Special report on the strategic review of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan - Report of the Secretary-General (A/72/312–S/2017/696)


I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to paragraph 7 of Security Council resolution 2344 (2017), in which the Council requested me to conduct a strategic review of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) with the goal of assessing the Mission’s efficiency and effectiveness in order to optimize the division of labour to ensure better cooperation between United Nations-related organizations. It comprises the findings of the strategic review and my recommendations concerning the mandated tasks, priorities and configuration of UNAMA on the basis of an in-depth review of the Mission.

2. The strategic review team, led by my Special Representative for Iraq, met a wide range of stakeholders in Afghanistan and New York in May and early June 2017, including the President, the Chief Executive, Cabinet members, key members of parliament and political parties, civil society organizations, women’s groups and representatives of the diplomatic and donor community, United Nations agencies, funds and programmes and non-governmental organizations. The review also considered the comprehensive review conducted in 2012 (see A/66/728-S/2012/133), internal assessments in the intervening years and the final report of the Tripartite Review Commission on the United Nations in Afghanistan, submitted to the Security Council in September 2015 (see S/2015/713). Lastly, the present report was informed by my own visit to Kabul on 14 June 2017, where I met with the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, and the Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah, as well as the UNAMA senior leadership and Afghans displaced by conflict.

3. The recommendations arising from the strategic review are calibrated to prepare the United Nations engagement until the end of 2020, the same time frame as for commitments to financial and military assistance made at the summits held in 2016 in Brussels and Warsaw, thereby contributing to a coherent international engagement in Afghanistan. I should note that while the recommendations are specific to Afghanistan and were formulated following an in-depth review of the situation and the role of UNAMA, they are consistent with my broader vision for the United Nations in the current global context. In particular, they emphasize the priority of conflict prevention and sustaining peace, on the basis of an expansive understanding of peacebuilding that stresses the political factors but incorporates economic, social and institutional factors. They are also consistent with the recommendations of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (see A/70/95-S/2015/446) and the subsequent implementation report of my predecessor (A/70/357-S/2015/682), which stressed unity of effort across the United Nations family, and with my own determination that the United Nations as a system deliver for Member States in a more coherent and effective way.

II. Background

4. Since the establishment of UNAMA in 2002, the Mission’s role has been defined by its support for the transition process outlined in the Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-establishment of Permanent Government Institutions, signed in Bonn, Germany, in December 2001, also referred to as the Bonn Agreement. The implementation of the Agreement was premised on the transition to a post-conflict environment, with an armed opposition acting against rather than as a serious hindrance to the achievement of peace and prosperity. In subsequent years, the adoption of a constitution, expanded protection for human rights and civil liberties, democratic elections for the President and parliament and the establishment and growing effectiveness of government and State institutions have been seen. All of those processes were closely supported by UNAMA. Despite progress in those areas, the Taliban-led insurgency began to gain ground, particularly after 2006. Against that backdrop, Afghanistan entered a new phase in 2014 with the peaceful transition from one elected President to another and the transfer of security responsibilities from the International Security Assistance Force, led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.

5. The role of UNAMA evolved as the situation in Afghanistan changed, and the Mission’s mandate and scope of activities expanded. Following a phase of expansion, the Mission’s strength has been contracting since 2011. In recognition of the sovereignty of Afghanistan and as Afghan State institutions continued to gain capacity, UNAMA increasingly played a supporting role in alignment with the priorities of State institutions. However, real and meaningful progress notwithstanding, the Afghan State currently continues to rely heavily on the international community, both financially and in terms of security support. More than 60 per cent of the Government’s budget is financed by foreign donors, and despite immense resources spent on institution-building, at moments of crisis Afghan institutions are at times perceived to be insufficiently effective at mediating between powerful interests and factions that retain autonomous capacities for violence.

6. These internal political rivalries take place in a context in which the legitimacy of the State is contested by the Taliban insurgency. During the early years of the implementation of the Bonn Agreement, it was predicted that the insurgency could be contained or diminished. Subsequent developments proved contrary to that assumption. A political settlement is therefore required. Efforts to begin negotiations towards that end have been made over the past few years, but so far have gained little traction.

7. It is this overall environment — defined by a fragile political consensus among those who recognize the constitutional order and an increasingly violent and sustained insurgency by those who reject that order — in which the United Nations is now operating. Doing so demands a reorientation of its activities. I strongly recommend that the ultimate goal of the Mission over the next several years be to support all efforts to reach sustainable peace and self-reliance in Afghanistan.

8. The strategic review analysed the context and made recommendations on how UNAMA and the wider United Nations system should respond to it in pursuit of the overarching goal: a stable and prosperous Afghanistan with good neighbourly relations, where human rights are upheld and basic services are available to all.