Interpreting the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2593 on Afghanistan: change or status quo?

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has inadvertently led to the Taliban taking control of the country. The United Nations Security Council, under the presidency of India has, albeit with the abstention of China and Russia, passed resolution 2593 to condemn the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and to reaffirm the international community’s commitment to peace. ATUL ALEXANDER writes about the greater implications of this resolution.


THE takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has captured the media spotlight these past few weeks. The visuals of Afghan civilians flocking to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in utter desperation to flee Afghanistan vividly reflects what may follow in the coming days.

Afghanistan has suffered endless war over the past four decades. The cold war prompted the United States (U.S) and Soviet Russia to meddle in the internal affairs of Afghanistan; the U.S backed the Mujahideen to counter the communist party coup after the ouster of the monarchy.

The U.S supported the Mujahideen with weapons and financial assistance. Subsequently, the Soviet troops withdrew in 1989, catapulting the Mujahideen to power in Afghanistan.

The initial public euphoria surrounding the takeover by the Mujahideen was short-lived as the Mujahideen preached a ferocious brand of Islamic fundamentalism. The next generation Mujahideen, i.e., the Taliban backed by Pakistan, adopted similar policies, going the extra mile to assassinate the former communist leader of Afghanistan, Mohammed Najibullah, in broad daylight.

While all these incidents were unfolding, at the receiving end of the fallout were the common people of Afghanistan. It is estimated that the proxy war in Afghanistan forced more than 3 million Afghan refugees to flee to neighbouring Pakistan, some of whom were educated and indoctrinated in madrassas to join the Taliban.

Also read: Why the Afghanistan crisis underscores the need for a refugee law

Despite divided views, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 2593 on 30th August 2021, with China and Russia abstaining. The scope and implications of the UNSC resolution are manifold, given the existing crisis in Afghanistan.

Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan

The U.S completing its withdrawal from Afghanistan has opened up the possibility of a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

It is estimated that 2,70,000 Afghans have been displaced since January 2021. Most of the displacement is attributed to incessant violence and insecurity. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the number of civilian casualties has risen to 29 per cent. The crisis is further accentuated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a drought. Most of the affected population are young civilians and women.

As the UN Refugee Agency notes, “Humanitarian resources are currently falling dramatically short. UNHCR’s financial appeal for the Afghanistan situation (including operations for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran) remains acutely underfunded, at only 43 per cent of a total US$ 337 million required.” The International Rescue Committee, which recently released its 2021 Emergency Watchlist, i.e., countries where crises are expected to emerge, placed Afghanistan in second place.

Moreover, the U.S and other aid donors have reacted to the takeover of Afghanistan by halting any sort of financial aid, including the freezing of Afghanistan’s reserves. An internal report of the World Food Program highlights that “A humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions is unfolding before our eyes. Conflict combined with drought and covid-19 is pushing the people of Afghanistan into a humanitarian catastrophe.” Amidst the ongoing conflict, the Afghan currency spiked from 81 (to the US dollar) to 100. Therefore, in these desperate times, the people of Afghanistan require assistance.

Even if the international community does not recognise the Taliban government, there is a clarion need to establish humanitarian assistance to support government institutions and provide aid to the most vulnerable.

The botched-up policy of the U.S in Afghanistan for the past 20 years has resulted in a massive catastrophe. Although the U.S intervention in Afghanistan was meant to eliminate the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 carnage, the U.S troops stayed on, and the subsequent Bilateral Security Arrangement in 2016 with Afghanistan unsuccessfully pledged “commitment seeking a future of justice, peace, security, and opportunity for the Afghan people.”

With the humanitarian crisis looming large, the Western nations and the U.S have evacuated their citizens from Afghanistan. As the U.S president puts it, “U.S. troops in Afghanistan faced mounting danger, and aid agencies warned of an impending humanitarian crisis for the population left behind.”

Also read: Afghanistan: Behind the Smoke and Mirrors

Further, the Taliban has been accused of reprisal and property seizure alongside ‘summary executions’. According to the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, “The Taliban treatment of women and girls will mark ‘a fundamental red line.’”

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2593

 With this hostility in the backdrop, the UNSC resolution 2593 on ‘Afghanistan’ was passed by majority vote in the UNSC on 30th August 2021 under the presidency of India. Despite the resolution getting the green signal,  the proceedings reflect the divide amongst the P5 States.

The resolution sets out by reaffirming a strong commitment to the international community to ensure national unity in Afghanistan. It further condemns the deplorable attack carried out by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province on the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Moreover, the resolution in strongly worded language condemned terrorism.

In a way, the resolution resembled the prior UNSC resolution 1267, which was passed in the aftermath of the bombings of the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In fact, resolution 1267 fixed accountability, wherein in the context of the Taliban, it cogently articulated the justifications for  “ceasing the provision of sanctuary and training for international terrorists and their organisations, take appropriate, effective measures to ensure that the territory under its control is not used for terrorist installations and camps, or the preparation or organisation of terrorist acts against other States or their citizens, and cooperate with efforts to bring indicted terrorists to justice.”

The Taliban failing to comply with the obligation mentioned above would imply that the UNSC could deem it a ‘threat to international peace and security’ and thereby invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter to set in motion the enforcement mechanism.

However, the paradox is that unlike resolution 1267, the present resolution 2593 lacks teeth in terms of its effective enforcement. Even though the resolution strongly deplores any act of aiding and abetting terrorism, the consequences for the breach of resolution 2593 are not spelt out in clear terms.

One firm commitment that emerged from the resolution is its earnest attempt to pitch for humanitarian assistance. However, once again, the language of the resolution is feeble, using phrases such as ‘call for’ and ‘notes’ rather than tough phrases like ‘strongly condemning’ and ‘urges’.  This indicates that the resolution on Afghanistan was passed courtesy of several compromises made against the first draft of the resolution.

Additionally, the resolution stresses the significance of human rights concerning women, children, minorities and of respect for humanitarian law, including Afghan nationals’ license to travel abroad.

It is laudable that the UNSC has managed to pass a resolution on the situation in Afghanistan, as on several earlier occasions which necessitated the involvement of the UNSC like in Yemen and in Syria, it  failed to make any substantial contributions because of the lack of consensus.   However, the present resolution is to be read with extreme caution, as the seven-paragraph resolution is frail and does not make any robust commitments or stipulate any political or legal implications.

Also read: The case for ‘diplomatic’ intervention in Afghanistan under international law

The trade-off in the UNSC was the result of objections raised by China and Russia to the first draft of the resolution sponsored by France, the U.K and the U.S as it focussed very closely on the Taliban, that is, the original resolution was meant to monitor the activities of the Taliban. It is reported that “language which noted that the Taliban will be held accountable for their commitments regarding Afghans travelling abroad and language that called on the Taliban to refrain from further activities that threaten the peace, stability, and security of Afghanistan was also not retained in the draft resolution.”

It is to be noted that the resolution makes a strong pitch for humanitarian assistance. However, in the initial resolution (draft), this obligation was the sole mandate of the Taliban. However, the reference to the Taliban was omitted and instead, the new resolution called upon ‘all parties’ to undertake humanitarian assistance.

The resolution was highly criticised by China and Russia (albeit not casting a negative vote) firstly, because the resolution did not specially mention Islamic State and the Uighur East Turkestan Islamic Movement; and secondly, because the resolution was passed within a ‘tight schedule’, therefore absolving the responsibility of the U.S in the entire crisis.

According to the Russian ambassador Mr.Vassily Nebenzia, “Perhaps, if we had had more time, the results of the vote would have been different.” According to India, it was a “matter of satisfaction” that the resolution addressed India’s “key concerns” on Afghanistan.”

Also read: As Afghanistan plunges into a political crisis, a look back at the patent illegality of its invasion by the United States in 2001

The resolution passed had to accommodate the interests of the P5 States. While India is boisterous about the resolution, the semantics in its text lack vigour. The bargain has meant that the resolution does not address the accountability of the Taliban for breaches, nor does it address the responsibility of the U.S. in the events that transpired.

The resolution is simply an attempt to project the oneness of the international community in times of adversity. Nevertheless, on closer inspection, it becomes ostensible that States are divided by ideology.

(Atul Alexander is an Assistant Professor (Law) at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, and a member of the European Society of International Law. The views expressed are personal.)

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