By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On April 8, 2022, Taliban fighters stormed the Qassan valley in the Deh Salah area of Andarab district in Baghlan province and took control of the upper area of Darband Kaasa Traash and Darra e Jar, strongholds of the National Resistance Front (NRF) . NRF fighters hit back and at least 11 Taliban fighters were killed and several injured in the ensuing clashes. According to an NRF publication, Taliban fighters fled Dara-e-Jar after the attack. The current combat cycle in the area began on April 4, 2022.
On April 3, 2022, in the city of Faizabad, capital of Badakhshan, NRF fighters targeted a vehicle carrying Taliban security chief Mawlawi Rashad. While Rashad was seriously wounded, two of his bodyguards were killed in the attack.
On April 1, 2022, NRF fighters ambushed Taliban forces in Hesarak area of Panjshir province, killing 10 Taliban and wounding another 12.
According to available data, at least 195 people have died (154 Taliban, 37 NRF and four civilians) in clashes between the NRF and the Taliban since the establishment of the NRF after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, 2021. Such attacks were not limited to the northern provinces. Sibghatullah Ahmadi, Spokesman and Director of Strategic Communications, NRF, tweeted on March 3rd,
In the past eleven days, the NRF guerrillas and infiltrators in Kabul, Nangarhar, Baghlan, Panjshir, Takhar, Laghman, Kapisa, Kunduz, Faryab, Balkh, Parwan, Badakhshan, Jawzjan, Badghis, Sar-e-Pul, Ghor, Farah , Samangan, Logar, Herat and Maidan Wardak provinces have killed fifty-seven Taliban terrorist fighters and seriously wounded seventy-three other sabotage (sic) people. Eleven of the fighters loyal to the NRF were martyred during these attacks. Those who fight for freedom will not be forgotten. We will succeed.
Indeed, on several occasions, the NRF has reiterated its determination to overthrow the Taliban regime. On February 9, 2022, Ali Maisam Nazary, Head of NRF External Relations, tweeted,
There is a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan [Afghanistan] because a terrorist group was allowed to kidnap an entire country. The Taliban have kept Afg in a state of anarchy to exploit the situation for their own purposes. The only solution to ending this crisis is to eliminate the root cause, which is the Taliban.
In an interview published on January 18, 2022, Nazary claimed that the Taliban had become weakened and disorganized and that the NRF would regain power. He announced that NRF fighters would begin their offensive attacks against the Taliban by the end of winter.
Earlier on January 11, during his meeting with Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, in Tehran, Iran, Ahmad Massoud, leader of the NRF, rejected the Taliban government’s offer of safe entry into the country. Ali Maisam Nazary stated:
We declined his offer. They do not own Afghanistan to allow or prevent us from entering our country. We control many parts of the Hindu Kush and Commander Massoud can return whenever he chooses. He will be back in Afghanistan after his travels are over.
These developments clearly show that the Taliban’s celebrations over the September 6, 2021 claim that the entire province of Panjshir was under Taliban control and that armed resistance in Afghanistan had ended were premature. The NRF opposition is likely to continue.
There are other resistance forces as well. These include the National Resistance Council, which is said to include key anti-Taliban figures of recent decades, such as Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf, Mohammad Younus Qonuni, Ata Mohammad Noor, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Muhammad Mohaqiq, Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal and Engineer Mohammad Khan; the Unknown Soldiers of Hazaristan, referring to a part of central Afghanistan predominantly inhabited by the Hazara ethnic minority; the Afghanistan Liberation Front; the Islamic National and Liberation Movement of Afghanistan; the Afghanistan Freedom Front; the Freedom and Democracy Front, another seemingly Hazara-centric resistance group; and the Freedom Corps, which claims to be active in parts of Takhar province.
In addition, the threat to the Taliban regime from the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) remains strong. According to a United Nations (UN) report on the situation in Afghanistan, published on January 28, 2022,
Attacks claimed by or attributed to ISIL-KP [IS-KP] strengthened and expanded beyond the previous focal points of the movement in Kabul and eastern Afghanistan. Between August 19 and December 31, the United Nations recorded 152 attacks by the group in 16 provinces, compared to 20 attacks in 5 provinces in the same period in 2020. In addition to the de facto Authorities also targeted the group against civilians, particularly Shia minorities, in urban areas.
The report further noted
From August 15 to December 31, 2021, UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] documented more than 1,050 civilian casualties, including more than 350 civilian deaths. Suicidal and non-suicidal improvised explosive devices attributed almost exclusively to ISIL-KP caused more than 850 civilian casualties, including nearly 300 deaths, and consisted mostly of sectarian attacks on civilians. Explosive remnants of war claimed nearly 100 civilian casualties, mostly children; targeted killings related to ongoing armed conflicts resulted in more than 50 civilian casualties; soil engagements between the de facto Authorities and ISIL KP or resistance groups resulted in nearly 20 civilian casualties; and a United States airstrike on August 29 against ISIL-KP resulted in the deaths of 10 civilians.
As of January 1, 2022, ISKP-related incidents have resulted in 39 deaths (17 Taliban, six ISKP terrorists and 16 in the unspecified category).
Interestingly, however, on April 4, 2022, Foreign Minister Muttaqi claimed:
Da’esh [IS-KP] had no surgeries in the past four months. We could say that Afghanistan is a safe country at the moment.
Meanwhile, the Taliban own brutalities against the Afghans. Most recently, on April 2, 2022, the Taliban savagely killed a young girl in the seventh district of Mazar-e-Sharif by first flogging her, then severing parts of her body with a razor blade, amputating one of her legs, and then firing her 12 Bullets on her half-dead body. In another such incident, on March 12-13, 2022, a 48-year-old shopkeeper, Ghulam Sakhi, was severely tortured and killed by the Taliban in Mata village, Panjshir province.
In addition, the Taliban continue to rule the country according to their own interpretation of Islamic law. Accordingly, on March 23, 2022, schools for girls were closed pending a plan consistent with Islamic law and Afghan culture. A statement from the Ministry of Education announced: “We are informing all girls’ high schools and the schools that have students over the sixth grade that they are free until the next order.” In March, the Taliban spoke out in favor of reopening. Afghan women are reportedly no longer allowed to travel more than 45 miles (or 72 kilometers) from their homes without the company of a close male relative. Since their return to power, the Taliban have curtailed women’s rights and freedoms, creating an environment similar to that seen between 1996 and 2001, when women’s education and most employment were banned and their freedom of movement and activity severely restricted.
This short-term suspension of the decision on girls’ schools is now seen as further evidence of a growing ideological split within the Taliban leadership. Andrew Watkins from the US Institute for Peaceremarked: “This last-minute change appears to be driven by ideological differences in the movement … over how girls returning to school are perceived by their supporters.” Since the Taliban returned to power in Kabul, there has been significantly, reports of growing divisions within the leadership.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis is deepening. According to a UNAMA release dated March 31, 2022
More than 24 million people – or 60 percent of the population – need humanitarian assistance to survive. Demand is 30 percent higher than last year  and acute hunger is part of everyday life for half of the population. Basic health, education and other services are severely strained, livelihoods have been destroyed and households spend 80 percent of their meager income on food.
Fears that the misery of the Afghan population would increase even further with the Taliban’s return to power have unfortunately proved to be correct. Not surprising, resolution 2626 (2022), adopted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) at its 8,997. Meeting on March 17, 2022, agreed that UNAMA’s mandate would be extended until March 17, 2023.
Amid the many worrying developments in Afghanistan, the international community remains uncertain about its position on the legal status of the Taliban regime. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, spoke in favor of the Taliban in her briefing before the UNSC on March 2, 2022, arguing:
Let me be clear that we don’t think we can really help the Afghan people without working with them de facto authorities. That must be hard for some to accept, but it is necessary… The Taliban in particular have told us that they should be given more credit for the security that is in place in Afghanistan. In the six months since August 15th  As a result of the reduction in conflict, civilian casualties have fallen by 78 percent.
On the other hand, a UN report released on February 3, 2022, noted,
The security landscape in Afghanistan changed dramatically on August 15 when the Taliban took control of the country. There is no recent indication that the Taliban have taken steps to restrict the activities of foreign terrorist fighters in the country. On the contrary, terrorist groups enjoy more freedom there than at any time in recent history… Central Asian foreign terrorist fighters and ETIM/TIP [East Turkestan Islamic Movement/ Turkestan Islamic Party] Members in Afghanistan have welcomed the Taliban takeover. They look forward to international recognition of the Taliban and believe that the “terrorist” label will then be stripped from them. They also reckon that the Taliban de facto The administration will issue them with refugee status and passports so that they can travel internationally.
Afghanistan remains insecure, unstable and conflict-ridden, with its future uncertain. There is no hope of immediate help for the people of the country that superpowers have invaded from time to time only to suffer defeat. In the devastation left in their wake by these powers, the misery of the people can only increase for the foreseeable future. Worse, as mischievous neighbor and Afghanistan’s “top tormentor” Pakistan increasingly beset by political volatility, the deepening crisis in Islamabad can only add to insecurities in Kabul.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Scientific Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management