By: VISHAL CHANDRA, Research Fellow, Manohar Parrikar-Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses
In view of the unprecedented rise in levels of violence across Afghanistan, the UN Security Council held a special session on recently to discuss the security situation in the country and the stalled peace negotiations in Doha. The UN special session was convened by India, which holds the rotational presidency of the Security Council for the month of August, at the request of the Afghan Government.
The session came in the immediate wake of Taliban overrunning two provincial capitals (Zaranj in southwestern Nimroz Province and Sherberghan in northwestern Jowzjan Province), the first time since the fall of Kunduz in the north in September 2015; a car bomb attack near Afghan Defence Minister’s residence in capital Kabul; an attack on the UN mission in Herat in western Afghanistan; and siege of several other provincial capitals in different parts of the country.
With the US announcing in April the complete withdrawal of all forces by 31 August, the Taliban intensified their military offensive across the country, including targeted attacks not only against government officials and armed forces but the entire educated segment of the Afghan society. It is reported that almost half of the country’s districts have fallen or are under varying degrees of Taliban control.
In recent weeks, with the US completing more than 95 per cent of the withdrawal process, the Taliban have encircled and laid siege to several provincial capitals and cities and towns located along key national highways. Taliban are making huge claims about territorial advances including control over the country’s key border crossing points with the neighbouring countries. With the Taliban, including thousands of foreign fighters (mainly Pakistani) reportedly fighting along with them, continuing the military offensive, and refusing to agree to a ceasefire or engage in an inclusive dialogue process, thousands of Afghans have been left internally displaced. This has further aggravated the humanitarian crisis in the country and is likely to lead to a massive refugee influx in neighbouring countries. There are also a growing number of reports about the Taliban carrying out summary executions, reimposing their strict interpretation of Islamic tenets particularly against women, destroying public infrastructure, and committing grave war crimes in areas under their control.
At the UN special session on Afghanistan, India’s Permanent Representative TS Tirumurti emphasised that for the Afghan peace process to succeed, “it is necessary to ensure that the Taliban engage in negotiations in good faith, eschew the path of violence, sever ties with the Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations, and fully commit itself towards reaching a political solution.”
Reiterating India’s continuing support for “an inclusive, Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process”, Mr. Tirumurti called for the immediate dismantling of “terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries in the region” and holding those “providing material and financial support to terrorist entities” accountable for their actions.
Further elaborating India’s position, he emphasised the need to protect the gains made by Afghanistan in the last two decades, including the country’s democratic constitutional framework and rights of women, children, and minorities. He made it clear that “any regime devoid of legitimacy in Afghanistan would find it difficult to garner much needed humanitarian and developmental assistance from the international donor community” and that “the future of Afghanistan cannot be its past”.
In her briefing, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, also warned that the situation in Afghanistan has reached a “dangerous turning point”, a “new, deadlier, and more destructive phase”, and what lies ahead is “either a genuine peace negotiation or a tragically intertwined set of crises”.
Taliban has warned the UN Security Council against taking sides, asserting their “Islamic Emirate” as the “true representative force” of the Afghan people. For now, as the Afghan Army prioritizes control over provincial capitals and key highways, the UN Security Council led by India has delivered an unambiguous and timely message to the Taliban, and their backers, that there is no international support for their so-called “Islamic Emirate” and a military takeover of the country will not bring any legitimacy to them.