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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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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