Conflict Risks Update


U.S. killed al-Qaeda chief in first high-profile strike since Aug 2021 withdrawal, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) targeted Taliban and religious minorities, and Taliban clashed with Pakistani forces. U.S. President Biden 1 Aug confirmed U.S. had killed al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al Zawahiri, in drone strike in capital Kabul on 31 July; Washington accused Taliban authorities of violating Feb 2020 Doha agreement by providing sanctuary to al-Zawahiri, while Taliban countered U.S. conducted strike without informing them. Reports surfaced 5 Aug of widespread protests across country condemning strike. Leaked U.S. intelligence assessment 13 Aug argued al-Qaeda had not regrouped in country. Over 3,000 tribal and religious leaders 19 Aug gathered in Kandahar, including Taliban Emir Hibatullah Akhundzada, to condemn strike and call on neighbours not to cooperate with such “violations of Afghan sovereignty”, as reports suggested U.S. and Pakistan neared deal on U.S. use of Pakistani airspace for future operations. ISKP continued recruitment and lethal attacks. In early Aug, security forces arrested several ISKP cells; recent arrests of Tajiks indicated ISKP’s inroads in recruiting ethnic minority groups. ISKP attacked Hazara civilians in lead-up to Ashura religious commemorations, with three attacks 3-6 Aug. ISKP suicide bombing 11 Aug killed senior Taliban-affiliated cleric Rahimullah Haqqani. ISKP 18 Aug claimed attack on Sufi mosque in Kabul. Insecurity persisted elsewhere. New armed group Watandost Front published video claiming attack on 1 Aug against Taliban forces in Herat province (west). Unknown assailants 8 Aug killed senior Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Omar Khalid Khorasani in IED blast in Paktika province (east). High Resistance Council for Saving Afghanistan – anti-Taliban resistance group formed in May – 15 Aug held virtual meeting attended by Ahmad Massoud, leader of National Resistance Front (NRF), which resulted in issuance of group’s constitution; NRF also announced its basic principles after meeting. Pakistani and Taliban forces 8 and 22 Aug clashed in Kunar (east) and Paktya (south east) provinces. Taliban defence minister 17 Aug rejected possibility of compromise on Wakhan Corridor amid social media rumours Pakistan might attempt to encroach on thin strip of Afghan territory in order to gain direct access to Central Asia.


Relations with China remained tense over military activity on unofficial border, while separatist groups in north east conducted sporadic attacks on security forces. During routine talks on confidence-building measures in eastern Ladakh, govt and China 4 Aug discussed measures to prevent violation of each other’s airspace; India complained that Chinese fighter jets came very close to Line of Actual Control (undemarcated de facto border between countries) and violated 10km buffer zone during 24-25 June annual exercises, prompting Indian Air Force to scramble its fighter jets. FM S. Jaishankar 18 Aug said: “At the moment [the India-China] relationship is going through an extremely difficult phase after what China did at the border”. Meanwhile, in Assam state (north east), authorities 3 Aug demolished madrasa in Morigaon district that was being run by mufti with alleged links to Ansarul Islam, banned Bangladesh-based militant outfit. In Arunachal Pradesh state (north east), militants allegedly belonging to armed separatist groups United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) and Yung Aung faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) 9 Aug fired shots from across Myanmar border and injured one security forces personnel. In Tripura state (north east), militants of armed separatist group National Liberation Front of Tripura 18 Aug ambushed patrol party of security forces and killed one security forces personnel on India-Bangladesh border. National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) 2 Aug observed 25 years since signing “Indo-Naga” ceasefire agreement; deadlock persists between govt and group over issues of separate flag and constitution, as group alleges that New Delhi reneged on Framework Agreement signed in Aug 2015.


Election Commission inflicted major setback to former PM Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, while Khan faced terrorism charges amid escalating rhetoric against military and officials. In case pending since 2014, Election Commission 2 Aug unanimously found Khan’s PTI party guilty of receiving prohibited funds from foreign nationals and foreign-based companies, also found Khan had filed submissions on party funding that were “grossly inaccurate and wrong” for five years. Calls from ruling party lawmakers that Khan be barred from public office grew louder after Khan 2 Aug announced he would contest nine constituencies in 25 Sept by-elections for seats of 11 PTI parliamentarians who had resigned from national assembly; petitions will be decided in court. In worrying sign of rising tensions, Khan and PTI social media activists amplified criticism of military high command. Military’s media arm 5 Aug condemned “false propaganda and insensitive comments” following deaths of six high-level military officers in helicopter crash on 1 Aug. Tensions further escalated as authorities 9 Aug arrested and charged with treason Khan’s Chief of Staff Shahbaz Gill after Gill previous day called on army’s rank and file to refuse “illegal orders” from high command. Khan 20 Aug accused military of backing Sharif govt and police of torturing Gill; authorities next day charged Khan under anti-terror laws for threatening two top police officials and female judge who authorised Gill’s police detention. FM Hina Rabbani Khar 27 Aug criticised Khan for holding anti-govt rallies during ongoing monsoon rain and floods that have submerged large parts of country, affecting 33mn people and claiming more than 1,000 lives. Negotiations between Pakistani authorities and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) suffered setback when bomb blast 7 Aug killed four TTP leaders in Paktia province; suicide attack 9 Aug killed four soldiers in North Waziristan. Reports indicated potential TTP comeback in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province: inspector general 12 Aug alleged militants reached Swat district from Afghanistan. Militants targeting vehicle of PTI provincial lawmaker 6 Aug killed four in Lower Dir; 13 Aug killed two soldiers in Dir; 16 Aug shot dead two police constables in Tank district.