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August 2023



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



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



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



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



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).

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