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Taliban faces threats from 'Islamic State', UN says

Egan Richardson
June 3, 2022

IS militants and other insurgents now comprise the biggest military threat to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Militant groups do not have the capability to launch international attacks this year, according to a UN report.

 Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, acting deputy prime minister of the Afghan Taliban's caretaker government, center, and other Taliban officials attend a ceremony
A UN report has criticized the Taliban for prioritizing loyalty and seniority over competence when selecting senior officials and ministersImage: Wakil Kohsar/AFP

The Taliban regime faces multiple threats from al-Qaida, the "Islamic State" (IS) group, and an insurgency in the northern region of Panjshir, according to a new report prepared for the UN Security Council.

The report suggested that neither IS nor al-Qaida is expected to be able to launch international attacks "before 2023 at the earliest, regardless of their intent or of whether the Taliban acts to restrain them."

Do the Taliban fully control Afghanistan?

Afghanistan's new rulers have been trying to consolidate their hold on the country since taking control last August when NATO and western allies chaotically evacuated their people, but face a number of threats, according to the report.

"While seeking international recognition, to re-engage with the international financial system and to receive aid in order to deal with the growing economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan," the experts said.

"Since taking power, however, there have been many factors creating internal tensions within the movement, leading to perceptions that the Taliban's governance has been chaotic, disjointed and prone to reversing policies and going back on promises," they said.

The humanitarian crisis has deepened as western donors retreat from the country. According to the World Food Programme, this year some 22 million people in Afghanistan face "acute food insecurity", with 8.7 million of those having to deal with "emergency level food insecurity".

Afghan activist fights for women's rights under Taliban rule

On the security front, insurgent groups the National Resistance Front, and the newly established Afghan Freedom Front have stepped up their operations recently, staging attacks in multiple provinces.

"Taliban forces may be hard pressed to counter several insurgencies simultaneously," the report's authors said.

As a consequence, Taliban forces are taking a harsher approach to groups and communities they perceive as a threat.

Taliban preference is for loyalty over competence, according to the report. They have favored Pashtun candidates over minority ethnic groups, alienating parts of the country.

The Haqqani network — a faction within the Taliban — took key ministries and portfolios in the new government and now effectively holds responsibility for security across the country.

What is the Taliban's relationship with other Islamist groups?

The report states that Taliban officials have retained links with al-Qaida, and the group's leader Ayman al-Zawahri is reportedly present in eastern Afghanistan.

IS has claimed responsibility for several bombings in Afghanistan that have killed dozens of civilians.

Afghan farmers fear for their livelihoods

International concern is building over the presence of al-Qaida, IS and "many other terrorist groups and fighters on Afghan soil," according to the report's authors.

Forty-seven people died in airstrikes in Khost and Kunar provinces, on the border with Pakistan, on April 16.

The Taliban blamed Pakistan for the bombings, but the Pakistani authorities denied responsibility — although they did say in a statement that their forces were coming under cross-border attack.

What about human rights?

The report suggested that Taliban rule has been especially problematic for women.

In May, a spokesman for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice said that women should cover everything except their eyes when talking to a man who is not a relative.

"They should wear a chadori [head-to-toe burqa], as it is traditional and respectful," said the spokesman, adding that "the best way to observe hijab is to not go out unless it's necessary."

The Taliban has also banned girls from school above sixth grade, prompting the World Bank to suspend four projects worth some $600 million (€558 million).

The report also cited the UN's Human Rights Council, which had criticized the United States for freezing $7 billion in Afghan Central Bank funds.

Citing a requirement that states do not undertake actions that could result in human rights violations, the council urged the US to "to reverse this unilateral measure and decisively contribute to” efforts to tackle Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis.

The UN Security Council is due to meet to discuss Afghanistan in June.

Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier