selected from members of the large group format, would coordinate action and approaches “take a more frontal role” in political engagement with Afghan stakeholders.
  • UN Special Envoy: The Special Envoy would have a complementary mandate to UNAMA and focus on “diplomacy between Afghanistan and international stakeholders as well as on advancing intra-Afghan dialogue.” She/he would represent the UN in the above-mentioned groups and lead coordination efforts.

What is in the Resolution about the Assessment and where do we go from here?

Resolution 2721 was adopted on 29 December by 13 votes in favour, with China and Russia abstaining (see here). The Resolution sets forth six points as a common approach of the Council members on Afghanistan, with some reservations from China and Russia (more on which below).

It says that the Security Council:

1. Stresses the critical importance of a continued presence of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and other United Nations Agencies, Funds and Programmes across Afghanistan, and reiterates its full support to the mandate and the work of UNAMA and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General;

2. Takes positive note of the independent assessment on Afghanistan (S/2023/856);

3. Encourages member states and all other relevant stakeholders to consider the independent assessment and implementation of its recommendations, especially increasing international engagement in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner, affirms that the objective of this process should be a clear end state of an Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbors, fully reintegrated into the international community and meeting international obligations, and recognizes the need to ensure the full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of Afghan women in the process throughout;

4. Requests the Secretary-General, in consultation with members of the Security Council, relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, including relevant authorities, Afghan women and civil society, as well as the region and the wider international community, to appoint a Special Envoy for Afghanistan, in a timely manner, provided with robust expertise on human rights and gender, to promote implementation of the recommendations of the independent assessment, without prejudice to the mandate of UNAMA and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and their vital work in Afghanistan;

5. Welcomes the Secretary-General’s intention to convene the next meeting of the group of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan initiated in May 2023 in a timely manner, and encourages the meeting to discuss the recommendations of the independent assessment;

6. Requests that the Secretary-General brief the Security Council on the outcome of these consultations and discussions within 60 days.

According to the independent think tank, The Security Council Report,[5] it appears that negotiations concerning the Resolution were complex and contentious (see here). This was evident also from the discussion at the Security Council following the vote on 29 December (see here). On one side of the rift were the UK and US, both very supportive of the Assessment and apparently also of the initial draft of the Resolution. China and Russia, on the opposite end, were primarily concerned about the lack of IEA buy-in for the process suggested in the Resolution. In remarks delivered on 20 December, US Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said:

[W]e welcome the UN’s Independent Assessment on Afghanistan. We agree with the report’s recommendations on appointing a UN Special Envoy in establishing an international contact group. The UN Special Envoy and the contact group will be important for the development of a roadmap that ensures Afghanistan meets its international obligations. They will also complement UNAMA’s work to accomplish its mission of promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Following the vote, Deputy Political Counsellor of US Mission to the UN Lisa Browne said:

The United States strongly supports this resolution’s call for a UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan. A Special Envoy will be well positioned to coordinate international engagement on Afghanistan, including with relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, to achieve the objectives laid out in this resolution. The resolution’s request to set up a Special Envoy for Afghanistan, emphasizing that such a post would help coordinate work to achieve progress in the country.

The UK position was similar. Following the vote, its ambassador, Barbara Woodward, said the UNSC:

[S]hould seize the momentum of the independent assessment with the hope of changing Afghanistan’s current negative trajectory.… [W]e encourage all parties, including Afghan and international stakeholders, to take forward the independent assessment’s recommendations, working towards an Afghanistan that is at peace with its people, its neighbours, and the international community.

China and Russia built their argument around the Islamic Emirate’s response to the Assessment (seen by AAN), which was provided to Council members. The IEA defended its record on women’s rights, security, the economy and narcotics and rejected any suggestion of intra-Afghan dialogue or the creation of the oversight mechanisms referred to in the report, particularly the Special Envoy. It blasted the “malicious and illegal sanctions” regime, “grudge-motivated pressures” on it and interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. The IEA did welcome “recommendations of the assessment that support the strengthening of national economy of Afghanistan, opens the pathway to the recognition of the current government and encourages regional connectivity and transit via Afghanistan.”

Following the vote, China’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Geng Shuang said:

It is obvious that currently Council members remain divided on the follow-up implementation of the assessment report, and the Afghan authorities, on the other hand still have reservations on some recommendations…. China and the Russian Federation expressed these concerns in the consultation and constructively proposed amendments to the draft of relevant issues, which however were not taken on board. It is deeply regrettable, and we have to abstain in the vote just now.… It is our hope that going forward, the Secretary-General will cautiously deal with the appointment of the Special Envoy, continue to strengthen communication and interaction with the Afghan authorities, and strive to find appropriate solutions.

Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative, Anna Evstigneeva was even more plain:

Russia abstained on a draft resolution on the independent assessment report on Afghanistan.… [W]e assume that the Secretary-General will consult the de facto authorities when appointing a Special Envoy and will also take into account the views of all members of the Security Council. That is a principled condition that we have insisted on from the outset. We would like to make it clear that we will not support Secretary-General’s decision unless it has the approval of the de facto authorities.

China and Russia, according to The Security Council Report, also raised questions regarding the composition of the “smaller contact group” and suggested deleting the paragraph about the Special Envoy altogether. However, the penholders have not gone as far, and their suggestion was left out of the final ‘in blue’ draft. The think tank reported that:

[C]hina and Russia apparently suggested deleting the paragraph that requests the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy for Afghanistan and removing text noting that the next meeting of Special Envoys and Special Representatives should discuss the proposed establishment of the “smaller contact group,” In the next draft of the Resolution, the penholders apparently removed the text on the “smaller contact group” and added language requesting that the Secretary-General consult with relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders (including the Taliban, Afghan women, and civil society); Council members; the region; and the international community before appointing a Special Envoy. 

It also seems that UNSC members could only agree “to take a positive note of the independent assessment” and “encourage member states and all other relevant stakeholders to consider and implement its recommendations.” China and Russia were reportedly behind the latter formulation. Altogether, any language that stipulated endorsement of the Assessment and its recommendations was a point of debate among Council members. The Security Council Report said:

Although the first draft of the Resolution endorsed the independent assessment and its recommendations, it appears that later drafts instead welcomed them, following a proposal from Malta and the US. It seems that China and Russia argued that the draft should either take note of the independent assessment or welcome the efforts of Sinirlioğlu and his team. In an apparent compromise, the draft in blue takes positive note of the independent assessment.

Text affirming that one objective of this process was to see Afghanistan fully reintegrated into the international community and meeting its international obligations was subsequently added to the Resolution, The Security Council Report said. However, the Resolution was stripped of any conditionality, ie any language that suggested that IEA compliance with the obligations under international law was a precondition to Afghanistan’s full reintegration into the international community. According to The Security Council Report, a group of European members of the Security Council, including France, Malta, and Switzerland had sought to bolster language relating to Afghan women and the ‘women, peace and security agenda’. The think tank said:

Several members, including France, Malta, and Switzerland apparently proposed language emphasising that the Taliban’s compliance with their obligations under international law, particularly those relating to human rights, is central to the roadmap for political engagement outlined in the independent assessment report. 

Text reaffirming the indispensable role of women in Afghan society was added to the Resolution following a proposal from Switzerland, as was language noting that the Special Envoy for Afghanistan should have robust expertise on human rights and gender.

The independent assessment has generated a dynamic discussion about Afghanistan, which has been on the global side-line for some time, but so far, responses to its recommendations among Afghanistan’s stakeholders appear to fall short and be far from adequate. The move to have an independent assessment was driven by a desire to establish a consensus on how the Security Council deals with Taleban-ruled Afghanistan. No such shared approach, however, appears to have emerged. The Resolution does authorise the appointment of a Special Envoy, but “in consultation with members of the Security Council, relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, including relevant authorities, Afghan women and civil society, as well as the region and the wider international community”. There is no mention in the Resolution of an intra-Afghan dialogue envisioned by Sinirlioğlu’s report as the key mandate of the Special Envoy. Instead, the Special Envoy, as per the text of the Resolution, is seen as a gender and human rights expert who should “promote implementation of the recommendations of the independent assessment, without prejudice to the mandate of UNAMA and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and their vital work in Afghanistan”. This also limits the space where a future Special Envoy would work and have a say. It is also noticeable that the idea of a smaller contact group has been dropped entirely. The Resolution only confirms that the negotiations between various international and local actors will continue without a feasible conclusion any time soon. China and Russia’s firm position that they will not approve any choice that the IEA has not approved, seems to indicate that the appointment of the Special Envoy will not happen any time soon.

Edited by Roxanna Shapour, Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark


1 The following meetings were among those held: 

10 November A first discussion of the report by Security Council members during an informal lunch organised by the outgoing co-penholders on Afghanistan, Japan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

28 November Closed-door Security Council meeting (see here).

30 November Meeting of the high-level diplomatic grouping, the Group of Friends of Afghanistan, co-organised by Canada, UK and Qatar (see hereand here).

11 December Closed-door, ‘Arria-formula’ Security Council meeting on “women’s perspectives on Afghanistan” (see here), organised by Switzerland and co-sponsored by Japan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

20 December Briefing of the Security Council by Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayev (see the video here). Statements were also given by the Representative of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva and Director of the Coordination Division, Ramesh Rajasingham, a “representative of Afghan civil society” (unnamed in UN reporting ahead of the event) and the chair of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee, the Ecuadorean Ambassador to the UN José Javier De La Gasca. This meeting was followed by closed consultations.

2 According to UNSC procedures, draft resolutions go through a negotiation process before they are put ‘under a silence’ – normally lasting 24 hours – to allow for final comments from Council members. When the Security Council approaches the final stage of negotiating a draft resolution, the text is printed ‘in blue’. See The UN Security Council Handbook.
3 The Security Council, as one of the six main organs of the United Nations, is primarily responsible for maintaining international peace and security (here). The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression; it calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement. It can also impose sanctions or even authorise the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security. It can set forth principles for a peace agreement; undertake investigation and mediation, in some cases; dispatch a mission;appoint special envoys or; request the Secretary-General to use his good offices to achieve a pacific settlement of the dispute. Its powers are laid out in Chapters VI, VII, VIII, and XII of the UN Charter. The UNSC deliberations on Afghanistan are based on powers listed in Chapter VI (articles 33-38) on the specific settlement of disputes and Chapter VII (articles 39-51) on actions with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression. Based on these powers, the Security Council authorises UNAMA’s mandate and obliges the mission to provide quarterly reports on the situation in Afghanistan.
4 The list of Security Council resolutions on Afghanistan is long (read them here). There have been eight since the IEA takeover, dozens during the Republic and after the al-Qaida attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, and 11 before that.
5 The Security Council Report (SCR) is an independent think tank that works towards the promotion of transparency in UNSC decision-making. See the organisation’s website here.

UN Security Council Resolution on Afghanistan: Just another ‘much ado about nothing’?