Actors of persecution and serious harm

GUIDANCE NOTE
Last update: April 2022

Risks to which a population of a country or a section of the population is generally exposed do not normally create in themselves an individual threat, which would qualify as serious harm (Recital 35 QD). Generally, persecution or serious harm must take the form of conduct of an actor (Article 6 QD).

According to Article 6 QD, actors of persecution or serious harm include:

Figure 1. Actors of persecution or serious harm.

 

 

This section includes guidance concerning some of the main actors of persecution or serious harm in Afghanistan. The list is non-exhaustive.

  • Taliban: After years of insurgency and in some areas positioning themselves as a shadow government, in summer 2021, the Taliban took control over the country. On 15 August, Taliban fighters entered the capital and took control of its checkpoints. Taliban leaders entered the presidential palace, addressed media the following day, and declared the war to be over. On 19 August, an official Taliban spokesperson declared the creation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a name used in other public statements as well. The Taliban also announced the members of an interim government. All appointments to the interim government consisted of persons from within the Taliban movement, and many served in the government of the 1990s. The cabinet was compromised by several persons on the UN Security Council’s sanction list. In October 2021, the Taliban stated that they controlled the entire territory of Afghanistan. Over the last two decades, the Taliban have been reported to target civilians deliberately as well as in indiscriminate attacks against civilian objects. Reports included targeted killings of individuals affiliated with the Afghan government and foreign forces, journalists, human rights activists, religious leaders and others. The parallel justice mechanism the Taliban have been operating was based on a strict interpretation of the Sharia, leading to executions and other punishments deemed to be cruel, inhuman and degrading, including corporal punishments. The Taliban have also been reported to use torture against detainees.

After the takeover, it was reported that Taliban fighters were subjecting civilians and journalists to violence, as well as conducting house-to-house searches and retaliation acts despite the general amnesty that was issued for all who served within the previous government. There have also been reports on Taliban fighters subjecting civilians to corporal punishments, inter alia whipping alleged thieves. It remained unclear whether such acts were sanctioned by the leadership or caused by a lack of discipline or control in the chain of command. There was reportedly room for Taliban fighters to act on their own initiative as they did not seem to face punishment or any consequences.

The Taliban have also been accused of committing human rights violations against captured resistance fighters and civilians during the weeks of fighting in Panjshir and after that, as well as against alleged ISKP affiliates in Nangarhar and other areas of the country.

 

 

 

  • Former State actors and resistance to the Taliban: The former Afghan State actors included members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and other authorities from the three State branches (executive, legislative and judiciary).

Afghan State authorities and their associates were reported to have committed a wide range of human rights violations. Extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, kidnapping, robbery, looting, torture, and ill-treatment have been reported. In addition, the Afghan National Police (ANP) have been involved in extortion and organised crime, in particular near key smuggling routes. Recruitment and sexual exploitation of boys (bacha bazi) committed by Afghan security forces, in particular by the Afghan Local Police (ALP) was also observed, as well as sexual exploitation of girls.

A number of Pro-government militias (PGMs) were fighting on the side of the government against Taliban and ISKP. Such militias included the National Uprising Movements, also referred to as public uprising forces, a community-based defence initiative; the Kandahar Strike Force, Paktika’s Afghan Security Guards, the Khost Protection Force and Shaheen Forces in Paktya, Paktika and Ghazni provinces. Following the final Taliban offensive in the summer months, these militias could not resist the Taliban forces and soon dissolved or joined the Taliban.

After the Taliban takeover, a resistance force emerged in Panjshir, under the name National Resistance Front (NRF). NRF consists of militia fighters and former government soldiers loyal to the previous administration and opposed to the Taliban rule. The group was controlling the Panjshir Valley, where armed confrontations took place between the opposition forces and the Taliban. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether fighting is ongoing. The Taliban announced the seizure of Panjshir on 6 September 2021, although Ahmed Massoud claimed the fighting was still ongoing.

 

 

 

  • Haqqani network: The Haqqani Network is a UN-designated terrorist organisation. In February 2021, UNAMA indicated that the Haqqani Network operated under the Taliban leadership and mostly followed Taliban policies and directions. The group was described as the ‘lethal arm of the Taliban’.

The Haqqani Network is believed to have been responsible for complex attacks in heavily populated areas of Kabul during the insurgency. The Network reportedly collaborated and kept close contact with Al Qaeda, despite the US deal. Following the Taliban takeover, sources also referred to reported relations between Al Qaeda and the Network. According to reports, Haqqani and ISKP worked together as well, including in attacks on the Afghanistan presidential inauguration and an assault on a Sikh temple in Kabul in March 2020.

On 7 September, when the interim government was announced by the Taliban, the Network’s leader Sirajuddin Haqqani was appointed interior minister.

 

 

 

  • Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP): The ISKP is a transnational Salafi-Jihadist organisation and a UN-designated terrorist organisation with operational ties with local groups. According to a November 2021 statement of Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UNAMA, ISKP became increasingly active, stepping up attacks from 60 in 2020 to 334 in 2021, and gained ground across all provinces. Another source stated that ISKP had a strong presence in eastern Afghanistan (Nangarhar and Kunar provinces), as well as in Kabul and northern Afghanistan. However, ISKP was reported to have no territorial control in Afghanistan and the operational capacity of the group across the country remained unclear.

The number of ISKP militants in Afghanistan is estimated around 4 000. A relatively small but growing number of former members of Afghanistan’s intelligence service and elite military units has reportedly joined ISKP to resist the Taliban. ISKP was also reportedly ‘reaching out to tribes and other groups to recruit from their ranks while stamping out dissent among moderate Salafis’. There were also fears that ISKP could recruit Afghanistan-based foreign fighters from Central Asia and Pakistan, as well as disillusioned Taliban members. Taliban raids against ISKP, arrests of ISKP members, and prevention of attacks have also been reported and ISKP members reportedly surrendered to the Taliban in Nangarhar on several occasions in November 2021. 

ISKP has reportedly carried out a campaign of targeted killings since around the summer of 2020 and has continued since the Taliban takeover on a roughly comparable scale. ISKP is said to have used ‘the same hit-and-run tactics’ practiced until recently by the Taliban against the previous Afghan government, including roadside explosions and targeted killings. The security incidents were particularly reported in northern and southern provinces. Attacks were particularly reported to take place in Nangarhar province, defined as a ‘stronghold’ of ISKP, and its capital, Jalalabad.

The group retained its ability to carry out terrorist attacks in Kabul and other major cities and claimed the attack at Kabul international airport of 26 August 2021, which killed more than 170 persons. ISKP also claimed responsibility for other incidents occurred in the same city such as a number of car bombs explosions and an attack on a military health facility in November 2021.

On several instances, ISKP continued to target the Shia (Hazara) community. Large scale attacks by ISKP took place on Shia (Hazara) mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar in October 2021, in which at least 119 people were killed and 220 wounded.

 

 

  • Al Qaeda: Al Qaeda is a transnational extremist Salafi jihadist organisation and UN-designated terrorist group. Sources indicate that it maintained a limited presence in Afghanistan, carrying out its activities mostly under the umbrella of other armed groups, particularly the Taliban. Sources reported in mid-2021 that the Taliban and Al Qaeda remained closely aligned and showed no indication of breaking ties, despite expectations created by the Doha agreement. Following the Taliban takeover, sources referred to reported relations between al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network. It is also reported that a significant part of the leadership of Al Qaeda is based in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Prior to the takeover, UNAMA had reported that Al Qaeda was mainly engaged in the provision of training, including weapons and explosives, and mentoring, and they have been cited as being engaged in internal Taliban discussions over the movement’s relationship with other jihadist entities. The organisation also claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Afghanistan, leading to ANSF casualties. According to some sources, al-Qaeda remained a threat in Afghanistan. However, it was also stated that the group did not have the organisational capability to capitalise on the Taliban’s win. The human capacity of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was estimated as ranging from several dozen to 500 people.

 

 

  • A number of foreign terrorist groups and fighters operate in Afghanistan. Main groups located in the eastern provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan included Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (including a number of loose splinter groups), Jaish-e Momammed and Lashkar-e Tayyiba, which operate under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban and have been involved in targeted assassinations against (former) government officials and others. There are also several central Asian und Uighur foreign terrorist and militant groups with fighters of Uzbek, Tajik und Turkmen ethnicity which were reported to 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.

 

 

  • In specific situations, other non-State actors of persecution or serious harm may include clans, tribes, (locally) powerful individuals, the family (e.g. in the case of LGBTIQ persons, ‘honour’ violence) or criminal gangs (e.g. kidnapping for ransom), etc.