1. The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 68/11 and Security Council resolution 2274 (2016), 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 report of 7 March 2016 (A/70/775-S/2016/218). It also provides a summary of key political and security developments and regional and international events relating to Afghanistan.
II. Relevant developments
3. The Government continued to face significant security, political and economic challenges. The initial momentum for a possible peace process with the Taliban through the Quadrilateral Coordination Group on the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Process was lost, but progress was made towards a peace agreement with the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin. The National Assembly confirmed essential appointees, while the Government filled additional key posts. There was limited progress in advancing electoral reform and preparations for parliamentary and district council elections. The security situation was characterized by continued and intense armed clashes, which were at their highest number recorded since 2001 and had a corresponding negative impact on civilians, with rising casualties and displacement rates. The Government continued preparations for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Warsaw and the conference on Afghanistan in Brussels and made some gains in its reform agenda, including anti-corruption measures and identifying future development priorities. Nevertheless, economic growth remained low and emigration continued at high levels.
A. Political developments
4. Efforts to reinvigorate the peace process with the Taliban struggled to maintain momentum after four meetings of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States of America, which were covered in my previous report. On 5 March, the Taliban issued a statement in which it reiterated that it would not participate in peace talks unless its preconditions, including the withdrawal of foreign troops, its removal from international sanctions lists and the release of Taliban prisoners, were met. On 12 April, the Taliban launched its annual spring offensive. Following a major attack in Kabul a week later, on 19 April, in which 56 civilians were killed and 337 injured, the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, convened an extraordinary joint session of the National Assembly on 25 April. In his address, he questioned the readiness of Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, recommitted himself to weakening the insurgency through combat operations and called for the enforcement of the death penalty for prisoners convicted of crimes of national security. After he had authorized the execution of six detainees on 8 May, the Taliban hanged two Afghan National Police officers in Paktika Province two days later in retaliation. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group held its fifth meeting on 18 May in Islamabad, at which members reiterated their commitment to the peace process. No date for a future meeting was set.
5. While efforts towards a peace process with the Taliban stalled, progress was made towards finalizing a peace agreement between the Government and the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin. On 17 March, a delegation from the group held its first direct peace talks in Kabul with the High Peace Council. Additional envoys arrived in Kabul on 23 April, at the invitation of the President, for talks with senior government officials, later meeting the President on 30 April. The Chair of the Council, Syed Ahmad Gilani, approved the final draft peace agreement on 19 May before its submission to the President and the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin leadership for signature, which remains pending. Previously, on 1 April, the Council had sought to address concerns about its effectiveness by developing a new strategy for activities and terminating most of its provincial presence, maintaining only the Chairs of provincial peace councils and the heads of provincial joint secretariat teams.
6. Uncertainty over the prospect for direct talks between the Government and the Taliban increased with the killing on 21 May of the Taliban leader, Mullah Mansoor, in a drone strike by the United States in the Balochistan province of Pakistan and the announcement on 25 May by the Taliban of his successor, Haibatullah Akhundzada. In the same announcement, the son of the late Mullah Omar, Mullah Yaqoob, who had accepted an appointment on 4 April to the Taliban leadership council and the military commission, was selected as his deputy, alongside Sirajuddin Haqqani, who retained Akhundzada’s deputy position. On 25 May, the faction led by Mullah Rasool, which had engaged in armed clashes with Taliban elements loyal to the late Mullah