1 . The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 68/11 and Security Council resolution 2210 (2015), in which I was requested to report every three months on developments in Afghanistan.
2 . The report provides an update on the activities of the United Nations in Afghanistan, including significant humanitarian, development and human rights efforts, since the issuance of my previous report of 1 September 2015 (A/70/359S/2015/684) and my letter of 15 September 2015 to the President of the Security Council (S/2015/713). It also provides a summary of key political and security developments and regional and international events related to Afghanistan.
II. Relevant developments
3 . Security developments combined with slow economic growth, growing political pressures and expressions of public discontent underlined the challenges faced by the Government of Afghanistan. The temporary seizure by the Taliban of Kunduz City, the first provincial capital lost to the insurgency since 2001, marked the increased intensity of the conflict, whose impact on civilians has remained a major source of concern. The decision by international security partners to extend their commitments was welcomed by the Government. While the majority of the initial recommendations of the Special Electoral Reform Commission were approved by the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, the electoral architecture and the dates for the elections remain to be determined. The Government of Afghanistan and donors began implementation under the Self-Reliance through Mutual Accountability Framework. While the Government reported some progress towards meeting revenue benchmarks, and the restructuring of key revenue collecting agencies, the overall economic picture remained complex. Concerns among citizens over their future contributed to an upswing in emigration.
A. Political developments
4 . The taking of Kunduz City by the Taliban over the period from 28 September to 13 October 2015 and the deterioration of security across the north constituted a major setback for the Government. It has since sought to reassure the population as a whole by establishing accountability and redress. In the period from 1 to 16 October, President Ghani dismissed the governor of Kunduz Province, appointed a fact-finding delegation on the fall of its capital and visited the city to assess the situation. On 26 October, the delegation briefed the President on its findings and on 29 October it submitted its report to the National Security Council, although the findings were not released publicly. Members of the National Assembly, however, have continued to be vocal in their criticism of the Government’s handling of the Kunduz crisis and the security situation in the country. On 2 November, the lower house tabled a vote of no confidence in the Minister of the Interior, which did not pass. The public pressures faced by the Government were highlighted by demonstrations on 11 November in which protestors, aggrieved at the killing of seven civilians in Zabul Province and joined by other disenfranchised members of society, marched through Kabul to the presidential palace, calling for improved security and justice.
5 . The military setback in Kunduz City and attacks elsewhere in the country emboldened critics of the Government and saw the emergence of nascent opposition groupings. Supporters of the former President, Hamid Karzai, former government officials and a number of former mujahideen leaders, meeting in various configurations, made demands for a greater role in policymaking, key appointments or for an overhaul of the Government. This included calls by some for convening a loya jirga, with reference to the constitutional loya jirga foreseen in the 21 September 2014 agreement establishing the National Unity Government, or a jirga in other formats. Similar calls were made by some members of the National Assembly as well. While President Ghani and his advisers frequently engaged those parties, on a group or individual basis, the efforts at outreach and dialogue were, in certain cases, interpreted by some as representing co-optation rather than consensus-building.
6 . The political and security developments resulted in a series of presidential appointments to vacant government and security positions. President Ghani made eight appointments to fill vacant governorships, including in the northern provinces of Baghlan, Badakhshan, Faryab, Sar-e Pul and Takhar. Three out of 34 governorships in the country remained positions filled by persons serving in an acting capacity. In addition, the President appointed eight Afghan National Police regional commanders, four new provincial heads of the National Directorate of Security and five new provincial chiefs of police. The President also promoted Ahmed Zia Massoud, his Special Representative for Reforms and Good Governance, to a rank equivalent to that of vice-president. However, the position of Minister of Defence continued to be one filled by a person serving in an acting capacity, and that of attorney general remained vacant.
7 . The electoral reform process continued. On 6 September, President Ghani issued a decree in which he approved 7 of the 10 initial recommendations of the Special Electoral Reform Commission, including those on voter registration, polling centre allocation, eligibility requirements for the Board of Commissioners and the appointment process for election commissioners. The recommendation that the quota of seats reserved for women be restored to 25 per cent for the provincial and district council elections was approved, reversing changes in 2013 that had reduced the quotas to 20 per cent and zero, respectively. The President referred three recommendations back to the Commission for further elaboration. These covered the electoral system for all future elections, prospects for smaller constituencies and establishment of a transparency committee to provide oversight of the electoral bodies. The Commission is expected to provide the final recommendations by 21 December 2015. However, the implications of the decision of two of its members not to participate in discussions after the submission of the first set of recommendations, as a result of disagreements over the recommendations on the type of the electoral system, have yet to be determined. For its part, the United Nations, as a non-voting member of the Special Electoral Reform Commission, has continued to support the reform process through technical assistance and advice.
8 . On 6 September, President Ghani issued two legislative decrees amending the Election Law as well as the Law on Structures, Duties and Authorities of the Independent Election Commission and Independent Election Complaints Commission, in order to implement the recommendations of the Special Electoral Reform Commission. In mid-September, the Government also inaugurated a process for the formation of a seven-member selection committee responsible for the nomination of a new Independent Election Commission and a new Independent Electoral Complaints Commission. Tasked by President Ghani to prepare the electoral calendar, while taking into account the recommendations of the Special Electoral Reform Commission, the Independent Election Commission has not yet announced dates for parliamentary and district council elections.
9 . Since the 7 July 2015 talks in Murree facilitated by Pakistan, the subsequent announcement of the death of Mullah Omar and the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the prospects for a peace process have remained static. Rifts and tensions emerged in the Taliban, notwithstanding speculation that military gains would enable the Taliban’s new head, Mullah Mansoor, to consolidate leadership. On 19 September, a Taliban faction opposed to the leadership of Mullah Mansoor issued a statement claiming that his attempts to restore the cohesion of the Taliban had failed.In early November, a faction opposing Mullah Mansoor appointed an alternate leader, Mullah Mohammed Rasool Akhund, an announcement reportedly followed by clashes in Zabul Province. There were further tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly after the capture of Kunduz City by the Taliban. A number of Afghan political leaders alleged that the inaction of Pakistan had enabled the Taliban’s military operation. The allegation was rejected by Pakistan. On 9 October, the leader of Hezb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, publically criticized the Taliban over the seizure of Kunduz City and set out an agenda for peace negotiations. During his visit to Washington, D.C., from 21 to 23 October, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, affirmed his continuing readiness to facilitate talks between the Taliban and the Government of Afghanistan, but noted the existing discordance with the simultaneous demands that the group be neutralized. In consultation with the Government of Afghanistan, my Special Representative for Afghanistan continued to engage with all parties, including regional neighbours, in an attempt to facilitate an improvement in relations which would be conducive to a peace process.
10 . It was against this backdrop that a local initiative to foster stability, with support from national actors, was concluded. On 7 September, a local ceasefire agreement covering Dand-e-Ghori in Pul-i-Khumri district, Baghlan Province, was signed by the Minister for Tribal and Border Affairs, the Baghlan Provincial Governor and tribal elders. Reported as being the first ceasefire agreement with the official endorsement of the Government of Afghanistan, it stipulated that neither the Afghan security forces nor the Taliban would carry out military operations in the area. The ceasefire witnessed an immediate reduction in violent clashes. However, some stakeholders questioned the arrangement, including the Taliban’s commitment to sustaining the ceasefire as opposed to using it to strengthen its broader position in the area, and registered concern over any diminished government control over the district.
11 . On 12 October in Kabul, approximately 500 representatives of government religious councils, independent clerics and religious scholars participated in the Ulema National Conference in Support of Peacebuilding in Afghanistan, which was facilitated by the High Peace Council, with support and assistance from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Participants adopted a resolution, which was endorsed by President Ghani, backing government efforts to bring together all sides to the conflict to achieve peace. UNAMA continued to support inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue in the Provinces of Kandahar, Paktya, and Paktika, with the related events covering such issues as the role of youth, tribal leaders and religious scholars in support of peace and reconciliation.