The situation in Afghanistan - Security Council, 8908th Meeting
Urgent steps must be taken to address the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and stave off economic collapse, speakers in the Security Council said today, as delegates expressed concern about the recent uptick in terrorist attacks and reports of human rights violations.
“To abandon the Afghan people now would be a historic mistake — a mistake that has been made before with tragic consequences,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), who said that the Taliban takeover has left the Afghan people feeling abandoned, forgotten and punished by circumstances that are not their fault.
While engagement with the de-facto Taliban administration over the past three months in Kabul and the provinces have been “generally useful and constructive”, with the authorities seeking to have a United Nations presence and international recognition, as well as looking to overcome the trust deficit between them and the international community, gaps remain to be addressed, including in tackling the issue of inclusiveness, she said, noting that the composition of the cabinet remains entirely male, essentially Pashtun and almost all Taliban.
The Mission has not shied away from raising difficult issues with the de-facto authorities, particularly on women’s rights and girls’ education, she continued. While the Taliban have taken cognizance of such concerns, she said they make clear that for now there are limits to concessions they are willing to make on some issues. While the de-facto authorities say they are formulating a nationwide policy on the right to girls’ education, there has been a general curtailment of Afghan women and girls’ fundamental rights and freedoms, ranging from limiting their right to work to the absence of women from major decision-making fora and from senior echelons of civil service, she added.
She touched on other concerning developments, including reports of house searches and extrajudicial killings of former Government security personnel and officials. The Taliban has also not been able to stem the expansion of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K), which is increasingly active, stepping up attacks from 60 in 2020 to 334 in 2021, and has gained ground across all provinces, she said.
Turning to the dire humanitarian situation in the country, she said it is preventable, as it is largely due to financial sanctions that have paralysed the economy. With the winter approaching, she said, up to 23 million Afghans will be in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. Moreover, although the risk of famine was once restricted to rural areas, 10 out of 11 of Afghanistan’s most densely populated urban areas are now anticipated to be at emergency levels of food insecurity. She cautioned that the continuing deterioration of the economy threatens to heighten the risk of extremism, adding that that the paralysis of the banking sector could push more of the financial system into unregulated informal money exchanges which can facilitate terrorism, trafficking and drug smuggling. “Such pathologies will first affect Afghanistan and then infect the region,” she warned.
In an emotional address, Freshta Karim, Director of Charmaghz Mobile Libraries, a representative of civil society, said Afghanistan is experiencing a huge sense of loss, with every family, including her own, having lost at least one member to the decades of never-ending war. The feeling of grief put into stark relief the need for everyone to coexist, despite disagreements, she observed.
She called on the United Nations to work with all parties on the creation of a political structure to enable coexistence and end the cycle of war that Afghanistan has been trapped in. Since the Taliban’s takeover, the international community’s approach has focused on evacuations, the migrant crisis, humanitarian aid and lobbying for girl’s education. However, the well-being of Afghans can only be realized through political stability, she said. “Without it, we are just having a pause to the war, not an end to it,” she said, noting that the current arrangements of political power by the Taliban exclude other Pashtuns beyond themselves, as well as other ethnic groups and all previous political actors.
Afghanistan’s representative painted a grim picture of the condition of the country, where close to 23 million people there need urgent humanitarian assistance and poverty is widespread, with Afghanistan poised to experience “near-universal poverty” — a 97 per cent poverty rate by the middle of 2022. Against that backdrop, humanitarian assistance and the delivery of health services must be scaled up significantly, he said, adding that a “perfect storm is brewing” with a drought taking hold, a cold winter approaching, the COVID-19 pandemic spreading, the economy in a state of collapse and a regime that cannot pay salaries and provide the most basic services to people.
However, he pointed out that, with the economy on the brink of collapse, aid alone cannot adequately address the crisis. Therefore, the Council must find ways to address the current banking problem and continue to exempt humanitarian and service-delivery operations from sanctions. Moreover, the dormant peace process that began in Doha must be resuscitated. The international community must hold the Taliban to the commitments made in various General Assembly resolutions and hold it accountable for past and ongoing violations of human rights. It must also engage Afghans not as victims, but as stakeholders in building sustainable peace in Afghanistan, he said, adding: “While the Taliban have not changed, the Afghan population has.”
In the ensuing discussion, Council members expressed concern over the severe crisis enveloping the country, which faces a catastrophic humanitarian situation and the threat of economic collapse, and called for immediate and unhindered assistance. Some delegates condemned the recent spate of terrorist attacks, while others raised concerns about the repression of the rights of women, protesters and journalists, and reports of human rights violations, including arbitrary executions.
The representative of Ireland was among the delegates raising concerns about the repression of vulnerable groups who continue to be targeted by the Taliban for education, work and activism. Many have concluded their lives and futures are only possible outside of Afghanistan, she said, adding that, despite assurances regarding their safe passage — stipulated by the Council in resolution 2593 (2021) — the Taliban has failed to respect this choice. Reports on the killing earlier in November of women’s human rights defender and economist Frozan Safi clearly demonstrates the terrifying dangers women face.
The representative of the United States said that the United Nations presence in Afghanistan is more critical than ever, pointing to a range of factors leading to a humanitarian crisis of daunting proportions in the country, including endemic aid dependency exacerbated by the pandemic, drought and decades of prolonged conflict culminating in the seizure of power by military means instead of a negotiated settlement. “The Afghan people should not have to pay twice for the Taliban’s decisions,” he said. The United States is the largest contributor of aid to the country, and has committed to providing $474 million in 2021 alone.
Kenya’s delegate, who also spoke for Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, was among many raising concerns about recent rampant terrorist attacks, which reprehensibly target civilians and civilian infrastructure. He called for immediate steps to revitalize the global counter-terrorism architecture, and stated that the Security Council should ensure that any interventions are informed by security interests of the Afghan people rather than by geostrategic interests.
For his part, China’s delegate said Afghanistan must be able to pursue a sound path towards development, calling on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to consider the resumption of financial support. In light of the dire situation facing the country, the impact of unilateral sanctions and the freezing of overseas assets cannot be ignored. “When teachers and doctors have not received salaries for half a year, where does one begin to speak of girls’ education, or fighting the pandemic?”, he asked, adding that such measures are morally unacceptable and worsen the humanitarian crisis.
Pakistan’s representative likewise called for the lifting of the unjustified freeze on Afghanistan’s assets, noting that his country has committed $30 million in assistance to the country, together with wheat, rice, emergency medical supplies and other essential items. Highlighting that his country has initiated the platform of the six neighbouring countries plus the Russian Federation to promote a regional consensus on steps towards Afghanistan’s normalization, he also credited the Extended Troika grouping of China, Pakistan, Russian Federation and the United States, as a key format to that end.
Also speaking were representatives of Norway, Estonia, Viet Nam, India, Russian Federation, France, United Kingdom, Mexico, Iran and Tajikistan.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:25 p.m.