United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)- Security Council, VTC Debate

Preview Language:   Arabic
22-Jun-2021 02:52:36
Swift withdrawal of international troops sparks widespread fear in Afghanistan, experts tell Security Council, sounding alarm over Taliban military gains.

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Amid the swift withdrawal of troops by the United States and its allies from Afghanistan, the Taliban is flexing its military muscle to gain greater control of the country’s territory, speakers warned the Security Council in a videoconference meeting today, as one civil society leader urged members to help avert a “Rwanda-type genocide” in the conflict-plagued country.

“The Taliban’s advances are significant,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), as she briefed the 15-member organ and introduced the latest report of the Secretary-General (document S/2021/570). Noting that more than 60 of Afghanistan’s roughly 370 districts have fallen to a Taliban military campaign since the beginning of May — some without resistance — she cautioned that the group is seizing area surrounding provincial capitals in an effort to position itself to take those centres once foreign forces are fully withdrawn.

She denounced the military campaign as running directly counter to recent statements by the head of the Taliban Political Commission, which pledged the group’s commitment to “forging ahead with the other sides in an atmosphere of mutual respect and reach an agreement”. Expressing hope that the stalled negotiations between the United States and the Taliban will accelerate through a conference in Istanbul in April, she nevertheless reported that the latter never officially responded to the invitation to the meeting. Meanwhile, UNAMA continues to work within the scope of its mandate and, in cooperation with Member States, to find ways to move forward the negotiations.

Emphasizing that the April announcement that all international troops will be withdrawn in the coming months sent a seismic tremor through the Afghan political system, and society at large, she stressed: “The withdrawal decision was expected, but its speed — with the majority of troops already withdrawn — was not.” All actors have been forced to adjust to that new, rapidly unfolding reality. For their part, regional countries have been playing a crucial role in helping Afghanistan to stabilize and integrate more fully into the region. She called for further galvanizing the existing regional formats, including the Extended “Troika” of the United States, Russian Federation, China and Pakistan, to reinforce a political and peaceful path for Afghanistan.

“I have reassured Afghans that the United Nations will not abandon them and will stay the course,” she continued, underscoring that there is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan — away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table. The Council, with the support of regional countries, must do all it can to push the parties in that direction. Left to its own inertia, Afghanistan’s tragic history of conflict will only repeat itself, she warned.

Mary Akrami, Executive Director of Afghan Women’s Network, also briefed the Council, deploring that the United States-Taliban agreement reached in February “has brought nothing but increased violence”. The parties to the peace process must not negotiate peace while at the same time launching violent offensives, she insisted, emphasizing that such a duality only serves to undermine the peace process and erode the population’s confidence in it.

Noting that the plea of Afghan civil society – particularly women — for a ceasefire has been dismissed by the Taliban, she said the group has even launched a murderous campaign against professional women, journalists, and peacebuilders. Meanwhile, it has intensified its violent attacks on educational institutions and public and private properties, she said, declaring: “We are tired of attending funerals of our friends and relatives — we want an end to this war.” Urging the Council not to stand idly by as spectators, she demanded: “Do not allow a Rwanda-type genocide take place under your watch in Afghanistan.”

Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), also briefed, describing how drug trafficking could undermine the fragile peace process in Afghanistan. Citing Council resolution 2543 (2020), she highlighted the importance of regional cooperation, governance and the rule of law, including through the fight against corruption, as the “building blocks” for an Afghanistan at peace. A cornerstone action to achieve that aspiration is a well-integrated and balanced strategy to counter the illicit drug trade, she said, noting that taxes on opium — paid by poppy farmers mostly to the Taliban — were valued at $14.5 million in 2019. Taxes on the more lucrative manufacturing and trafficking of opiates may have generated eight times as much, with the total income from opium estimated at 11 per cent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Noting that the total area of the country under opium poppy cultivation in 2020 increased by 37 per cent over the previous year, to the third-largest area ever measured, she underscored the need to enable more farmers to shift to viable, licit crops. The Government of Afghanistan and the country’s donors should all devote greater resources, and increase operational capabilities, to disrupt drug trafficking. In addition, she highlighted a range of support being provided by UNODC in such areas as police reform and the mentoring, training and advisory services — all of which have become even more imperative in the context of departing international forces.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates exchanged their views on the impact of the departure of foreign troops on the peace process, while also expressing concern over an escalation in Taliban attacks and the deteriorating security and humanitarian situations. Some speakers stressed the need to ensure that the gains made in advancing the rights of women, children and minorities over the last 20 years are not lost. Delegates largely expressed support for UNAMA, but some outlined nuanced positions on the continuation of a United Nations presence in Afghanistan following the expiration of the Mission’s mandate in September.
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