In mid-August 2021, Taliban militants swept into Kabul, completing their takeover of Afghanistan and marking a new phase in what has been the world’s most lethal conflict in recent years. The U.S.-backed government in place since 2001 is gone, as are almost all U.S. and NATO troops. As the new dispensation takes shape, Crisis Group remains focused on promoting a deep understanding of events on the ground and helping the various stakeholders inside and outside the country comprehend their counterparts' motives and political constraints. We also aim to advance policies that improve security and promote inclusive governance.
Western sanctions on the Taliban regime for its restrictions on women’s rights are plunging Afghanistan into isolation, including from its neighbours. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024, Crisis Group outlines ways the EU can support regional diplomacy and mitigate the country’s socio-economic crisis.
UN reconsidered political process after failure of Sec-Gen’s meeting in Qatar that exposed international divisions, while World Bank resumed development funding after long pause.
UN convened international actors to discuss how to engage with Afghanistan. UN Sec Gen Antonio Guterres 18 Feb convened meeting in Qatari capital Doha to discuss path forward following UN Security Council resolution 2721 (2023), which called for appointment of UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan. Taliban boycotted meeting after UN rejected its demand to attend as sole representatives of Afghanistan; opposition groups – including National Resistance Front, Afghan Freedom Front and others – had prior to meeting issued joint statement contesting Taliban’s claim to be legitimate govt. Doha meeting disappointed UN officials who had hoped to draw Taliban into high-level talks, and exposed widening gap between regional and Western actors, with most regional states seeking to forge ahead with closer engagement as Western states hope to alter Taliban behaviour through isolation; Guterres said that more work is required on political process “in order to make it attractive from the point of view of the Taliban.”
World Bank restarted projects in major strep, amid regional economic coordination. In significant move, World Bank 15 Feb announced “Approach 3.0”, which will provide support for basic services and economic revival; package allows for resumption of Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000), $1.2bn project to bring electricity from Central Asia to Pakistan via Afghanistan. Underlining growing economic coordination with regional actors, Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoub 1 Feb also met Uzbekistan’s chief of intelligence to discuss border issues and implementation of development projects, and FM Amir Khan Muttaqi 25 Feb visited Turkmenistan to discuss economic activities. Meanwhile, energy authority 6 Feb announced it had paid off all loans, totalling $627mn, and prepaid future electricity imports. Deputy PM Salam Hanafi 15 Feb asserted govt was paying salaries to some 1.2mn public servants.
In another important development. UN Sanctions Monitoring Team 29 Jan assessed Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) retained capacity to conduct external operations. Still, ISKP related fatalities remained at historic lows.
The more isolated the Taliban becomes, the more they turn to China to replace the diplomatic weight the US previously provided.
Most regional capitals are not allowing the issue of non-recognition [of the Taliban] to hinder their relations with Kabul.
As Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban severed, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also gotten cold feet in their engagement [with the Taliban].
The flood of outrage from the West will strengthen the resolve of the Taliban leadership [in Afghanistan], which defines itself as a bulwark against the outside world.
Even as many diplomats shun the Taliban regime, protesting its treatment of women and girls, emissaries of countries near Afghanistan have sought dealings with Kabul in areas like security and commerce. It is a worthwhile endeavour, and the West should not stand in the way.
Pakistan has started repatriations that could force millions of Afghans back to their crisis-wracked home country. As Crisis Group expert Ibraheem Bahiss explains in this Q&A, the policy could bring further trouble to the region, notwithstanding Islamabad’s efforts to justify itself on security grounds.
Surviving the impact of climate change and adapting to harsher new environments are collective tasks that need the cooperation of all countries, even Afghanistan under the outcast Taliban regime.
On 13 September, Crisis Group Asia Program Director Pierre Prakash spoke at the Afghanistan Humanitarian Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) at Brussels.
How to Help Afghanistan Without Normalizing Relations
The Taliban have barred women from universities and many workplaces, compelling several aid organisations to pause operations in Afghanistan and donors to contemplate cuts to assistance. Yet the principled response remains to mitigate the harm these harsh rulings are doing to the most vulnerable Afghans.
The Taliban seem determined to isolate the country from the world, which can only lead to greater misery for Afghans. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2023, Crisis Group explains how the EU and its member states can help address the challenges Afghanistan faces.
Like It or Not, Donors Must Work With The Taliban on Economic Recovery.
Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.