Af-Pak Digest by Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal | January 2024

I Overview

 

Pakistan:

  • Political Situation
  • Economy
  • Army Chief Comments on the Political System
  • Terrorism
  • Continued Unrest in ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’
  • Pakistan-US
  • Pakistan-India
  • Pakistan-Iran
  • Pakistan-China

Afghanistan:

  • Human Rights Situation
  • Humanitarian Challenges
  • Afghanistan-Pakistan
  • Afghanistan-China
  • Afghanistan-US
  • Afghanistan-India
  • UNSC Resolution on Afghanistan

 

II Developments in Pakistan

 

Political Situation

 

The announcement of February 8 as the election date by the Election Commission of Pakistan did not end the demands for its postponement, mainly from politicians in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, where the security situation remains fraught. The Senate passed a resolution, calling for postponement of the election, with barely fourteen members present in the house.  The Election Commission and the caretaker government, however, stated that the above date would be adhered to. The Supreme Court restored the death sentence awarded to Musharraf by a special court in 2019, for declaration of an emergency and suspension of the constitution by him in 2007, which had been overturned by the Lahore High Court. General Musharraf having passed away, restoration of the sentence was symbolic and a signal against unconstitutional steps. However, the manner in which the Pakistan army continues to shape the electoral field in the run up to the election raises doubts about the deterrent value of such judgments. The challenge for all parties is to address the aspirations of the young  voters, below the age of 35, whose number has surged to 56.86 million from 46.43 million in the last election in 2018. They are by and large disenchanted with the old style politics and Imran Khan has a large number of supporters among them. In view of the clear indicators of Pakistan moving towards a managed election, the election campaign remained lacklustre, with only Bilawal Bhutto doing very active campaigning. He persistently targeted Nawaz Sharif and his party, possibly with an eye on reviving PPP’s fortunes in Punjab, where it had remained marginalised in the last two elections. 

 

Nawaz Sharif continued to get relief in the judicial cases against him. The Supreme Court cleared the path for him to contest the election by upholding  a law passed by the Parliament during Shehbaz Sharif’s government,  reducing the period of disqualification from holding public office, handed down to Nawaz Sharif by the apex court in 2018, from life to five years. A survey released by Gallup Pakistan in mid-January showed that Nawaz’s popularity had gone up to 52% in December 2023 from 36% in June 2023. Imran Khan’s popularity during the same period went down from 60% to 57%. The popularity of Nawaz and Imran in Punjab in December 2023 was rated at 60% and 53% respectively. PML(N) started its poll campaign barely three weeks before the election, with Nawaz Sharif ceding the limelight largely to his charismatic daughter, Maryam Nawaz. In his speeches, he focused on his premature ouster from power in the past, adding that had he been allowed to complete his tenures, the county would not be in a dire situation today. He vowed to end such unconstitutional acts, possibly with an eye on shedding the label of army’s ladla (favourite) that has come to attach to him since his return from exile. There were reports that PML(N) was under pressure from the army to make electoral adjustments with the pro-army smaller parties, particularly Istehkam-e-Pakistan. Significantly, the PML(N)  Senator, Mushahid Hussain, who in the past is known to have voiced the opinion of the army, said in a TV interview that no party was likely to get a simple majority. He added that since Nawaz Sharif would not be comfortable as Prime Minister in a hybrid system, he should allow someone else from his party to become Prime Minister and himself take the Presidency. 

 

Imran Khan and his deputy Shah Mahmood Qureshi remained incarcerated on various charges. At the end of January, they were both sentenced to ten years imprisonment in the so-called cipher case. Separately, Imran Khan and his wife were sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment in the Toshakhana case and disqualified from holding public office for 10 years.  Overturning its earlier judgment, the Supreme Court allowed the military trial of those civilians who had participated in the anti-army violence on May 9, 2023, allegedly at Imran Khan’s instigation. The Election Commission deprived PTI of its evocative election symbol of a cricket bat- a decision that was overturned by the Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa High Court, but upheld by the Supreme Court. The Commission, however, clarified that PTI’s status as a political party was not being withdrawn. The party candidates faced strong arm tactics at the hands of the security agencies to dissuade them from filing their nomination papers and extra-harsh treatment by the returning officers charged with examining the papers. PTI’s campaign showed no sign of picking up. Its attempts to carry out the campaign on the social media repeatedly met with widespread disruption of internet services, reportedly engineered by the authorities. 

 

Pakistan is clearly moving towards a managed election as in 2018.

 

Economy

 

The IMF executive board approved a loan of $700 million for Pakistan on January 11 out of an ongoing arrangement of $3 billion, which is due to end in March this year. The total disbursement under this arrangement so far amounts to $1.9 billion. While clearing the latest tranche, the IMF assessed that while the steps to stabilise the economy taken by the government are paying off, challenges persist. On the positive side, the Fund noted the prospect of 2% GDP growth in the current financial year, improved revenue collection, strengthening of the fiscal position in the first quarter of the ongoing financial year, rise in the reserves with the central bank to $8.2 billion in December 2023 and the expectation that inflation, currently around 30%, will come down to around 18% by the end of the financial year in June 2024. The key challenges listed by the Fund are: continuing high inflation impacting vulnerable groups, undercapitalised financial institutions needing government support, loss making state-owned enterprises, growing intensity and frequency of climate related events, poor governance and absence of a proper anti-corruption mechanism. In addition to the above, Pakistan’s heavy external financial obligations remain far beyond its earning capacity. Therefore, besides seeking rescheduling of loans by friendly countries, Pakistan will have to negotiate another programme with the IMF when the ongoing programme ends in March. In the midst of this critical situation, the political parties vying for power in the run up to the election have not come up with any credible roadmap to address the structural problems of the economy that have caused its repeated breakdown.

 

Army Chief Comments on the Political System

 

With an eye on the large number of young voters, army chief Asim Munir spoke to a gathering of students from various public and private sector universities and commented, inter alia, on the political system. He called upon people to carefully choose their representatives without selling their votes for paltry amounts. Responding to a question about the inability of civilian governments to complete their five years tenure (a phenomenon in which the army has been instrumental), Munir said that the tenure does not give a license to an elected government to misgovern for five years. He emphasised the accountability of lawmakers, adding that if the constitution is amended to enable more than 50% voters of a constituency to unseat a sitting legislator, politicians would start performing. Munir’s comments harked back to Pakistan’s well known tradition of the army sitting in judgment over civilian governments. Munir voiced a hardline against Afghanistan, India and Iran. He said that India had not reconciled to the concept of Pakistan; therefore how could Pakistan reconcile itself to India? Speaking of Iran’s recent attack on a Jaish al-Adl target in Balochistan, he said, “You cannot backstab us, and if you do, you will get a befitting reply.” 

 

Terrorism

 

Terror violence continued unabated in Pakistan. The worst incident took place in mid-December when six terrorists attacked a security forces’ post in the DI Khan area, killing at least 23 soldiers. Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan, believed to be associated with TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack. Taking part in a debate on Afghanistan at the UNSC, the Pakistan envoy alleged that there was clear evidence that Pakistan’s “main adversary” (an apparent reference to India) supports TTP in carrying out such attacks. As per a report in the prominent Pakistani daily Dawn, terror violence related deaths spiked to a six-year high in 2023 as Pakistan lost ground to inimical forces. It added that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were the hardest hit. The Ministry of Interior informed the Senate that continuous influx of TTP cadres in significant numbers from Afghanistan into the erstwhile FATA districts since merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, with recruitment and training activities, were a matter of serious concern. The Ministry added that though fencing along the Durand Line had been largely completed, the TTP cadres continued to sabotage the fence.

 

Continued Unrest in ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’

 

‘Gilgit-Baltistan’- a part of the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir- continues to be the scene of unrest. It had been rocked by sectarian violence a few months ago. Fresh reports of widespread unrest in the territory have emerged. Protests, called by the Awami Action Committee composed of political, religious organisations and trade unions, against increase in the price of subsidised wheat by the government have entered their fourth week. Other issues of concern to the people are misgovernance in general and frequent power outages. Contestation over land and mineral resources between the state and the people has also grown. Pakistan’s strong arm tactics in the territory have not helped matters. It was reported at the end of January that life had come to a standstill as a complete shutter down and wheel jam strike was observed through the territory. It was further reported that the ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ Governor had taken up the matter of wheat subsidy with the President, who said that he had referred it to the caretaker government and hoped that it would be resolved soon.   

 

Pakistan-US

 

Army Chief Asim Munir paid an official visit to the US in December. Questioned on the visit, the US State Department Spokesperson said that Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally and generally speaking, the US look forward to partnering with it on regional security and defence co-operation. Munir had a meeting with the US Defence Secretary. In a brief statement, the Pentagon said that the two officials discussed recent regional security developments and potential areas for bilateral defence co-operation. According to a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Munir also called on the Secretary of State Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Finer and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Charles Brown. ISPR further stated that both sides agreed to continue engagement for exploring potential avenues of bilateral collaboration in pursuit of shared interests. It added that Munir, inter alia, highlighted the importance of resolving the Kashmir issue in line with the international law and the relevant UNSC resolutions. No major breakthroughs were, however, announced. In his meeting with representatives of US think tanks, the army chief said that Pakistan wishes to develop itself into a hub of connectivity and would eschew bloc politics. He maintained that Pakistan is a country of consequence both from geopolitical and geoeconomic perspectives. 

 

Pakistan-India

 

Pakistan continued with its hardline, counterproductive rhetoric against India. Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani condemned the Indian Supreme Court ruling in the case concerning withdrawal of the special status of Jammu and Kahmir and averred that it holds no legal significance. He also addressed letters on the subject to the UN, EU and the OIC. Pakistan also criticised the consecration of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, calling it a symbol of growing majoritarianism and an affront to the Muslim community in India. Addressing a press conference, the Pakistan Foreign Secretary said that Islamabad had credible evidence linking Indian agents to the killing of Pakistani nationals Shahid Latif and Muhammad Riaz in 2023 in Sialkot and Rawalakot (PoK) respectively. Subsequently, it was stated that Pakistan had also taken up this matter with US and Canada, who too had complained against targeted killings by India. What the Pakistan Foreign Secretary failed to mention was that Shahid Latif belonged to the terror organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed and was the mastermind of the attack on the air force base at Pathankot in early 2016; and Muhammad Riaz too belonged to the terror outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawa and was responsible for murderous terror attacks. The Spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs described the above allegations as malicious, adding that Pakistan would reap what it sowed and to blame others for its own misdeeds can neither be a justification nor a solution. 

 

The Spokesperson of the Pakistan Foreign Office confirmed that India had made a request for the extradition of the mastermind of the Mumbai attack, Hafiz Saeed. She added that it was pertinent to note that there was no bilateral extradition treaty between India and Pakistan. Earlier the Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs had said that the request for extradition had been conveyed with the relevant supporting documents to the government of Pakistan. 

 

India lodged a protest with UK over the visit of its High Commissioner to Pakistan to PoK, describing it as an infringement of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

 

Pakistan-Iran

 

On January 16, Iran hit targets in Pakistan’s Balochistan province with missiles and drones and claimed to have destroyed two strongholds of the Sunni terror group Jaish al-Adl. Pakistan reacted angrily, downgraded the diplomatic ties from the Ambassadorial level, cancelled all ongoing and upcoming high-level exchanges with Iran and said that it reserved the right to respond. Less than 48 hours later, Pakistan mounted a retaliatory strike in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province against what it claimed were the camps of Balochistan Liberation Army and Balochistan Liberation Front. These attacks have to be seen in the backdrop of the perennial problems that the two countries have had in managing their border and their periodic accusations of terror attacks from each other’s territory. The moot question is why Tehran chose this time for the attack, when its hands were full in addressing the fallout of the Gaza conflict. The immediate provocation seems to have been an attack by Jaish al-Adl in Sistan-Baluchestan in December, killing eleven Iranian security personnel. Iran complained to Pakistan but was not satisfied with the response. This was followed by the January 3 suicide bombing at a memorial event for the slain Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani at Kerman, which killed close to a hundred persons. There are reports that Jaish al-Adl may have facilitated the entry of a Tajik militant, belonging to the Islamic State-Khorasan, into Iran for the Kerman bombing. Further, Iran acted in Pakistan along with its attacks on targets in Iraq and Syria against an alleged Israeli intelligence facility and an anti-Iran terror group respectively. It is, therefore, possible that the Iranians either believed Jaish al-Adl’s recent actions to be part of the wider US-Israel effort to deter Tehran from widening the Gaza conflict, or they felt that Jaish al-Adl and possibly Pakistan could become a party to that effort. In this context, it is to be noted that Pakistan is desperate to rebuild its relationship with the US, particularly to keep its economy afloat. The Balochistan strike by Iran may, therefore, have been a warning  to Pakistan not to go down that road. Significantly, during his visit to Pakistan later on, the Iranian minister of foreign affairs said that the terrorists located in the border areas of Iran and Pakistan were led and supported by third countries. 

 

Having made their point through the military strikes, neither side had an interest in escalating further. The two foreign ministers spoke after the Pakistani retaliation to defuse tensions. Subsequently, the two Ambassadors resumed duties in each other’s capital. The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Pakistan at the end of January and it was announced that the two sides had agreed to establish a joint coordination mechanism at the level of Foreign Ministers and station military liaison officers at the border to prevent future escalations. Though the immediate crisis seems to have been contained, reportedly with the intervention of China and Turkey, unless the underlying cause- allegations of terror bases on both sides- is addressed effectively, there could be a blow up again. The complexity of the situation was brought home by the killing of nine Pakistani labourers in Sistan-Baluchestan by unknown assailants a day before the Iranian Minister arrived in Islamabad.  

 

Pakistan-China

 

The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Sun Weidong, paid a visit to Pakistan in January and co-chaired the fourth meeting of the CPEC Joint Working Group on International Co-operation and Co-ordination along with the Pakistani Foreign Secretary.  During his call on the Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, the Chinese visitor was assured that Pakistan was fully committed to the success of CPEC and both sides should continue to work closely to ensure timely completion of the ongoing projects. Besides calling on the President and meeting his interlocutors in the Pakistani Foreign Office, Sun Weidong also called on the Army Chief Asim Munir. According to ISPR, measures to further enhance bilateral defence co-operation were discussed. The Pakistanis said that the Chinese diplomat acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts in promoting regional peace and stability and claimed that he also expressed China’s satisfaction with the security arrangements for the CPEC projects. Clearly, CPEC’s implementation has not kept pace with what might have been intended at its beginning. Pakistan’s growing economic problems, security threats and administrative hurdles have slowed its progress. Speaking at Davos, PM Kakar said that after having achieved the first phase of CPEC, the two sides were engaged in executing the second phase, but that more deliberations were needed in respect of the second phase. 

 

III Developments in Afghanistan

 

Human Rights Situation

 

In its quarterly report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted that the Taliban continue to enforce and promulgate restrictions on women’s rights to work, education and freedom of movement. The report also mentioned arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights defenders and media workers. A spokesman of the Taliban government, however, said that issues such as suitable working and educational conditions for women and prevention of deviant thoughts in the society are among the obligations of a committed Islamic government. He described UNAMA’s criticism as an insult to the beliefs of a nation. However, though the Kandahar hardline faction of the Taliban continues to prevail on issues such as women and girls education, discordant voices also continued to be heard in Afghanistan. Thus, speaking at a graduation ceremony in December, the Deputy Foreign Minister, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai stressed the importance of reopening schools for girl students beyond grade 6, adding that the main reason people are distanced from the interim (Taliban) government is the continued ban on female education. A gathering of religious scholars and tribal elders in Kabul also called for immediate reopening of schools and universities for girls in Afghanistan.

 

Humanitarian Challenges

 

According to a report released by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 23.7 million people- more than half of Afghanistan’s population- will require humanitarian assistance to survive in 2024 as the country continues to reel from decades of war and climate induced crises. Key priorities will include food aid, safe drinking water, healthcare, education and addressing acute water, sanitation and hygiene needs. OCHA assessed the financial requirement for humanitarian assistance in 2024 at $3.06 billion. In the context of expulsion of the Afghans living in Pakistan illegally, the UN Refugee Agency warned that such persons could die in harsh winter conditions if they did  not get adequate shelter once they crossed the border from Pakistan. 

 

Afghanistan-Pakistan

 

TTP terror activity in Pakistan remained a bone of contention between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied the Pakistani allegation that the DI Khan attack, mentioned above, had connection with Afghanistan, but added that if Pakistan asked for an investigation and shared the relevant details, Afghanistan would look into them. Later, when Pakistan said that nine persons had been arrested in connection with the above attack and six among them were from Afghanistan, Mujahid said that details of these persons had not been shared with the Taliban government. The Taliban minister for Borders and Tribal Affairs said that Pakistan was trying to pressure Afghanistan by deporting Afghan nationals. (It was reported that about half a million Afghans had been repatriated from Pakistan, but the flow was tapering off.) The same minister said subsequently that Afghanistan does not have a definite border with Pakistan and the Durand Line is an “imaginary line.”  In the midst of this acrimony, the spokesman of the Taliban Ministry of Energy and Water announced that a dam on the Kunar river would be built in the near future. The announcement is bound to irk Pakistan as the Kunar river flows into the Kabul river, which in turn enters Pakistan to eventually merge with the Indus. Therefore, a dam on the Kunar river would influence the quantity of water flowing into Pakistan. 

 

Speaking to a gathering of students from various Pakistani universities, army chief Asim Munir said that when it came to the safety and security of every single Pakistani, the whole of Afghanistan could be damned. He added that insurgency in Balochistan had long been supported by Afghanistan, which had never shown friendship towards Pakistan. He reminded the students that Afghanistan was the only country that opposed Pakistan’s admission to the UN. In an apparent warning to the Taliban, he said,” Do not look towards Pakistan. We are ready to sacrifice anything and everything.” Munir was speaking to the students weeks before the February 8 election, which the army is managing to get a result of its choice. Therefore, his statement had an element of election rhetoric. But even discounting for that, it showed the level of Pakistan’s frustration with the Afghan Taliban.

 

Speaking to the Pakistani Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed on the margins of the conference on Palestine hosted by Iran, the Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said that most of the issues between Pakistan and TTP had been sorted out (during talks that took place under the Prime Ministership of Imran Khan) and they were close to a deal, but Islamabad backed out. He added that the only sticky issue was the TTP demand to undo the merger of FATA with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which had taken place in 2018. Muttaqi also warned that Afghans react adversely to any pressure. The Pakistani official sources, however, rejected the idea of any dialogue with TTP. 

 

Attempts continued to mend fences between the two countries. A senior delegation of the Taliban, led by the Governor of Kandahar Mullah Sherin Akhund (who is reported to be  close to the Taliban Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada) and including defence and intelligence officials, visited Pakistan to discuss the ongoing problems. The Afghan delegation reportedly urged Pakistan to remove trade blockages and slow down deportation of Afghan nationals. Pakistan, however, said that progress on the issue of TTP was essential for movement on other issues. The Afghan delegation asked for more time to deal with TTP  and there was no major breakthrough between the two sides. A Pakistani delegation, led by the JUI(F) chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman visited Afghanistan and was received at senior levels, including a meeting with Haibatullah Akhundzada. However, nothing significant came out of this visit too. The Pakistan Foreign Office distanced itself from the visit as the Maulana was seen to be deviating from the official stance during his meetings, including reports of his assurance that the incoming government after the Pakistan election would review the issue of dialogue with TTP. 

 

In January, trade through the Torkham gate was suspended as Pakistan insisted on introduction of visas for truck drivers and others coming to Pakistan. Such moves have been unpopular on both sides of the Durand Line as there are sizeable vested interests in trade on both sides. For example, a protest in Chaman on the same issue entered its third month recently. Eventually, Pakistan had to relent and agreed to extend the deadline for introduction of visas to the end of March and the gate was reopened. 

 

Afghanistan-China

 

Asadullah Bilal Karimi, the Taliban Ambassador to China presented credentials to the Chinese President in Beijing along with envoys of other countries. A spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to the question whether China now recognises the Taliban government in Kabul, but expressed China’s belief that “Afghanistan should not be excluded from the international community”, adding that it was normal diplomatic protocol for China to receive and accredit an Ambassador from the interim Afghan government. Unless China offers an explanation to the contrary, the Chinese action amounts to recognition of the Taliban regime and an expression of their intent to do serious business with them. It breaks the international consensus thus far not to recognise the Taliban government until they fulfil their promises to the international community. It comes at a time when China’s close ally Pakistan is in confrontation with the Taliban. The Taliban chief spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that China has understood what the rest of the world has not. He called on Russia, Iran and other countries to act on the same lines. The Chinese move may well spur some other countries to do likewise.   

 

Afghanistan-US

 

The US Department of Treasury said in December that the Office of Foreign Assets Control had designated two senior Taliban for serious human rights abuse related to repression of women and girls, including through the restriction of access to secondary education for them and imposed sanctions on them. Tolo news of Afghanistan quoted the US Special Envoy, Thomas West as telling them that his country has pursued the policy of engagement with the Taliban, with whom he is in regular touch on various issues, including security concerns and humanitarian/human rights issues. Separately, the State Department Spokesperson said that Washington continued to be concerned about terror activities in Afghanistan and maintained  the capability to conduct over the horizon operations to curb them. Special Envoy Thomas West told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that al-Qaeda’s capacity to threaten the US from Afghanistan or Pakistan was at a low point. He added that the Taliban’s sheltering of Ayman al-Zawahiri in a safe house in Kabul was a flagrant violation of their security commitments, but since then, it was Washinton’s assessment that the Taliban had undertaken efforts to fulfil their security commitments with regard to al-Qaeda. He said that Islamic State- Khorasan’s (ISK) capabilities and intent concerned Washinton the most, but added that the Taliban have waged an aggressive campaign against ISK. 

 

Afghanistan-India

 

A spokesman of the Taliban Ministry of Industry and Commerce said that in 2023, Afghanistan conducted trade worth $779 million with India- $579 million of exports and $200 million imports.

 

The head of the Indian Technical Team in Afghanistan participated in the Regional Cooperation Initiative meeting convened by the Taliban Foreign Ministry at the end of January. Other countries represented were: Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan. The Taliban Foreign Minister said that the meeting was aimed at developing a region-centric narrative to develop regional cooperation for a positive and constructive engagement between Afghanistan and regional countries. The Deputy Spokesman of the Taliban Foreign Office quoted the Indian representative as saying at the meeting that India actively takes part in international and regional initiatives regarding Afghanistan and supports every effort leading to the stability and development of Afghanistan.

 

UNSC Resolution on Afghanistan

 

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on Afghanistan on December 29, 2023, which inter alia called upon the Secretary General to appoint a Special Envoy for Afghanistan, with robust expertise on human rights and gender, to promote implementation of the recommendations of the independent assessment of the Secretary General, without prejudice to the mandate of UNAMA and the Special Representative of the Secretary General.

 

Earlier, briefing the UNSC on Afghanistan, the Secretary General’s Special Representative Roza Otunbayeva made the following key points: existence of widespread poverty and uncertainty about the future; the Taliban essentially remain in control of the country, but unable to satisfactorily address terrorist groups operating inside Afghanistan, particularly the activities of ISK; there is no significant visible political opposition to the Taliban inside Afghanistan and the Taliban reject the need for any intra-Afghan dialogue; there is suppression of opposing voices and harsh social policies including restrictions on women; overall levels of corruption are significantly down compared to the Republic, but there have been signs of an uptick in the last six months; the Taliban have managed to maintain macroeconomic stability, albeit at a much lower level of economic activity; the Taliban are implementing an economic policy of self-reliance; while the Taliban’s economic management has been more effective than expected, it also needs to be noted that donors are feeding more than half  the population; finally, there is evidence that the Taliban are implementing their ban on cultivation of opium and other narcotics.

 

Separately, on December 14, 2023, UNSC extended for one more year the mandate of the team monitoring sanctions against the Taliban and associated individuals and entities, which threaten Afghanistan’s peace, security and stability. 

 

 

 

The previous issues of Af-Pak Digest are available here: LINK

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