The adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2615 should serve as a breather for the Taliban in their quest to consolidate their position by providing good governance and meeting the concerns of the US/EU and other important capitals. The resolution grants a one-year exemption for “humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan”. The resolution also clarifies that it is not a violation of paragraph 1(a) of resolution 2255 (2015), which froze the Taliban’s funds and other financial assets or economic resources.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Office has welcomed the adoption of resolution 2615, stating that the resolution “reaffirmed that provision of humanitarian and other assistance to people of Afghanistan is not a violation of the Security Council Sanctions regime.” It also reflected the resolution adopted unanimously by the 17th Extraordinary Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers hosted by Pakistan last week. Describing the passage of the resolution as “a step in the right direction towards helping the Afghan people in dire need”, the statement invited the attention of the international community to find a way “towards revitalizing of the Afghan economy and unfreezing of the assets that rightfully belong to the Afghan people.”
Indeed, the resolution provides the necessary tools to donor countries to reach out to the Afghan people in dire need of assistance. It will be a temporary relief for the Afghan people until the UN funds and programmes chalk out a comprehensive strategy for aid delivery. Operative paragraph 2 of the resolution “requests the Emergency Relief Coordinator to brief the Security Council every six months from the adoption of this resolution based on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan”.
The coordinator’s role will be crucial in aid delivery as this office monitors the UN agencies and other donors, including countries and NGOs. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the United Nations is planning an $8 billion programme of aid and services in Afghanistan for next year, taking on many government functions at a time when the Taliban regime remains under economic sanctions and lacks diplomatic recognition, according to international officials.”
Prima facie, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), will be responsible for aid delivery across the country. However, fine prints of the resolution make it clear that this body would play the watchdog role to keep a tab on the activities of the Taliban to ensure that funds may not fall in their hands till the UNSC resolution 2255 (2015) is in vogue. The situation may change in favour of the Taliban if they strike a deal with the Americans on issues of “inclusivity, denial of space to AQ/ISIS and human rights, including women’s rights”.
The broad-based interpretation of the UNSC resolution may encompass four areas to look after the interests of multiple stakeholders. First, although not specified, resolution 2615 has authorized the UN to serve as a custodian of Afghanistan to look after its socio-economic needs. Food and medical aid would be covered under its relief package. It is also possible that the UN may chip in to provide educational facilities, especially for the girls. The Taliban are unlikely to have a say in the aid distribution, although they would be bound to provide security to the UN agencies and NGOs.
Second, since the ERC office’s reach would be throughout the country, it would keep an eye on the governance practices of the Taliban, especially issues concerning human rights. ECR’s reporting to the Security Council about the Taliban’s behaviour would carry substantive weight and determine the Security Council’s future course of action towards the Taliban government.
Third, the Taliban will be able to generate revenues from within the country and through customs duties. Moreover, there is no restriction on Afghanistan conducting trade with the rest of the world. This should provide an opportunity for the Taliban regime to utilize the revenues for payment of salaries to the government servants and undertake development projects. It is estimated that the Taliban government earns some $3 million a day from customs and other levies, enabling it to pay the salaries of government employees. The regime is now preparing an annual Afghan budget that doesn’t include foreign aid for the first time in 20 years.
Fourth, depending on the Taliban’s decision about the inclusivity of various ethnic groups, religious minorities and women, the Afghan opposition may decide about its future strategy. In doing so, they will be looking at the outside reaction to the happenings in Afghanistan. The US and EU may show flexibility on the inclusivity aspect of the cabinet under the Taliban. Still, they may not compromise on the human rights issues, including women’s rights to education and work.
Apart from Ahmad Shah Masoud’s son, other warlords will be flexing their muscles if Afghanistan worsens. Reportedly, some well-known warlords, including Dostum, Hekmatyar, Mohaqqiq, and Qanooni, have recently met in Turkey to chalk out their future course of action. They may wait till the onset of spring. If an opposition alliance comes into being, it may garner financial and material support from the known external sources supporting the erstwhile Northern Alliance before 9/11. Such a scenario would spell a replay of old enmities amongst the Afghans and their external supporters. It would undoubtedly be a setback to reconciliatory efforts launched by different stakeholders at the regional and international levels.
The Security Council resolution does not provide a long-term remedy for Afghanistan’s stability. Still, it has opened a small window for the stakeholders to work for durable peace and stability in the war-ravaged country. A chaotic Afghanistan thus would offer an ideal setting for various terrorist organizations to fortify their sanctuaries and launch operations at the targeted destinations.
In an interview with CNN, former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has called the international community “to work with the Taliban to prevent millions of people from starving to death.” He has advised the international community “to prioritize getting much-needed aid to Afghans and, for now, put its mistrust of the Taliban aside.”
The author is a former Ambassador of Pakistan in Iran and UAE. He is currently working as a Senior Research Fellow in Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).