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A number of armed insurgent groups, or Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) are operating on the territory of Afghanistan. The groups are responsible for a wide range of human rights violations. Their targets differ, often depending on the political or military objectives of the respective group.
The most significant groups are listed in this section.
The Taliban are considered as the most powerful group and control large parts of Afghanistan (see Overview: areas of control). They position themselves as the shadow government of Afghanistan, and their commission and governing bodies replicate the administrative offices and duties of a typical government. The Taliban have become an organised political movement and have evolved to become a local governance actor in the country by gaining and holding territory and thereby undertaking some responsibility for the well-being of local communities. Regarding militant operations, it is a networked insurgency, with strong leadership at the top and decentralised local commanders who can mobilise resources at the district level [Anti-government elements, 2.1].
Throughout the US-Taliban negotiations, and despite the reshuffling of its provincial appointments, the Taliban leadership has been able to maintain unity within the rank and file, although there are deepening divisions around cutting ties with Al Qaeda. For the most part, the leadership has been united in favour of pursuing the talks with the US. However, some splinter groups of the Taliban are opposing the US deal and possible leadership divisions could impact the potential peace process [Anti-government elements, 2.1].
The Taliban are accused of targeted killings and have also been involved in deliberate targeting of civilians and in both indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilian objects. They continued to operate parallel justice mechanisms, based on a strict interpretation of the Sharia, leading to executions by shadow courts and punishments deemed to be cruel, inhumane and degrading. The Taliban have also been reported to use torture against detainees [Anti-government elements, 2.5; Criminal law and customary justice, 1.8].
b. Haqqani Network
The Haqqani Network is an UN-designated terrorist organisation. It maintains close ties with the Taliban and is described as a powerful faction of the Taliban while keeping a degree of operational independence. It is believed to be responsible for complex attacks in heavily populated areas of Kabul. The Network reportedly collaborates and keeps close contact with Al Qaeda, despite the US deal. According to reports, Haqqani and ISKP also work together, including in attacks on the Afghanistan presidential inauguration and an assault on a Sikh temple in Kabul [Anti-government elements, 4.1; Security situation 2020, 1.2.2].
The ISKP is a Salafi-Jihadist organisation and an UN-designated terrorist organisation with operational ties with local groups. The group is responsible for deliberate attacks against civilians, in particular against religious minorities such as Shia and Sikhs. Prior to its retreat from Nangarhar, caused by campaigns of Afghan and US forces as well as by attacks of the Taliban between September and November 2019, ISKP was seen as the most resilient and successful affiliate of ISIL outside its core. Cells of the organisation reportedly continue to be present in a number of provinces and other insurgent groups are working directly with them, for example in some districts of Badakhshan province. ISKP’s strategic capability is described as limited in Afghanistan, but ISKP is considered to be capable of mounting attacks in various parts of the country, including Kabul, albeit possibly with the tactical accommodation of the Haqqani Network [Anti-government elements, 3].
d. Al Qaeda
Al Qaeda is a transnational extremist Salafi jihadist organisation and UN-designated terrorist group. Sources indicate that Al Qaeda maintains relations with the Taliban and a limited presence in Afghanistan, carrying out its activities mostly under the umbrella of other AGEs, particularly the Taliban. The organisation claims responsibility for a number of attacks in Afghanistan, leading to ANSF casualties [Anti-government elements, 4.2].
e. Foreign terrorist AGEs and fighters
Besides the above listed groups, a number of foreign terrorist AGEs and fighters operate in Afghanistan. Main groups located in the eastern provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan are Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (including a number of loose splinter groups), Jaish-e Momammed and Lashkar-e Tayyiba. These groups operate under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban and have been involved in targeted assassinations against government officials and others. There are also several central Asian und Uighur foreign terrorist and militant gro[ups with fighters of Uzbek, Tajik und Turkmen ethnicity that present a significant threat in northern areas of Afghanistan, such as Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (also known as Jundullah), Jamaat Ansarullah Tajikistan, Lashkar-e Islam and The Salafist Group [Anti-government elements, 4.3].
For further information on human rights violations committed by AGEs and their relevance as potential exclusion grounds, see 6. Exclusion.
The reach of an insurgent group depends on its power position, including its networks or other cooperation mechanisms. For example, while the Taliban are mostly present in rural areas, it is also reported that they run a network of informants and conduct intelligence gathering in the cities. Information suggests that they will persecute certain individuals even in major cities, depending on the profile and their individual circumstances [Conflict targeting, 1.4.2, 1.4.3].
Depending on the regional situation and the position of the particular insurgent group, those could be considered either as parties or organisations controlling a substantial part of Afghanistan (currently, only potentially applicable to the Taliban) or as non-State actors. Their respective qualification under Article 6(b) or (c) QD would depend on whether or not they are found to control a substantial part of the territory of the Afghanistan, and should take into consideration the volatile situation of the conflict in Afghanistan.