CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help prevent deadly violence. It keeps decision-makers up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises every month, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. In addition, CrisisWatch monitors over 50 situations (“standby monitoring”) to offer timely information if developments indicate a drift toward violence or instability. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.

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January 2024

Asia

Afghanistan

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”.

December 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban continued crackdown on Islamic State’s local branch as armed opposition groups raised political profile abroad, while tensions persisted between Taliban and Pakistan.

Anti-Taliban groups continued armed and political activities. Taliban security forces 8 Dec targeted Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) cell in Herat province (west) and neighbouring Nimroz province (south west). While attacks by ISKP have reduced in recent months, Afghanistan Freedom Front (AFF) has emerged as one of most active armed opposition groups inside Afghanistan: group 24 Nov claimed attack against Taliban in Bagram district of Parwan province (north east). Although no attacks were attributed to National Resistance Front (NRF), group’s leader participated in conference organised in Russian capital Moscow, marking first time Russia has invited anti-Taliban groups to publicly held conference; NRF also held event in Austrian capital Vienna in early Dec, where it presented its roadmap for new Afghanistan, after group’s spokesman 28 Nov attended Herat Security Dialogue in Tajikistan capital Dushanbe. Increased international activity by armed opposition groups suggest level of international frustration with de facto authorities’ refusal to meet external demands.

Relations with Pakistan continued to exhibit strains. Militants 12 Dec conducted major attack in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing 23 soldiers (see Pakistan); hours later, Pakistani FM Jalil Abbas Jilani delivered strong demarche to Afghan chargé d’affaires, calling for Kabul to take verifiable action against perpetrators.

In other important developments. Taliban’s FM Amir Khan Muttaqi 16 Dec met with Turkmenistan FM Rasit Meredow at Torghundi border crossing of Herat province, marking first such high-level interaction between Taliban and Turkmenistan. U.S. Department of Treasury 8 Dec imposed sanctions on two Taliban officials, Fariduddin Mahmoud and Muhammad Khalid Hanafi, allegedly for their role in restrictions on women; Taliban criticised move, pointing to U.S.’ opposition to Security Council resolutions on Gaza as evidence of country’s duplicitous approach to human rights.

November 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Tensions mounted between Taliban and Pakistan as Islamabad forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of Afghans, while Islamic State’s local branch targeted ethnic minority Hazara community.

Tensions continued to rise with Pakistan amid Afghan exodus. Relations between Kabul and Islamabad continued to face strains as pair traded public criticism and Pakistan forcibly deported hundreds of thousands – and perhaps soon millions – of Afghans to Afghanistan ahead of harsh winter months, which could overwhelm Taliban authorities ill-prepared for massive influx amid one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises and as country reels from devastating earthquakes, economic challenges and sanctions. Some of those forced by Pakistan to cross border fled Taliban rule after group’s takeover in August 2021 and could risk Taliban reprisals (see Pakistan). After Pakistan’s caretaker PM stated that relations will improve when “a legitimate government is established in Kabul”, Taliban 17 Nov responded that ties will improve when “there is wise leadership in Pakistan”. Taliban-affiliated media during month continued to imply that Pakistan is supporting anti-Taliban armed groups inside Afghanistan.

Islamic State targeted ethnic minority Hazaras. Reeling from losses inflicted by security forces in recent months, Islamic State Khorsan Province (ISKP) maintained low-level activity, opting to target unarmed Hazara civilians whom group sees as soft target. Notably, ISKP 7 Nov targeted van in the Hazara enclave of Dasht-e Barchi in western neighbourhoods of Kabul, killing at least seven and wounding over dozen. Taliban intelligence forces 6 Nov reportedly targeted ISKP cell in Suki district, Kunar province (east).

Taliban convened high-level meeting to address economy and Pakistan ties. Taliban’s Emir 19 Nov held meeting with de facto cabinet in Kandahar city, which appeared to be primarily concerned with economic direction of govt as well as deteriorating relations with Pakistan; although exact details are unknown, such meetings are significant as key govt policies are often decided.

October 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Islamic State staged deadly attacks in north and capital Kabul, defying Taliban crackdown, while earthquakes in west compounded suffering and Taliban wrestled for control of embassies.

Islamic State’s local branch conducted attacks despite ongoing Taliban raids. After Taliban security forces early Sept dismantled Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) cell, Taliban-affiliated media Al Mirsad 3 Oct published confessions from the cell, which is purportedly responsible for some of largest attacks in Badakhshan province (north). Dismantling this network will likely represent blow to ISKP’s strong presence in Badakhshan, although group remains active and capable of attacks. Notably, in one of its largest attacks in months, ISKP 13 Oct assaulted mosque in Baghlan province (north), killing around seventeen Shia worshippers. ISKP claimed bomb attack 26 Oct in Kabul that killed at least four in sports club in Shia area.

Earthquakes and aftershocks in west aggravated humanitarian crisis. Powerful earthquake 7 Oct struck Herat province (west), levelling entire villages before series of shallow earthquakes and aftershocks in subsequent weeks hit region, killing over 2,000 people and destroying 2,500 homes. While humanitarian actors quickly provided $18mn in assistance, many affected communities are likely to remain in desperate need as winter fast approaches.

Taliban reportedly clamped down on anti-Pakistan militants and rival group. Following deadly militant attacks in Pakistan in Sept, reports emerged that Afghan security forces arrested hundreds of Pakistani militants and Afghan nationals involved in activities against Pakistan. Taliban forces reportedly also began clampdown on rival group Hizb ut-Tahrir countrywide, arresting dozens of members in multiple provinces.

Taliban intensified efforts to rein in Afghan embassies abroad. Afghan embassy in India 1 Oct stated it would be shutting down operations amid reports of infighting among embassy staff, pressure from Indian govt, and attempts by Taliban to takeover. In subsequent days, Afghan embassies in Netherlands and Spain announced their cooperation with de facto govt. Taliban-run foreign ministry 8 Oct issued notice advising services by Afghan embassies in London and Vienna were invalid; both posts have been most critical of Taliban govt; London embassy rejected notice.

September 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Tensions mounted between Taliban and Pakistan over Pakistani Taliban attacks and deadly border clashes, while de facto authorities tightened harsh governance policies.

Taliban and Pakistan traded barbs and clashed at border. Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) 6 Sept launched major offensive in Chitral district in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, leaving four soldiers and dozen militants dead (see Pakistan); Islamabad issued demarche to Taliban authorities, claiming militants directed operation from Afghan soil and demanded Kabul stop the attacks. Pakistani and Taliban border forces same day clashed at Torkham border crossing, killing at least two Taliban soldiers, wounding several others and forcing crossing’s closure for nine days. Reports 18 Sept emerged Afghan authorities were constructing over 100 new border posts in Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar provinces purportedly aimed at preventing TTP cross-border movement.

Humanitarian appeal faced chronic under-funding. Ongoing humanitarian crisis continued to suffer funding shortages, prompting further cuts in humanitarian programs and external interventions. Notably, World Food Programme 5 Sept announced it cut rations to two million Afghans due to funding shortages; to plug gaps, Asian Development Bank 21 Sept announced $400mn grant and EU 20 Sept announced €140mn. Afghanistan’s economy continued to remain vulnerable and aid-dependent, albeit there are signs it might be faring slightly better than in past.

Taliban continued to restrict women’s rights and political space. Authorities late Aug prohibited women from visiting Band-e-Amir national park – well-frequented tourist spot – marking latest restriction on women’s social rights. De facto authorities in Sept continued to restrict political and civil space: by mid-Sept, reports emerged that Ministry of Justice had closed provincial offices of Hizb-e-Islami party and were taking similar actions against other political parties, including Hizb-ul-Tahrir. UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 20 Sept published report outlining human rights abuses against detainees, including excessive force and mistreatment during and after arrests.

In other important developments. Newly-appointed Chinese ambassador in Kabul 13 Sept presented credentials to de facto govt, signalling Beijing’s intent to explore avenues for normalisation with Kabul that might prompt regional countries to follow suit. Indications mid-Sept surfaced that security forces arrested major ISKP cell in Badakhshan province (northeast).

August 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

On second anniversary of Taliban’s return to power, countrywide violence remained at historic low but worsening humanitarian crisis loomed large and tensions persisted with Pakistan.

Violence remained at low ebb despite sporadic attacks and Taliban raids. Afghanistan Freedom Front launched attacks on airport in Badakhshan province (north) 9 Aug and in Baghlan province (north) 11 Aug. Reports 19 Aug emerged that Taliban had besieged and dismantled last remnants of rebels in Badakhshan’s Shuhada district, likely referring to renegade Taliban commander who rebelled in Oct 2022; although surrender removes major threat of armed challenge to Taliban’s rule in Badakhshan, insecurity in province – which borders China, Tajikistan, and Pakistan – remains major concern. Meanwhile, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) did not claim major attack in Aug. Taliban-affiliated media 15 Aug claimed security forces’ raid killed two important ISKP members. Fanning fears of transnational jihadist threats, gunman who 13 Aug conducted attack in Iran was Tajik national allegedly trained by ISKP in Afghanistan.

Threat of worsening humanitarian crisis persisted. Humanitarian appeal remained drastically underfunded by 75%, making it most underfunded UN humanitarian program. UN humanitarian coordinator 17 Aug warned that “massive funding cuts are forcing life-saving programs to close at an alarming rate”, with 29.2mn Afghans in need of assistance. U.S. diplomats and Taliban officials late July met for first time since Taliban retook power; despite meeting, impasse over Central Bank’s frozen assets remained unresolved.

Taliban and Pakistan traded barbs over militant threat. Pakistan’s foreign ministry 1 Aug and army chief 7 Aug alleged that Afghan nationals had been involved in July attack in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province; Taliban called allegations baseless, countering that dozens of Pakistani nationals had joined ISKP and Pakistan failed to act on intelligence shared by Kabul. Taliban 11 Aug confirmed that preeminent body for religious edicts had issued fatwa prohibiting Afghans from fighting Pakistan. Reports 14 Aug emerged of blast near hotel in Khost city (south east) that housed refugees from Pakistan’s Waziristan district; reports suggested Pakistani drones targeted site. Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani 20, 23 Aug stated attacks inside Pakistan were country’s own internal problem.

July 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Countrywide violence remained at low ebb as UN warned of worsening humanitarian crisis, Taliban imposed new restrictions on women, and tensions grew with Pakistan.

Shia religious commemoration passed without Islamic State attacks. Amid Shia religious commemoration of Ashura, during which Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) targeted Shia Hazaras in past, interim authorities 18 July announced restrictions on large gatherings ostensibly as precaution against ISKP attacks. While ISKP did not claim attacks during July, British media 11 July reported arrest of two British brothers planning to travel to Afghanistan to join ISKP and Iran 21 July claimed senior Islamic State leaders from Iraq, Syria and Libya had moved to Afghanistan; Taliban rejected claim.

UN sounded alarm over humanitarian crises. UN early July stated that critical funding gaps were threatening country’s humanitarian program; World Food Programme had stopped giving assistance to 8m food-insecure Afghans and additional 1.4m new and expecting mothers, toddlers and pre-schoolers are no longer receiving food. Additionally, estimated 7.6m people will lack access to life-saving health care. Acting FM Amir Khan Muttaqi 8 July dismissed claims country is facing economic crisis as “propaganda”.

Taliban imposed new draconian restrictions on women. Minister for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice 2 July announced that approximately 12,000 beauty salons would be closed countrywide, which will cost 60,000 women their jobs. As authorities late July began enforcing ban, dozens of women who work in salons protested decree in capital Kabul, prompting security forces to disperse crowd with water cannons and firing in air. Afghan Examination Authority 19 July barred women from annual university entrance exams.

Militant attacks in Pakistan strained Taliban-Pakistan relations. Following deadly attacks on military installations in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province mid-July (see Pakistan), senior Pakistani officials criticised Taliban for harbouring Pakistani Taliban (TTP). Taliban Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoub 21 July stated TTP relocated to Afghanistan during U.S. “occupation” and prior to Taliban takeover, Pakistan had never accused U.S.-backed Afghan govt of complicity in TTP activities. Pakistan’s special envoy for Afghanistan 19 July met with Taliban FM.

June 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Islamic State killed senior Taliban official in north, satellite imagery revealed dramatic reduction in opium production, and UN slashed aid budget amid Taliban’s draconian restrictions on women.

Islamic State’s local branch conducted deadly attacks on Taliban in north. While violence countrywide remained at historic lows, Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) continued to menace Taliban. After two-month hiatus in attacks, ISKP 6 June carried out vehicle-borne IED strike in Badakhshan province (north), killing provincial deputy governor; ISKP suicide attack 8 June struck funeral procession of deputy governor, killing another senior Taliban member. Attacks in Badakhshan indicate ISKP may have capitalised on ethnic grievances and Taliban’s crackdown on Islamists to build network in province. Taliban 3 June reportedly killed senior ISKP commander in unspecified eastern province.

Signs emerged of Taliban’s crackdown on opium production. Private satellite imagery and analysis published 6 June indicated 99% reduction in poppy crops in main opium cultivation areas of country, such as Helmand province (south), leading to projections of 80% decline in national production of drug. If confirmed, it would mark most significant reduction of poppy cultivation in world history. Switch to alternative water-intensive crops, however, could contribute to water shortages and exacerbate disputes with neighbouring countries, while economic status of tens of thousands of labourers who previously relied on poppy cultivation remains unclear.

UN cut aid budget for country and UN rapporteur accused Taliban of “gender apartheid”. UN and humanitarian agencies 5 June revised Afghanistan’s aid plan for 2023 from $4.6bn down to $3.2bn, citing “changing operating context” following Taliban restrictions on female aid workers. UN special rapporteur for Afghanistan mid-June published report accusing Taliban government of “widespread and systematic discrimination” against women and alleging Taliban “may be responsible for gender apartheid”. In annual report, World Bank same day ranked Afghanistan among bottom 11 economies based on laws that affect women’s economic opportunity.

Tensions cooled with Iran. Following water dispute and border escalation in May, Iranian envoy 17 June stated Taliban permitted Iranian experts to visit Kajaki dam, signalling renewed dialogue.

May 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban claimed they killed deputy leader of Islamic State’s local branch, while border clashes erupted between Taliban and Iranian forces, killing at least three.

Violence countrywide remained low despite Taliban crackdown on Islamic State. Hostilities remained at low ebb compared to past 18 months. Notably, Taliban 8 May announced that they had killed deputy head of Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) in recent operation; announcement followed U.S. statement 25 April that ISKP’s mastermind behind August 2021 attack at Kabul Airport had been killed, reportedly by Taliban. After suffering loss of several leaders in recent months, ISKP may go further underground to rebuild capabilities. Taliban suppressed other insurgents: reports 12 May emerged that former Afghan governor of Bamyan province (centre), Muhammad Tahir Zuhair, who had joined Mawlawi Mehdi’s rebellion against Taliban, had surrendered.

Taliban and Iran traded barbs over water dispute and exchanged fire at border. Amid water shortages on both sides of Iran-Afghan border, FMs 17 May discussed flow of Helmand river to Iran. Iran’s President Raisi next day urged Kabul to take seriously Iran’s concerns and abide by 1973 water agreement; in response, Taliban voiced commitment to 1973 deal and criticised Raisi’s statements as “harmful” to bilateral ties. Skirmishing with heavy weapons at border post between Nimroz province (south west) and Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province 27 May killed at least two Iranian border guards and one Taliban fighter; such fatalities along border are unusual, and no link with water dispute was confirmed.

Taliban’s emir reportedly met Qatar’s PM, UN criticised Taliban’s harsh justice. Reuters 31 May reported that Qatar’s PM held talks with Taliban’s Supreme Leader on 12 May in Kandahar city, which if confirmed marks first such meeting between Taliban emir and foreign leader. Taliban-run Supreme Court 4 May announced that courts had handed down 175 judgements of qisas (death penalty) and 37 stonings since returning to power. UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 7 May published report calling Taliban’s use of corporal punishment violation of peremptory norms of international law and urged death penalty moratorium. Meanwhile, Minister of Interior Siraj Haqqani 11 May stated that Taliban govt should not be so exclusive that only people from “one madrasah” see themselves being represented.

April 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban battled Islamic State’s local branch and resistance groups, humanitarian appeal faced funding shortfall amid threat of famine, and Taliban pursued regional engagement.

Taliban continued crackdown on Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and raids on resistance groups. After Taliban late March allegedly killed ISKP’s number two and group conducted suicide bombing in capital Kabul, Taliban 1 April announced it had imprisoned approximately 1,700 ISKP fighters and killed over 1,100 since its takeover in 2021. U.S. officials 25 April announced that Taliban had killed ISKP mastermind behind 2021 Kabul airport bombing, which claimed lives of estimated 170 Afghans and 13 American troops. Taliban security forces 11 April announced killing of two top Afghanistan Freedom Front commanders in raid in Parwan province (north). National Resistance Front (NRF) spokesman 8 April announced his resignation, hinting at group’s fragmentation. NRF leader Ahmad Massoud 24 April attended anti-Taliban leaders meeting in Austrian capital Vienna.

UN sounded alarm of famine amid serious lack of funding. World Food Programme during month reiterated warning that country is at highest risk of famine in quarter century and its food distributions will dramatically decrease in coming months before ceasing altogether in June unless new funds are pledged. Prospect of additional funding, however, diminished after Taliban authorities 5 April banned UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan from employing Afghan women, effectively extending NGO ban on female employment; UN warned that unless ban is lifted, it might be unable to continue operations, and UN Security Council 27 April unanimously condemned ban. Meanwhile, Ministry of Finance 9 April announced it had generated approximately $2.2bn in revenue in last fiscal year, increase of 37% from previous year, likely due to rise in exports.

Taliban remained active on diplomatic front amid tensions with Pakistan. Russia 3 April reopened its consulate in Balkh province (north). Taliban 16 April claimed Kazakhstan was ready to accept Taliban diplomats following meeting with Kazakhstan’s Deputy PM in Kabul. Taliban FM Amir Khan Muttaqi 13 April attended Fourth Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan’s Neighbours in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand city, where China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia expressed concern over rising security threats in Afghanistan. Pakistani defence minister 13 April warned Pakistan would target Pakistani Taliban hideouts inside Afghanistan (see Pakistan).

March 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Islamic State’s local branch killed Balkh governor in highest-profile attack since Taliban takeover, while Taliban emir exercised his authority with series of edicts.

Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) resumed deadly attacks. With advent of warmer weather, violence appeared to rise as ISKP broke its weeks-long hiatus in attacks, killing head of water supply department in Herat province on 8 March. In highest-profile killing since Taliban’s takeover in Aug 2021, ISKP next day conducted suicide bombing inside complex of governor of Balkh province (north), Daud Muzamil, killing Muzamil, who was considered one of emir’s close allies and who had previously served as first deputy interior minister. In response to attack, Taliban forces launched several raids against ISKP cells, including in Balkh province. ISKP 27 March conducted suicide attack in capital Kabul, killing six. U.S. Central Command’s General Michael Kurilla 16 March told U.S. Congress that ISKP set its sights on Western targets and could launch attack in under six months. Meanwhile, Afghanistan Freedom Front, which claimed several assaults in south in recent months, continued its activities and claimed attacks in capital Kabul and Takhar province (north).

Emir sought curb on cannabis production, corruption and nepotism. Emir 18 March issued edict banning cultivation of cannabis plants countrywide; cultivation of cannabis plants has recently spiked despite Taliban narcotics ban. Emir same day issued two more edicts to combat corruption and nepotism, including that all relatives of senior Taliban leaders who were appointed due to familial relations be removed from their posts. Emir continued to appoint several provincial ulema councils, which have no formal role and acts as conduit between govt and residents of province, marking one of few attempts by authorities to increase provincial decision-making.

Economic and humanitarian crises persisted countrywide. UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Roza Otunbayeva 8 March briefed UN Security Council, stating that two-thirds of population (28mn people) will need humanitarian assistance this year to survive; assistance will cost $4.62bn – single largest country appeal ever – but it is unlikely that target will be met. UN Security Council 16 March renewed UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s mandate for another year.

February 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban killed Islamic State members while violence continued in south; senior Taliban officials voiced veiled criticism of leadership, signalling dissatisfaction with country’s direction.

Taliban forces claimed victories over Islamic State, violence persisted in south. Feb saw lowest levels of violent incidents countrywide since Taliban takeover in Aug 2021, notwithstanding Taliban raids on Islamic State hideouts and incidents in south. Social media accounts linked to Islamic State’s local branch (ISKP) 21 Feb claimed that Taliban security forces 14 Feb killed Ejaz Ahmad Ahangar, head of group’s Indian chapter known as Islamic State Hind. Taliban 27 Feb confirmed they had killed Qari Fateh – head of ISKP’s intelligence and operations and mastermind behind group’s recent attacks in capital Kabul – in raid in Kabul. Taliban authorities late Jan launched website aimed at countering ISKP propaganda, which criticised Taliban’s relations with China and urged Uighur militant group Turkestan Islamic Party to join ISKP. Meanwhile, in addition to Afghan Freedom Front activity, Afghanistan Liberation Movement (both composed mostly of former security members) claimed attacks in south against Taliban; notably, Afghanistan Liberation Movement gunmen 8 Feb killed Taliban judge in Helmand province. Inter-tribal grievances pitting pro-Taliban elements of Noorzai tribe against anti-Taliban rival southern tribes appear to be driving conflict.

Senior officials signalled potential disapproval of draconian policies. Several top officials offered subtle yet notable criticism of Taliban leadership. Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani 11 Feb stated govt’s responsibility was to avoid monopolising power. Deputy PM Abdul Salam Hanafi 13 Feb indirectly criticised shutdown of girls’ schooling, stating that development of country without strengthening and modernising educational institutions was “mere fantasy” and Islamic scholars ought to find solutions to people’s problems rather than declare everything prohibited. Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoob 15 Feb stated that govt leaders “must respond to the legitimate demands of the people”. Comments may signal attempted pushback against recent draconian measures reportedly spearheaded by emir.

Islamabad urged Taliban to curtail Pakistani Taliban. Senior Pakistani delegation 22 Feb met top Taliban security officials in Kabul, reportedly to urge authorities to curb Pakistani Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan amid series of deadly attacks in Pakistan (see Pakistan).

January 2023

Asia

Afghanistan

Islamic State continued deadly attacks in capital Kabul, and hardships persisted amid electricity shortfall, severe winter and curtailed relief operations due to Taliban restrictions on NGOs.

Islamic State continued attacks, resistance group struck in Taliban heartland. Suicide bomber 1 Jan struck defence ministry convoy near military airport in Kabul, killing around 20 security personnel and civilians; Islamic State’s local branch (ISKP) later claimed attacker was one of two militants who had targeted Chinese hotel weeks earlier. ISKP claimed bombing at entrance to Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul 11 Jan that killed number of govt employees. Meanwhile, resistance group Afghanistan Freedom Front 18 Jan claimed attack in Kandahar province (south), continuing to illustrate group’s operational presence inside Taliban’s heartland.

Murder of former female parliamentarian fuelled concerns. Gunmen 15 Jan shot dead former female Afghan parliamentarian Mursal Nabizadeh at her home in Kabul, sparking concerns over safeguards for Afghan women, especially former politicians and women’s activists, under Taliban rule. Authorities subsequently announced that lawmaker was killed as result of family feud, as bodyguard and jewellery remained missing.

Electricity blackouts resulted in hundreds killed. Amid unusually cold winter, and despite electricity supply deals struck late Dec with Uzbekistan and 10 Jan with Tajikistan, country continued to face electricity outages that hampered private sector and contributed to heating problems for ordinary Afghans, leaving hundreds dead; authorities in Jan also cut off electricity to Kandahar and Helmand provinces, despite unprecedented cold weather, due to dwindling water levels of Kajaki dam. Authorities 5 Jan signed oil extraction deal with Chinese company to invest $540mn over three-year period, creating 3,000 jobs. UN 14 Jan resumed cash shipments after short hiatus. UN Deputy Sec-Gen Amina Mohammed led delegation to Afghanistan and 25 Jan reported efforts to obtain exemptions for women to resume working at NGOs, whose operations have been slowed by Taliban restrictions. World Food Programme 26 Jan said malnutrition rates countrywide are at record high.

December 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban banned women from universities and NGOs, prompting backlash and dramatic disruption of aid flows as civilians struggle to survive amid economic hardship and severe winter.

Taliban banned women from working for NGOs and attending universities. In dramatic decision, Taliban 24 Dec ordered “all national and international organisations to stop females working” immediately, next day exempted health workers. UN and some major NGOs paused some humanitarian assistance to signal disapproval, partially scaling back aid operations, which could have calamitous impact on one of the world's largest humanitarian response. Earlier, UN Under Sec-Gen for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths 20 Dec reported that amid sub-zero winter temperatures, 97% of Afghans live in poverty, two-thirds need humanitarian assistance to survive and half population require access to clean water; Griffiths also warned “third consecutive drought is looming”. Further deepening restrictions imposed on women since banning girls from public secondary schools in March 2022, Taliban 20 Dec forbade university education for women countrywide; ban removed any illusions that educational restrictions on girls and women could be temporary.

Insecurity persisted amid attacks by Islamic State. Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) 2 Dec conducted two attacks in capital Kabul seemingly using foreign fighters from Central Asia, one targeting Pakistani ambassador and another attacking former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in his mosque; assaults indicated increasing capacity and will by IS-KP to attack high-profile targets. IS-KP foreign fighters 12 Dec targeted Chinese-owned hotel inside Kabul, wounding at least five individuals. Meanwhile, armed opposition group Afghanistan Freedom Front showed increasing operational capacity in Dec inside Kandahar province (south). UN sec-gen 16 Dec reported that between mid-Aug and mid-Nov, country had witnessed 23% rise in security-related incidents compared to same period last year.

Taliban and Pakistani border forces clashed. Taliban border forces 11 Dec launched cross-border artillery and mortars into Pakistan, killing at least seven civilians and wounding 17 in Chaman, one of main border crossings. Further clashes 15 Dec erupted, with Taliban forces opening fire on Pakistani military personnel repairing section of border fence in Chaman, killing civilian and injuring 15 others.

November 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban sought to suppress National Resistance Front and Islamic State’s local branch threats in north east, while Taliban signalled harsher restrictions, particularly aimed at women.

Anti-Taliban resistance forces continued insurgency in north east. Despite falling levels of violence with onset of cold weather, insecurity continued in Badakhshan province (north east) after Taliban in Oct launched large-scale operations in districts bordering Tajikistan; operations for time being appeared to stunt National Resistance Front (NRF) activities in province but strained relations with Tajikistan, neighbouring country that harbours NRF fighters. Similarly, in Takhar province (north east), numerous reports surfaced during month of Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) and NRF attacks; Taliban forces launched raids against hideouts, primarily targeting ISKP. Meanwhile, deadly clashes erupted between Taliban and Pakistani border forces around Chaman border crossing 13 Nov and in Paktia province (east) 15 Nov (see Pakistan). Bomb 30 Nov targeting religious school in Samangan province (north) killed at least 17 students, majority of them believed to be children.

Taliban regime continued repressive measures, including on women. Taliban 5 Nov stated efforts were under way to end caretaker govt model; how the Taliban will shift to permanent govt remains unclear as group signalled intent to introduce additional governance restrictions. UN children’s agency 7 Nov claimed that women were increasingly being denied access to health facilities unless accompanied by male relatives; ministry for promoting virtue and preventing vice next day announced closure of women’s public baths and declared that women will no longer be able to visit public parks. UN experts 25 Nov said treatment of women and girls may amount to “gender persecution”. Earlier, Taliban 3 Nov arrested human rights activist Zarifa Yaqhoubi and her colleagues in capital Kabul who announced formation of women-led political party. Taliban emir 13 Nov met with judges and urged application of stricter punishments against kidnappers, seditionists and thieves.

Humanitarian crisis persisted as winter approached. With harsh winter fast approaching, little progress was made in addressing economic and humanitarian crises; notably, China 9 Nov announced it will grant zero-tariffs on 98% of Afghan products from Dec onward.

October 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

National Resistance Front (NRF) expanded activities in north, while U.S. announced financial initiative to ease country’s economic isolation as humanitarian crisis persists.

NRF stepped up activity in north east, as Taliban targeted Islamic State’s local branch. Badakhshan province (north east) witnessed rising insecurity, due to inroads made by National Resistance Front (NRF) fighters and recent defections of Taliban-aligned groups in area. Notably, NRF 3 Oct published video showing capture of Taliban’s governor for Badakhshan’s Shekay district, marking first significant activity by NRF in Badakhshan and suggesting expansion of group’s presence in north; group also announced capture of Shekay district, although this claim was rejected by local residents. Taliban 6 Oct appointed former head of air force, Mawlawi Amanuddin, as province’s governor; Amanuddin appeared to have launched major offensive in province in order to subdue resistance forces. Meanwhile, Taliban forces continued raiding Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) hideouts countrywide, including in capital Kabul, and 4 Oct announced capture of group’s foreign liaison head; ISKP maintains high level of activity, primarily in east.

Taliban sent mixed signals on girls’ tertiary education. In early month, girls in many provinces took part in kankor, or university entrance exams, suggesting that despite closure of girls’ secondary schooling, tertiary education remains open to female students. Reports 14 Oct emerged that de facto authorities had expelled some female Kabul University students, possibly due to involvement with protests. Following replacement of Education Minister in late Sept, Taliban Emir 17 Oct replaced Minister of Higher Education; ramifications of appointment on girls’ tertiary education remain unclear.

U.S. announced new financial initiative amid engagement with Taliban. With Afghanistan’s harsh winter fast approaching, international focus centred on country’s humanitarian and economic crises. Senior U.S. delegation 9 Oct met with Taliban delegation in Qatar’s capital Doha to discuss security and economic issues. U.S. Special Envoy Tom West 22 Oct stated U.S. and other countries would facilitate priority transactions to overcome banking challenges in initiative aimed at permitting authorities to spend tax revenues on vital supplies.

September 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban continued discriminatory policies toward women and girls and rejected U.S. initiative on unfreezing state assets; Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) stepped up deadly attacks.

Taliban leadership continued repression of women’s rights and freedoms. Taliban Supreme Court 4 Sept asserted there was “no need” for female judges. Deputy justice minister next day stated country had “no need” for constitution or political parties. Local authorities 5 Sept reopened girls’ secondary schooling in Paktia province after demands by local tribal elders; de facto authorities, however, closed schools once again, sparking protests. UN special rapporteur 12 Sept highlighted significant deterioration of women’s rights since Taliban takeover. Emir 21 Sept appointed close ally Mawlawi Habibullah Agha as education minister.

Despite poor economic trajectory, Taliban did not accept U.S. proposal on unfreezing state assets. U.S. 15 Sept announced plan to establish fund in Switzerland for disbursement of $3.5bn from frozen Afghan financial reserves. Taliban same day called mechanism “unacceptable”, primarily as it bypassed central bank and excluded Taliban input. Minister of commerce 6 Sept expressed hopes of joining China’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor megaproject. In apparent prisoner exchange, U.S. 19 Sept handed drug dealer and long-time Taliban supporter, Haji Bashir Noorzai, to Taliban, which released U.S. citizen taken hostage in 2019.

ISKP intensified deadly attacks, Taliban launched new offensive in north. Taliban 1 Sept claimed killing of ISKP’s shadow governor for Farah province (west). ISKP 2 Sept killed firebrand cleric and Taliban supporter Mawlawi Mujib ur Rahman Ansari in suicide blast in Herat province (west). ISKP 5 Sept attacked Russia’s embassy in capital Kabul, killing two Russian diplomats, among others. Blast at Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque inside Kabul’s diplomatic zone 23 Sept caused casualties and bore hallmarks of ISKP. Blast at mosque in Kabul 23 Sept killed at least seven worshippers; similar attack on school in Kabul killed at least 19 students 30 Sept. Meanwhile, Taliban 13 Sept launched major offensive in Panjshir and Andarab provinces against insurgents. Some anti-Taliban political figures, notably National Resistance Front leader, 15 Sept gathered in Austrian capital Vienna. Al-Qaeda 12 Sept claimed group had ceased any attacks against U.S. from Afghanistan.

August 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

U.S. killed al-Qaeda chief in first high-profile strike since Aug 2021 withdrawal, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) targeted Taliban and religious minorities, and Taliban clashed with Pakistani forces. U.S. President Biden 1 Aug confirmed U.S. had killed al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al Zawahiri, in drone strike in capital Kabul on 31 July; Washington accused Taliban authorities of violating Feb 2020 Doha agreement by providing sanctuary to al-Zawahiri, while Taliban countered U.S. conducted strike without informing them. Reports surfaced 5 Aug of widespread protests across country condemning strike. Leaked U.S. intelligence assessment 13 Aug argued al-Qaeda had not regrouped in country. Over 3,000 tribal and religious leaders 19 Aug gathered in Kandahar, including Taliban Emir Hibatullah Akhundzada, to condemn strike and call on neighbours not to cooperate with such “violations of Afghan sovereignty”, as reports suggested U.S. and Pakistan neared deal on U.S. use of Pakistani airspace for future operations. ISKP continued recruitment and lethal attacks. In early Aug, security forces arrested several ISKP cells; recent arrests of Tajiks indicated ISKP’s inroads in recruiting ethnic minority groups. ISKP attacked Hazara civilians in lead-up to Ashura religious commemorations, with three attacks 3-6 Aug. ISKP suicide bombing 11 Aug killed senior Taliban-affiliated cleric Rahimullah Haqqani. ISKP 18 Aug claimed attack on Sufi mosque in Kabul. Insecurity persisted elsewhere. New armed group Watandost Front published video claiming attack on 1 Aug against Taliban forces in Herat province (west). Unknown assailants 8 Aug killed senior Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Omar Khalid Khorasani in IED blast in Paktika province (east). High Resistance Council for Saving Afghanistan – anti-Taliban resistance group formed in May – 15 Aug held virtual meeting attended by Ahmad Massoud, leader of National Resistance Front (NRF), which resulted in issuance of group’s constitution; NRF also announced its basic principles after meeting. Pakistani and Taliban forces 8 and 22 Aug clashed in Kunar (east) and Paktya (south east) provinces. Taliban defence minister 17 Aug rejected possibility of compromise on Wakhan Corridor amid social media rumours Pakistan might attempt to encroach on thin strip of Afghan territory in order to gain direct access to Central Asia.

July 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

UN voiced concerns over human rights under Taliban’s governance, while Taliban continued to battle Islamic State Khorasan Province and Northern Resistance Front. UN Human Rights Council 1 July began session discussing human rights of women and girls in country and adopted resolution reaffirming commitment to rights, including education and free movement. In report on human rights, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 19 July reported “erosion of women’s rights has been one of the most notable aspects of the de facto administration to date”. In attempt to garner domestic legitimacy, Taliban authorities organised gathering of nearly 4,500 scholars and community leaders; participants 2 July pledged allegiance to Taliban Emir, denounced rebellion against govt, and called on international community to recognise Taliban govt. On economic front, hardship continued. Local media reports 18 July indicated some 170,000 retired civil servants are yet to receive pensions. Senior Pakistani trade delegation 20 July visited Kabul to discuss continuation of Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. De facto govt during month sought to reopen women-led businesses, notably in capital Kabul (east), Jowzjan (north), Balkh (north), Herat (west) and Kandahar (south). Meanwhile, Taliban launched raids against Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP): notably, security forces 16 July raided ISKP hideout in Kunduz city (north), allegedly against cell responsible for recent cross-border attacks into Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; 19 July launched raid in Samangan province (north), where they killed ISKP members allegedly responsible for beheading of Taliban fighter on 14 July; 20 July allegedly captured three foreign fighters in Kabul. NGO Human Rights Watch 7 July accused de facto authorities of committing war crimes in their fight against ISKP. UN Sanctions Monitoring Team 19 July reported that al-Qaeda in country does not pose major international threat for now due to lack of capacity and need to stay on good terms with Taliban. Fighting in north also continued between Taliban and Northern Resistance Front (NRF). NRF 7 July purportedly captured Taliban military base in Baghlan province. Taliban mid-July launched offensive against NRF in Baghlan’s Andarab region. NRF leader Ahmad Massoud 12 July claimed NRF had 3,000 armed fighters.

June 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Intra-Taliban debate over social policies continued, World Bank announced new economic projects, and fighting between Taliban and opposition groups persisted. Video 6 June surfaced showing Kabul governor stating current situation regarding women is not acceptable and urged ministry for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice to implement decrees in capital. Deputy FM Abbas Stanikzai 19 June criticised govt’s decision not to reopen girls’ secondary schools. Meanwhile, World Bank 3 June approved three projects totaling $793mn to support essential food, livelihood and health services for Afghans. Taliban govt continued measures in attempt to resuscitate economy, including launching “Afghan Invest” enterprise mid-month and hosting trade show for female entrepreneurs in Kabul 9 June. Media reports early month indicated country’s exports to Pakistan have increased during financial year, from $550mn last year to more than $700mn. Groups opposing Taliban rule continued attacks. Fighting between National Resistance Front (NRF) fighters and Taliban security personnel persisted in Andarab district in Baghlan province (north) and Panjshir province (north). Notably, NRF fighters 17 June downed helicopter operated by Taliban and captured four prisoners in Panjshir. NGO Human Rights Watch 10 June accused Taliban security forces of war crimes in Panjshir, claims which UN Special Rapporteur Richard Bennett tentatively endorsed same day; NGO Amnesty International 16 June accused Taliban of “torture, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary arrest of civilians” in Panjshir. Standoff persisted between Maulawi Mehdi, Shia Hazara Taliban commander, and Taliban security personnel in Balkhab District in Sar-e Pol province (north), raising prospect of first instance of significant intra-Taliban clashes; central authorities removed Mehdi as local intelligence chief in Nov 2021. Taliban forces 28 June launched attack on Balkhab district, capturing district capital following day; residual fighting likely in coming days. Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) 18 June claimed attack on Sikh temple in Kabul, killing at least two people and injuring seven; group said attack was retaliation for derogatory comments made by India’s ruling party (see India).

May 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban imposed further restrictions on women’s rights, opposition stepped up deadly attacks in north, and authorities engaged in regional de-escalation initiatives. After March decision banning girls’ access to secondary schools, govt 7 May announced new restrictions with “hijab” ruling requiring face veil for women when in vicinity of non-family male members; move immediately prompted Western condemnation, further complicating aid efforts. Some govt officials suggested ruling was necessary to appease hardliners, while Minister of Interior Sirajuddin Haqqani 17 May stated girls’ secondary education will resume shortly without stipulating timeline. Leaked decree 16 May also suggested govt had dissolved multiple commissions, including Independent Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, UN 13 May warned that it will have to reduce number of Afghans it is helping from 38% to 8% due to lack of funding; UN human rights rapporteur in Afghanistan 14 May conducted visit to country 15-26 May, expressed concerns about “serious human rights challenges”, including severe restriction on women’s freedoms. Opposition continued to launch stepped-up attacks in north. Notably, violence early May rose in Panjshir province after video surfaced on social media of Taliban fighters dancing near mausoleum of senior resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud during Eid celebrations 1-2 May. While Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid 5 May distanced govt from these actions, by next day rumours had emerged of serious fighting between National Resistance Front (NRF) fighters and Taliban in Takhar, Panjshir, Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces. Govt initially denied reports, but over coming days sent significant reinforcements to north and began claiming victories over rebels. Recent fighting reinvigorated opposition, with High Resistance Council for Saving Afghanistan holding gathering condemning Taliban injustices and calling fighting in north “legitimate” without explicitly endorsing NRF. Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) continued attacks during month; notably, ISKP 8 May reportedly fired Katyusha rockets into Tajikistan. Regionally, tensions with neighbours eased somewhat. Pakistan 18 May participated in Taliban-hosted talks with Pakistan Taliban group (Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, TTP) (see Pakistan); Iran 12 May hosted Taliban delegation following another round of border clashes prompted by videos purporting to show mistreatment of Afghan refugees and Afghan immigrant stabbing three Iranian clerics in Mashhad city.

April 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban announced farming restrictions which could aggravate economic crisis, series of terror attacks claimed over one hundred civilian casualties, and several new armed resistance groups emerged. In move that is likely to exacerbate financial woes of many farmers, Taliban 3 April announced ban on cultivation of all poppy crops and production of all other narcotics (including alcohol); implementation remained uncertain. Taliban also reportedly increased interference in humanitarian efforts in April, pushing for aid to be distributed in coordination with govt. After relatively calm months, country witnessed several mass casualty attacks coinciding with Spring season, mostly targeting Shia Hazara ethnic minority, as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) launched some of its deadliest attacks of year. Notably, bomb blasts 2 April killed five and injured at least 20 people on playground in Herat (west); bomb blasts 19 April targeted Hazara children going to school and education centres in capital Kabul; bomb blasts 21 April targeted minivan in Kunduz province (north), killing at least 18 govt employees; ISKP same day attacked Hazara mosque in Balkh province (north), killing dozens; bomb blasts 22 April targeted Sunni mosque, killing 33 in Kunduz province, with no group claiming responsibility; twin explosions 28 April killed at least nine people on two buses in Balkh province (north), again targeting Hazara. Explosion at Khalifa Sahib Mosque in Kabul 29 April killed over 50 Sunni worshippers. Grievances against Taliban govt appeared to rise, with several new armed resistance groups emerging, bringing total to near dozen such groups active inside country, mostly in northern provinces; National Resistance Front (NRF) led by Ahmad Massoud, Afghanistan Freedom Front (purportedly led by former General Zia Yasin) and High Council for Resistance (led by Atta Noor) appeared to be particularly active. Most notably, NRF attacks and Taliban counter-operations continued in Panjshir, Parwan, Kabul, Kapisa, Baghlan and Takhar provinces in April. Meanwhile, relations with Pakistan worsened. Pakistan 16 April launched cross-border airstrikes, resulting in dozens of civilian casualties in Kunar and Khost provinces (east); Taliban authorities warned Islamabad of dire consequences, while Pakistan accused Taliban of failing to prevent Pakistani Taliban from launching cross-border attacks against Pakistani security forces.

March 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban expanded security operations against National Resistance Front (NRF) and reversed pledge on girls’ education, while rising global food prices aggravated humanitarian crisis. Taliban continued to appoint loyalists, including appointments 4 March in defence sector and judiciary and 13 March in civilian and technical positions. Following 25 Feb Taliban large-scale search operations in north, specifically in Kabul, Kapisa, Parwan and Panjshir, in attempt to forestall spring offensive by NRF, Taliban early March expanded operations to Logar and Laghman provinces (east), Baghlan province (north), and Herat and Badghis provinces (west); rumours rose of imminent large-scale operations in Nangarhar province (east). Risk of Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) and NRF resuming operations in warmer weather remained. Meanwhile, Taliban continued restrictions on civil dissent and media freedom. Tolo News 18 March reported authorities had ordered all networks to stop broadcasting foreign drama series; Taliban’s intelligence branch same day briefly arrested senior Tolo News figures. NGO Afghan Journalist Safety Committee 19 March stated that authorities had arrested eleven journalists and media workers within past two days. In first sign of willingness to hold elections, authorities 9 March held municipal poll in one district of capital Kabul. Meanwhile, Taliban introduced economic policies to address unfolding humanitarian crisis; Kabul municipality 6 March imposed price caps on essential commodities and Ministry of Finance 12 March announced tax, arrears and penalty waivers for small taxpayers. Ministry of Education 17 March announced that all schools, including girls’ secondary schools, would open on 23 March; in last-minute reversal, Taliban 23 March decided to close secondary schools to girls, prompting chaotic scenes and widespread international condemnation as female secondary school students took to streets to demand their right to education. On humanitarian front, World Bank 1 March announced plan to use $1bn from Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to address urgent needs in education, health, agricultural and communal livelihood sectors; humanitarian crisis could however further worsen in coming months as donor states consider how to respond to Taliban’s decision on girls’ secondary schools and rising global food prices affect 23mn people on brink of famine.

February 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban continued to consolidate its rule as international actors unfroze country’s financial assets and pressured regime to respect women’s rights. Taliban continued to fill govt positions with Taliban loyalists. Taliban 2 Feb appointed Qari Salahuddin Ayubi, an ethnic Uzbek, as head of Mansoori army corps, reportedly to appease Uzbek Taliban fighters after arrest of popular Uzbek commander Makhdoom Alam on 12 Jan. Taliban appointed some women in symbolic govt positions, including Dr Malalai Faizi as director of Malalai Maternity Hospital 31 Jan. Taliban information ministry 13 Feb also appointed Nisa Mobarez as women’s representative in Badakhshan province. Some women protesters that were apparently abducted by Taliban authorities were released around 13 Feb following international outrage; Taliban did not officially confirm their arrest or release. Journalists continued to complain of Taliban’s media restrictions including short-term detentions. Taliban authorities also temporarily detained two foreigners working for UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Targeted attacks against former govt figures continued. Unknown assailants 11 Feb attacked former Hizb commander Mohammad Khan’s house, resulting in death of his son, wife and bodyguard; Taliban claimed attack was result of family feud, while Khan rejected claim. Taliban forces 5 Feb arrested at least 24 Baloch separatists from Baloch Liberation Army group, which is waging insurgency against Pakistan (see Pakistan). Attacks by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) subsided, while attacks by Northern Resistance Front (NRF) appeared to be on the rise; NRF-affiliated fighters clashed with Taliban forces in Balkh and Baghlan provinces (north) during month, and Taliban launched major military operations against NRF forces in Panjshir late Feb. Internationally, U.S. President Biden 11 Feb signed executive order to split $7 billion of frozen Afghan reserves, with half of money removed from pending legal cases so it can be utilised “for the benefit of the Afghan people”. World Bank 19 Feb considered plan to use $1 billion in frozen Afghan trust fund for education, agriculture, health and family programs. Meanwhile, Taliban delegation 7 Feb visited Switzerland to discuss humanitarian assistance; 15 Feb visited Qatar’s capital Doha to meet Arab Gulf and EU representatives.

January 2022

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban continued to tighten their rule as government increasingly imposed ideologically driven policies; for first time since August takeover, group showed signs of disunity. Taliban imposed policies regulating social behaviour. Notably, Taliban officials 3 Jan ordered shopkeepers in parts of Herat province (west) to remove heads from display mannequins (as per their beliefs, representations of human figures are prohibited in Islam). Authorities 25 Dec dissolved Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission, institutions that had overseen presidential and parliamentary polls. Taliban continued to target figures who challenge their rule; security forces 8 Jan erroneously arrested prominent critic Professor Faizullah Jalal (who was released a few days later), and 6 Jan reportedly arrested social media activist Faisal Mudarres, following his coverage of Dec Panjshir protests. Reports also claimed Taliban arrested female protesters mid-month; six women’s rights activists abducted in capital Kabul remained missing by end of month. Taliban leadership has denied responsibility for incidents, and have yet to clarify whereabouts of missing women or identify culprits. Attacks by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and Northern Resistance Front (NRF) continued albeit at reduced rate, in part because of harsh winter conditions. Taliban FM Amir Muttaqi 10 Jan met NRF head in Iran but talks do not appear to have borne any immediate results. Taliban 12 Jan arrested one of their popular Uzbek commanders, Makhdoom Alam, in Mazar city, Balkh province, revealing possible ethnic divisions between Uzbek and Pashtun Taliban; Alam’s arrest led to sporadic Uzbek Taliban-led protests in Faryab province’s Maymana city (north west), with reports that Uzbek Taliban had disarmed and expelled Pashtun Taliban from city. In response, Taliban 16 Jan deployed suicide attack unit to quell unrest; situation appeared to have quietened by month’s end. Internationally, Taliban 9 and 24 Jan visited Iran and met with European and U.S. officials in Norway’s capital Oslo; international counterparts have yet to formally recognise Taliban as new Afghan govt. EU 21 Jan announced it had started to re-establish diplomatic presence in capital Kabul. Meanwhile, tensions with Pakistan persisted over security at Afghanistan-Pakistan border (see Pakistan entry).

December 2021

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban consolidated their rule across country, launched new offensive in north and faced skirmishes at border with Iran. Taliban’s governing approach of continuing provincial-level policy on some issues, rather than consolidating and centralising all policies, surfaced during month. Notably, social media updates showed group promulgating rules for medical centres and pharmacies in north, banning music in south and issuing price lists to curtail inflating prices for basic commodities in several districts of Kabul province. Taliban 3 Dec issued decree on women’s issues, including consent in marriage and inheritance rights, with no mention however of women’s education or recent closure of women’s schools in parts of country; 26 Dec introduced decree prohibiting women from travelling more than 45 miles unless accompanied by male relative. Taliban sought to appease minority groups, specifically Shia Hazara; notably, govt 25 Dec appointed Abdul Latif Nazari as deputy minister of economy, making him second Hazara to be appointed at deputy ministerial level. Taliban increased operations against remnants of Northern Resistance Front (NRF) in north; Taliban 1 Dec claimed having killed several NRF members in Samangan province (north); 5 Dec raided NRF hideout in Baghlan province (north). Taliban carried out raids in several cities across country, notably in Helmand province (south) 5 Dec, seizing large quantities of munitions. Islamic State Khorasan Province did not carry out large-scale attacks during Dec; group however showed signs its operations are expanding across country, as with ambush 7 Dec targeting provincial police chief in Nuristan province (east), killing multiple Taliban soldiers. Taliban and Iranian forces 1 Dec clashed at border in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, leaving multiple casualties on both sides, while reports revealed Taliban forces may have entered Iranian territory and captured several Iranian border checkpoints; situation quickly de-escalated through discrete talks between two sides. Relations strained with Pakistan over continued presence of Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan and isolated incidents over border fencing. Taliban 19 Dec attended Organisation of Islamic Cooperation conference to discuss country’s humanitarian crisis. UN Security Council 22 Dec adopted Resolution 2615 that offers exemption to sanctions regime to allow greater humanitarian support to Afghanistan.

November 2021

Asia

Afghanistan

Amid worsening economic situation, Taliban continued to consolidate power despite ongoing small-scale security threats from Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and clashes with National Resistance Front. Taliban head Emir Hibatullah Akhundzada 7 Nov decreed major reshuffle in Taliban’s provincial structure, announcing 44 new personnel, including 17 governors; reshuffle seeks to limit commanders from developing local powerbases while promoting loyalists and demoting unruly commanders. Overall economic situation continued to deteriorate, but Taliban’s finances improved as it 16 Nov auctioned $2.1 mn after initially announcing it would auction $10 mn; group 20 Nov announced it would resume some salary payments to govt employees and retired civil servants. Meanwhile, ISIS-K attacks focused on Taliban security personnel and ethnic minority Hazaras. Notably, ISIS-K 2 Nov attacked Sardar Daud Khan Military Hospital in capital Kabul, killing dozens, including Taliban’s commander for Kabul’s military corps, Maulawi Hambdullah Mukhlis. UN Envoy to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons 19 Nov said ISIS-K is now active in all provinces of country. In response, Taliban cracked down on ISIS-K suspects, resulting in disappearances and extrajudicial killings throughout country; Taliban 10 Nov claimed to have arrested 600 ISIS-K suspects. Meanwhile, reports of fighting between National Resistance Front and Taliban continued throughout month in northern Parwan, Panjshir and Baghlan provinces. Regional diplomatic activities focused on alleviating worsening economic and humanitarian situation. Taliban delegation led by FM Amir Khan Muttaqi 10 Nov met with members of Troika Plus (Pakistan, Russia, China, U.S.) in Pakistan; Troika Plus agreed to ease banking restrictions on govt. India same day chaired regional security dialogue on Afghanistan with seven neighbouring countries. Reports 4 Nov emerged that Taliban facilitated covert talks between Pakistani Taliban and Pakistan (see Pakistan). Taliban and U.S. officials 29-30 Nov held talks in Qatar’s capital Doha to discuss wide range of issues.

October 2021

Asia

Afghanistan

Insecurity persisted as Islamic State Khorasan Province launched dozens of attacks, killing scores, and land disputes resurfaced amid dire food crisis across country. Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) significantly ramped up its activities against Taliban, carrying out dozens of attacks, including three that caused mass casualties. Notably, ISIS-K 3 Oct killed five civilians attending funeral for Taliban spokesperson’s mother in capital Kabul; 8 Oct killed more than 40 civilians at Shiite mosque in Kunduz province (north); 15 Oct killed at least 50 civilians at Shiite mosque in Kandahar city (south). Additionally, smaller-scale attacks against Taliban security personnel occurred daily throughout country, notably in Nangarhar (east), Kunar (east) and Kunduz (north) provinces. In response, Taliban raided ISIS-K hideouts in Kabul, Parwan (east) and Kunduz (north) provinces, killing ISIS-K members and family members, arrested hundreds of ISIS-K suspects, particularly in Nangarhar (east) and Kunar (east), and increased checkpoints to limit freedom of movement between provinces. Separately, Northern Resistance Front maintained low-level resistance, launching small-scale attacks in Panjshir and Parwan provinces (north). UN warned of unprecedented levels of hunger as drought and economic crisis left half country acutely food insecure, according to 25 Oct UN assessment. Ethnic and tribal tensions increased due to competition over resources. In Daikundi and Ghazni provinces (centre), land disputes led to displacement of ethnic minority Hazaras. In Daikundi province, two-decade-old land dispute between Pashtun tribes of northern Uruzgan and Hazaras of Daikundi resurfaced. On political front, Taliban 5 Oct announced additional govt appointments, including Maulawi Abdul Kabir as Deputy PM for Political Affairs, Maulawi Matiul Haq, son of Younus Khali, as head of Red Crescent, and Nurudding Turabi as his deputy; 28 Oct announced Maulawi Abdul Hakim Haqqani as head of Supreme Court. Internationally, despite meetings with U.S., Russian, Turkish and Indian officials during month, Taliban made little progress to gain formal recognition of govt, and to get country’s financial assets unfrozen by U.S. govt. However, working relations continued with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, China and Kyrgyzstan; relations with Pakistan deteriorated amid border skirmishes after Taliban accused Islamabad of implementing restrictions on transit of goods and people.

September 2021

Asia

Afghanistan

Amid worsening humanitarian crisis and crackdown on protests, Taliban tightened its grip across country, including by gaining control over Panjshir province. After initial negotiation efforts failed, Taliban 2 Sept stepped up efforts to capture last stronghold of Panjshir province (north) as group sent troops, set up blockade and cut off telecommunications, food and other supplies from getting to valley. Taliban 6 Sept gained control of provincial capital, marking first time group controls city; Ahmad Massoud, leader of Northern Resistance Front, same day vowed to resist and called for large-scale protests. Series of anti-Taliban protests took place in early Sept; notably, hundreds of people, including women, 7 Sept protested in capital Kabul chanting anti-Pakistan slogans and “freedom”; amid rising crackdown on demonstrators, Taliban 9 Sept cut off internet and phone services to several suburbs of Kabul to disrupt coordination among protesters. Taliban 7-8 Sept announced new acting govt composed of old guard, including Mohammad Hassan Akhund, group’s founding member, as PM; Abdul Ghani Baradar, lead negotiator in U.S.-Taliban Feb 2020 deal, as deputy PM; Mohammad Yaqub, son of group’s first leader Mohammad Omar, as defence minister; Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of prominent militant Jalaluddin Haqqani, as interior minister; and Amir Khan Muttaqi, veteran Taliban diplomat, as FM. First slate of cabinet appointments excluded women and several ethnic groups (only small minority of appointments are non-Pashtuns); no state had yet recognised new govt by end of month. Following U.S. freeze in mid-Aug over country’s financial assets and aid suspension, concerns rose over economic collapse, humanitarian crisis and potential mass exodus; donors 13 Sept pledged more than $1.1 billion following UN flash appeal for humanitarian assistance. Aside from sporadic violence in Panjshir and Baghlan provinces, violent incidents reportedly six times lower than 2021 average prior to Taliban take-over. There was, however, increasing trend of incidents targeting Taliban’s security forces, with majority being claimed by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K): notably, roadside bombs near daily mid-to-late month targeted Taliban vehicles in Nangarhar province (east); bomb 18 Sept attacked private vehicle leaving two civilians injured.

August 2021

Asia

Afghanistan

In rapid takeover, Taliban regained control over country, prompting fall of govt and ending 20-year U.S. occupation; uncertainty over new political order fuelled domestic and international security concerns. In dramatic shift, govt 15 Aug collapsed and Taliban gained control of most territory, including all border crossings and major urban centres – with notable exception of Panjshir Valley province (north). As Taliban reached capital Kabul, President Ghani 15 Aug fled abroad, along with many other govt officials. Govt’s fall prompted mass exodus of Afghans fearing Taliban retaliation, notably causing chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport; two bombs 26 Aug exploded outside Kabul airport, reportedly killing as many as 200 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members; Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) claimed responsibility. Following Taliban’s takeover, U.S. mid-Aug froze Afghanistan’s central bank reserves in U.S. while International Monetary Fund and World Bank suspended payments to country; UN and humanitarian organisations called for continued assistance to country amid dire humanitarian crisis. Regional and international partners to Afghanistan had yet to announce positions on sanctions, financial aid and recognition of new govt by month’s end, waiting for Taliban to make meaningful compromises in new political order. Taliban’s rapid advances in early Aug partly due to local ‘surrender deals’ which granted safe passage to security forces in return for weapons and district centres as insurgents late July to mid-Aug launched simultaneous attacks on provincial capitals in south, east and north. Following initial hearty resistance, particularly in Helmand province (south), Kandahar city (south) and Herat province (west), insurgents captured provincial capitals in lightly defended areas. Taliban 6 Aug held first provincial capital in Nimroz province (south west), gaining control of last remaining border crossing to Iran under govt oversight; 7 Aug captured capital of Jawzjan province (north); 9 Aug captured provinces of Sar-e Pul (north) and Kunduz (north), second largest city in north; 12 Aug captured Ghazni (centre), Kandahar (south), Herat (west) and Badghis (north west). Loss of Herat and Kandahar, notably important cities, seemed to have broken security forces’ moral, who following day had abandoned provincial capitals of Helmand (south), Logar (east), Uruzgan (south), Zabul (south) and Ghor (centre) provinces.

July 2021

Asia

Afghanistan

Taliban forces continued nationwide offensive, launching first assault on Kandahar city since Western intervention in 2001 and seizing more international border crossings. Taliban continued to make territorial advances throughout month, mostly in north and north west, and gained strategically important border crossings. Taliban attacks 5 July killed 16 security forces in Herat province (west), which saw all but two districts fall under Taliban control during month, and 6 July killed 65 security forces in Badghis (north west). Taliban 12 July killed 25 security forces in Kandahar province (south), in which group had encircled Kandahar city, and fighting remained ongoing in its outskirts by end of month; assault on city, largest in southern Afghanistan and de facto capital of former Taliban regime in 1990s, is first since Western intervention in 2001 and could mark moment of strategic importance in conflict; govt poured resources into defence of city. Taliban 14 July killed 11 security forces in Takhar province (north). In addition to seizing 26 of 28 districts in Badakhshan province (north east), Taliban fighters 5 July seized control of border crossing with Iran in Herat province (west) and 14 July took over border crossing with Pakistan in Kandahar province. Govt forces rebounded slightly by shoring up defence of provincial capitals. Govt 8 July briefly drove back Taliban after they entered capital of Badghis province (north west). Govt defences also held in other provinces, such as Ghazni (centre), Helmand (south) and Kandahar (south) during month. Anti-Taliban militia also rallied in urban centres, such as northern city Mazar-e Sharif. Meanwhile, peace process remained stalled despite high-level meetings between govt and Taliban’s political office in Iran’s capital Tehran (7-8 July) and Qatar’s capital Doha (17-18 July); further high-level talks expected in August. Internationally, tensions heightened with Islamabad. Afghan VP Amrullah Saleh 15 July alleged Pakistani air force requested Afghan govt not to attack Taliban positions on border, which Pakistan’s MFA denied. Kabul 18 July withdrew its ambassador and senior diplomats from Islamabad, alleging kidnapping of ambassador’s daughter.

June 2021

Asia