For more than two decades, the role of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has been a delicate and contentious matter. However, the mission of this board has become increasingly burdensome with the fall of the Republicans and the Taliban takeover. UNAMA currently serves as a bridge between Afghan citizens and the international community. Now, some political figures and former representatives of Afghanistan in the United Nations are advocating for a change in the function of this institution. According to them, UNAMA is currently taking on a reactive role when its primary function should be to avert crises. The relations of UN meaningful communication with the opponents of this group are among other criticisms that have called into question the role of the UNAMA mission in Afghanistan.
On Monday, August 1, the Afghanistan Institute for Strategic Studies held a virtual meeting to assess the role of UNAMA in Afghanistan during peace talks, transitioning from a ‘power agent‘ to a ‘principle–oriented actor‘.
At the meeting, Mahmoud Saikal, the former Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, Naheed Farid, the former Representative of the Afghan Parliament, Annie Pforzheimer, the former Deputy of the United States Mission in Kabul, and Shoaib Rahim, the Senior Adviser of the former Afghan Government‘s State Ministry for Peace, were in attendance. The meeting was moderated by Lynne O‘Donnell, an Australian journalist and author.
The participants deliberated on the past role of UNAMA, worries about the prolongation of UNAMA‘s mission in Afghanistan, and the mistrust of Afghan citizens towards UNAMA‘s politics and diplomacy.
At this meeting, Saikal argued that the United Nations should be ready to take on a more prominent role in offering preventive measures in the UNAMA mission. He criticized UNAMA‘s lack of engagement with the Taliban‘s adversaries and noted that its role was more reactive than preventive. “The United Nations was not established to respond, but rather to avert crises from occurring,” Saikal stated.
The former representative of Afghanistan in the United Nations expressed his concern about the suspicion of Afghan citizens towards the ‘diplomacy‘ of the UNAMA mission. He stated that it has been proven that diplomacy was not the solution, but instead it sometimes limited access to peace and security. Consequently, until the lost confidence in diplomacy is regained, UNAMA‘s mission will be met with doubt, regardless of its content.
Saikal deemed UNAMA‘s responsibility in coordinating and facilitating humanitarian aid in Afghanistan to be essential, but highlighted its ineffectiveness in interacting and facilitating dialogues with non–Taliban stakeholders. He also criticized the lack of a UNAMA representative at the Vienna conference held approximately five months ago, as well as the Herat security meeting held in Tajikistan around three months ago.
Naheed Farid, a former member of the Afghan parliament, referred to the gender apartheid situation in the country and stated that the new mission of UNAMA should focus on outlining the priorities of the United Nations, which is to promote inclusive dialogue and report on the human rights situation. Naheed emphasized that UNAMA requires strong support from New York to enable the formation of an inclusive and participatory government based on the coexistence and civilization of the Afghan people.
Shoaib Rahim, the Senior Advisor of the State Ministry for Peace of the former Afghan government, strongly criticized the activities of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), asserting that it had failed to implement its mission in Afghanistan and that its mission should not be extended. Rahim further noted that since the return of the Taliban to power, UNAMA had not interacted with domestic or non–Taliban actors, either inside or outside the country. He emphasized that UNAMA had become the Taliban’s hostage, and that the level of conflict between the mission and the Taliban was a trigger. The Senior Advisor of the State Ministry for Peace of the former Afghan government implored the United Nations Security Council not to extend the mission of UNAMA, as its presence would be detrimental not only to the citizens of Afghanistan, but also to the interests of the international community.
Annie Pforzheimer, the former deputy head of the US mission in Kabul, stressed the need for reform of UNAMA‘s role in Afghanistan and advocated for its extension for another year. She further suggested that UNAMA should facilitate conversations at the national and international levels that will lead to the formation of an inclusive government that upholds human rights in Afghanistan. Additionally, she called for more action from UN leadership, such as creating a platform for dialogue between the Taliban and their opponents, and ensuring that humanitarian aid is distributed to those in need. Lastly, she urged UNAMA to limit its interactions with Taliban officials to technical and working levels, which are necessary for the distribution of humanitarian aid.
For the past eighteen years, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has been a political coalition formed in 2002 by the UN Security Council at the request of the former government of Afghanistan. Its purpose is to assist the government and people of Afghanistan in establishing a lasting peace in the country. UNAMA‘s activities are reviewed annually, and the mission of this institution has evolved over time.
For over eighteen months of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, UNAMA has consistently urged the Taliban to reconsider their treatment of citizens. On the first anniversary of the Taliban‘s rule in August, UNAMA tweeted, imploring the Taliban to “think“ and take the necessary steps for the advancement of Afghanistan and to give its people hope. UNAMA has also cautioned the Taliban that without change, conditions could worsen. The UN Deputy in Afghanistan has stressed that it will only engage with a regime that respects the rights of citizens and represents all groups and strata of society.