The security situation in Afghanistan remains volatile, as civilian casualties are on the rise and the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban is quite shaky, says a recent United Nations report.
In a recently released report titled "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security," Ban Ki-Monn, Secretary-General of the United Nations, acknowledged that the war-torn country is far from peaceful and stable since the withdrawal of NATO combat troops in December 2014.
The UN Secretary-General, however, praised the role of the Afghan security forces during last year's presidential elections and their efforts to "thwart the efforts of anti-government elements."
Despite some security gains last year, the UN recorded 22,051 security incidents in 2014, which surpassed those of 2013 by 10 percent. "In terms of incidents recorded over the past 13 years, 2014 was the second-highest, after 2011. Of those incidents, 68 percent were recorded in southern, southeastern and eastern regions, with Nangarhar Province being the most volatile and recording 13 percent of the incidents," said the report.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, also expressed the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan's (UNAMA) concerns about the rise in civilian deaths in the South Asian nation.
"UNAMA documented over 10,000 civilian casualties in 2014, the highest annual number of civilian casualties recorded since UNAMA began systematic monitoring in 2009. The rise in civilian casualties resulted mainly from increased ground engagements in which Afghan forces and insurgents used indirect fire in and on civilian populated areas," said Haysom, adding that parties to the conflict must understand the impact of their actions and take responsibility for them.
Haysom emphasized the need to take "concrete steps towards a real reduction in civilian casualties in 2015."
In an interview with DW in January, Haysom said that Afghanistan was "passing through a critical period of transition," however, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah had put forward a "thoughtful, bold and much needed reform agenda" for the country's future.
"The recent surge in security incidents is cause for concern. It would appear timed to coincide with the drawdown of international military forces and shows that at least some elements of the Taliban still - wrongly - believe that there can be victory on the battlefield. The increasing impact on civilians caught in the crossfire makes progress on a reconciliation process, all the more vital," Haysom told DW.
Looming 'Islamic State' threat
The UN Secretary-General's report also talked about the seriousness of the "Islamic State" (IS) threat in Afghanistan, but emphasized that the main security threats still emerged from armed regional groups: "The principal security challenges from insurgent groups remain the Afghan Taliban and other experienced insurgent entities, notably the Haqqani Network, the armed faction of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan affiliates and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, particularly in the east of the country."
Nevertheless, UNAMA points out that the threat posed by IS to the South Asian nation should not be taken lightly: "Recent reports have indicated that the Islamic State of Iraq, or DAISH as it's called in the region, has established a foothold in Afghanistan. It is UNAMA's assessment that the group's presence is of concern but that IS' significance is not so much a function of its intrinsic capacities in the region, but of its potential to offer an alternative flagpole to which otherwise isolated insurgent splinter groups can rally," said Haysom.
In Farah (West-Afghanistan), in Helmand (South Afghanistan), and in Zabul (East Afghanistan), there were reports of men dressed in black who did not speak the language of the Taliban. They seemed to be financially independent, and also carried around the IS flag. Several Afghan officials have expressed concern about this development.
Former Afghan warlord Ismail Khan, who until recently was the Minister for Energy and Water, spoke at a press conference in mid-January about a looming warfront. "Foreign men are recruiting and training Safed militants in the Khake District. As early as spring, there will be battles. The government should be prepared for it," Khan told DW.
The Afghan government has been aggressively trying to make peace with certain factions of the Taliban to improve the security situation and also to impede an IS expansion in the country.
UNAMA appreciated President Ghani's efforts in this regard. "In past weeks, reports on possible peace talks between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban have been prevalent," said Haysom, adding that according to UNAMA's assessment "there is currently an alignment of circumstances that could be conducive to fostering peace talks."
Pakistan's support in this regard is considered highly valuable and crucial. "In the past months, I have undertaken a number of visits to Afghanistan's neighboring countries and met with senior officials inter alia from Iran, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan. I am pleased to report that in each of these meetings, many interlocutors have recognized the importance of enhancing regional collaboration.
They affirmed their readiness to play a constructive role in Afghanistan and appreciate that stability and economic cooperation are ultimately a matter of mutual self-interest," Haysom said.