Is the Degradation of Afghanistan Permanent?

The situation in Afghanistan keeps deteriorating. Despite the lack of clear signs of upcoming chaos and destabilization, political, economic, and social processes show negative dynamics. Particular misgivings are tied with the permanent, slow, but inevitable activation of the terrorist hiding in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In turn, the actions of the Taliban do not demonstrate a desire to fight international and regional terrorism. On the eve, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) committed trustworthy reports of serious human rights violations by the de facto Taliban heads against hundreds of former government officials and military personnel. In a new report released on Tuesday, UNAMA documented human rights violations from the capture of Afghanistan by the Taliban on August 15, 2021, to June 30, 2023.

“At least 800 extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, and detentions, torture, and cruelty, as well as forced disappearances committed by the Taliban against individuals related to the former Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its security forces have been documented,” the report says. According to the document, the Taliban committed violence despite advising a “general amnesty” for former government officials and former Afghan National Defense and Security Forces soldiers.

“The UNAMA report is a sobering picture of the actions concerning individuals associated with the former Government and security forces of Afghanistan after the Taliban took down the country. Moreover, given that they have been assured that they will not be targeted, this is a betrayal of trust,” said Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He called on the Taliban to “carefully consider the findings of this report and fulfill their obligations under international human rights law, preventing further violations and bringing those responsible to justice.” For his part, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that “the latest report of the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which claims that up to 800 instances from the former administration were killed and tortured by the forces of the Islamic Emirate, is not true.”

In a statement on social media on behalf of the movement, he admits that there have been “some personal and unknown cases of revenge, the number of which is limited.” However, according to him, they “were seriously investigated by the relevant authorities of the Islamic Emirate.” Before the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, there were more than 70 political parties. After the Taliban came to power, most political party leaders left for other countries. On August 16, 2023, the Taliban announced a total ban on the activities of political parties.

The second crucial factor fixed in the last weeks is linked to the political and diplomatic part. There is a relatively complicated dynamic within the elite groups of the Taliban. The movement created, patronized, and funded by the Pakistani military has several wings that have disagreements of political and ideological nature. In recent months, certain contradictions have been registered between some groups of the Taliban and Pakistan, which I wrote about in detail on the Modern Diplomacy pages. 

At the same time, the Taliban leadership is attempting to follow a policy favorable to Pakistan. So, in early August, the supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, warned the Afghan Mujahideen that any attack beyond the country would not be considered a holy war – jihad. A matching statement was made by the pro-Pakistani Defense Minister and the son of the founder of the movement, Muhammad Yaqoob. In a speech broadcast on state television to members of the security forces, the Emirate Defense Minister said that in the belief of the Supreme leader, the fighting beyond the borders of Afghanistan is not a religion-sanctioned jihad but a war.

This statement was not accidental. The fact is that it was foregone by terrorist attacks in Pakistan, for which IS-Khorasan took responsibility. At least 54 people were killed by a suicide bomber on July 30 during a congress of supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami Islamic party in the Bajaur district of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani side announced the involvement of “Afghan citizens” in suicide attacks. Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif directly accused the Afghans of assisting suicide bombers in committing terrorist attacks in his country. At the same time, he did not directly mention the Taliban regime but pointed to the foreigners “from the other side of the border.” It should be noted that after the return of the Taliban to power two years ago, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, mainly in the areas bordering Afghanistan.

The pro-Pakistan wing of the Taliban hastened to dissociate itself from these terrorist attacks and demonstrate its loyalty to patrons in the military-political wing of the elite of Pakistan. This circumstance shows the presence of the Taliban’s still deep impact and dependence on Islamabad. At the same time, the triumph of the Taliban led to the destabilization of the terrorist situation in Pakistan itself. As I wrote earlier, referencing Pakistani sources, after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, a record number of terrorist attacks have been recorded in Pakistan. Not only the militants of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and the Islamic State have become more active, but also other terrorist groups.

Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatryan, associate professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.