Afghanistan: Conflict and internal displacement under the Taliban regime
Displaced children in Geyan district, Paktika province. Photo by Mr Jandad Jahani, reproduced with permission from the author.
On 15 August 2021, the Taliban took power after almost two decades of combat against the international coalition troops and Afghan military forces. The Taliban intensified their operations as the US and its allies announced the full withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan on 14 April 2021. They seized all other provinces including Kabul in less than two weeks. A significant number of people rushed to Hamed Karzai International Airport for evacuation, as concern and violence increased with the departure of foreign troops and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. In addition, tens of thousands of people crossed to neighbouring countries, mainly Pakistan and Iran.
It has been a year since the Taliban took control of the country. Afghan people struggle with insecurity, human rights violations, poverty, famine, flooding and drought. Insecurity is still one of the major issues for Afghan citizens. Thousands of families have been displaced as a result of the ongoing conflict in the country. The Taliban are currently fighting against the anti-Taliban groups, rebel Taliban commanders, and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP). The ISKP is the regional affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group, established in early 2015 in Afghanistan.
The National Resistance Front is one of the key anti-Taliban groups which announced its presence in Panjshir province and Andarab district days after the Taliban’s victory in Kabul. It has been a year since this anti-Taliban group fought in both areas. Thousands of people were displaced to the mountains and neighbouring villages in search of safety for themselves and for their family members. The Taliban do not allow international organisations and the media to access those areas to report on what is happening on the ground. Local people describe a catastrophic situation in both regions. They claim that the Taliban forcibly evict families in many villages as fighting intensifies in those districts.
The majority of the Taliban’s leaders and high-ranked commanders are Pashtun. They selected a few ranks from other ethnic groups such as Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara to show the people and international communities that they are inclusive. Furthermore, they attempt to use the influence of these figures to strengthen ties with those ethnicities. As an example, Mehdi Mujahid was a Hazara commander in the ranks of the Taliban. He fought years with the Taliban against the previous government.
Recently, he criticised the Taliban and expressed his dissatisfaction with the current situation. Finally, he left the group and began fighting against the Taliban in Balkhab district, in Sar-e-Pul province. According to available reports from the north of the country, over 27,000 people have been displaced in the mountains resulting from recent combat between Mehdi Mujahid and the Taliban in Balkhab district. The majority of displaced persons are women and children struggling with serious challenges such as the shortage of food, lack of shelter and lack of healthcare facilities.
The Islamic State-Khorasan Province also conducts operations in Afghanistan. According to reports by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), almost 54 bombing attacks have been conducted in Afghanistan since August 2021. More than 500 civilians were killed and over 835 civilians were injured. A significant share of these attacks was operated by IS affiliations targeting Shias and Sufis.
Recent statistics show that the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to conflict in Afghanistan is 3.5 million, the majority of whom are women and children. It seems that this figure may increase in the future as well. The Taliban are responsible for dealing with IDPs and for finding durable solutions to this problem. They may face three constraints in responding to this challenge:
Lack of an agenda: It appears that the Taliban are not interested in governance, instead they are more involved in women’s activities and Islamic issues. They released a significant number of decrees on women and Islamic topics in the last year. However, they did not set a comprehensive strategy covering issues such as poverty, IDPs and unemployment.
Shortage of high-skilled human resources: The majority of Taliban are religious school graduates with no university degrees. Displacement management requires a set of technical and professional skills, which the acting refugee and repatriation minister and deputy ministers lack. This means that the Taliban may face a shortage of highly skilled human resources at the top management level when it comes to handling the displacement problem.
Scarcity of funds: All countries stopped their humanitarian and development assistance when the Taliban took over the country. In addition, the US government has frozen 9.5 billion USD worth of Afghan assets in US banks. Therefore, the Taliban were faced with a scarcity of cash and could not cover ordinary government expenses for several months. Responding to displacement needs a comprehensive strategy, as well as a large amount of money to finance those activities.
Ahmad Walid Barlas
Ahmad Walid is a PhD candidate in Economics at the University of Greifswald, Germany. Prior to that, he worked as a lecturer and head of department at Samangan Higher Education Institute, Afghanistan. Ahmad Walid's research interests include migration, displacement, remittance, poverty and economic development. He has conducted several research projects in Afghanistan and most of them are publicly available.