In mid-August 2021, Taliban militants swept into Kabul, completing their takeover of Afghanistan and marking a new phase in what has been the world’s most lethal conflict in recent years. The U.S.-backed government in place since 2001 is gone, as are almost all U.S. and NATO troops. As the new dispensation takes shape, Crisis Group remains focused on promoting a deep understanding of events on the ground and helping the various stakeholders inside and outside the country comprehend their counterparts' motives and political constraints. We also aim to advance policies that improve security and promote inclusive governance.
Western sanctions on the Taliban regime for its restrictions on women’s rights are plunging Afghanistan into isolation, including from its neighbours. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024, Crisis Group outlines ways the EU can support regional diplomacy and mitigate the country’s socio-economic crisis.
Islamic State’s local branch launched multiple attacks across country and in neighbouring Iran, while Taliban authorities made first arrest under draconian 2022 decree on women’s dress.
After short pause, Islamic State resumed deadly attacks. In its first attack of 2024 following pause since mid Nov 2023, Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-KP) 4 Jan beheaded Taliban member in Kunar province (north east). IS-KP 6 Jan conducted explosive strike in capital Kabul’s Dasht-e Barchi district, which killed two and injured over a dozen. Suicide explosion 14 Jan rocked office of provincial governor in Nimruz province (south west), killing three security guards; although unclaimed, it also bore hallmarks of IS-KP. Relatedly, IS-KP claimed twin bombings in Iran’s Kerman city that killed scores (see Iran).
Taliban enforced conservative dress rules on women. Reports 2 Jan surfaced that Taliban authorities had arrested women in Kabul for violating religious hijab-wearing rules, marking first reported arrest for such violation since May 2022 decree enforcing rules; Taliban officials claimed women were detained and released on bail after male relatives had been informed. Meanwhile, crackdown on political space continued: reports indicated that Taliban authorities had arrested over dozen Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in Takhar province (north) as part of broader crackdown on group.
Pakistan and Afghanistan took steps to repair ties, but bilateral tensions remained. Acting Deputy Defence Minister Shirin Akhund 3 Jan visited Pakistan for meetings with senior Pakistani officials. Pakistani politician Fazal-ur-Rehman 7 Jan visited Kabul; unconfirmed reports claimed Rehman was granted audience with Taliban emir, making him only the second foreign dignitary to meet Taliban leader in recent years. Talks followed months of tension between two countries over anti-Pakistan militants growing active in borderlands, but issue remains unresolved.
Norway and UK engaged diplomatically with Taliban. Norway’s Chargé d’Affaires to Afghanistan Paul Klouman Bekken 9 Jan met Taliban’s Deputy FM for Political Affairs Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai. UK’s Chargé d’Affaires to Afghanistan Robert Dickson 12 Jan met Stanekzai; Dickson stated bilateral “engagement will be further enhanced in the future”.
The more isolated the Taliban becomes, the more they turn to China to replace the diplomatic weight the US previously provided.
Most regional capitals are not allowing the issue of non-recognition [of the Taliban] to hinder their relations with Kabul.
As Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban severed, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also gotten cold feet in their engagement [with the Taliban].
The flood of outrage from the West will strengthen the resolve of the Taliban leadership [in Afghanistan], which defines itself as a bulwark against the outside world.
Even as many diplomats shun the Taliban regime, protesting its treatment of women and girls, emissaries of countries near Afghanistan have sought dealings with Kabul in areas like security and commerce. It is a worthwhile endeavour, and the West should not stand in the way.
Pakistan has started repatriations that could force millions of Afghans back to their crisis-wracked home country. As Crisis Group expert Ibraheem Bahiss explains in this Q&A, the policy could bring further trouble to the region, notwithstanding Islamabad’s efforts to justify itself on security grounds.
Surviving the impact of climate change and adapting to harsher new environments are collective tasks that need the cooperation of all countries, even Afghanistan under the outcast Taliban regime.
On 13 September, Crisis Group Asia Program Director Pierre Prakash spoke at the Afghanistan Humanitarian Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) at Brussels.
How to Help Afghanistan Without Normalizing Relations
The Taliban have barred women from universities and many workplaces, compelling several aid organisations to pause operations in Afghanistan and donors to contemplate cuts to assistance. Yet the principled response remains to mitigate the harm these harsh rulings are doing to the most vulnerable Afghans.
The Taliban seem determined to isolate the country from the world, which can only lead to greater misery for Afghans. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2023, Crisis Group explains how the EU and its member states can help address the challenges Afghanistan faces.
Like It or Not, Donors Must Work With The Taliban on Economic Recovery.
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