President Trump is set to unveil a new US military strategy for Afghanistan in a primetime speech tonight. When he does, he should take heed of the behind-the-scenes work of the United Nations in Afghanistan.
The United Nations has fielded a mission to Afghanistan for nearly as long as the United States has deployed troops there. The United Nations Mission Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is one of two “political missions” dispatched to a global hotspot. (The other is in Iraq). Since its founding in 2002, UNAMA has been an international civilian counterpart to the military efforts lead by NATO and the United States. In its current iteration, UNAMA provides four main functions. It provides “good offices” to mediate disputes or disagreements between; coordinates international humanitarian relief and local development initiatives and provides human rights monitoring.
In the last week alone, UNAMA helped organize a women’s conference in eastern Afghanistan to encourage female participation in localized peace process; released a fact-finding report on a massacre of 36 civilians in a remote village by self-proclaimed Islamic State and Taliban elements; and the head of UNAMA, the Japanese diplomat Tadamichi Yamamoto, met with local leaders in Kandahar to “learn about their concerns and discuss key issues, including peace, elections, security and support to conflict-displaced Afghans.”
his it the kind of run-of-the-mill behind the scenes work that is not at all headline grabbing, but nevertheless critical for long term peace and development efforts.
The United Nations is unique in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) because it is often able to work in places where American civilians cannot. This is why UNAMA stresses its ‘good offices’ to mediate disputes. (‘Good offices,’ says UNAMA, “are diplomatic steps UN takes publicly and in private, drawing on its independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.”
It’s perceived neutrality opens certain doors that might be closed to officials from the United States. It is also seen as a more credible on certain issues than the Afghan or American governments. So when UNAMA releases a report about a recent massacre, it is not viewed as having an ulterior motive to uncovering the crimes.
Nevertheless, the UN mission in Afghanistan shares the same overall goals as the United States. And, it’s important to point out, the United States is a member of the Security Council which literally writes the mandate of UNAMA. The activities and mission of UNAMA are approved by the United States and, presumably, guided by American national interests.
It’s a diplomatic force multiplier, and one that the President should take into account as he announces a new American military strategy for Afghanistan.