Brief n.22, May 2022

The Taliban regime has been in power in Afghanistan for more than seven months, but until now it has not yet been able to resolve two key issues - international recognition of their government and the resumption of regular financial assistance Afghanistan had from 2002-2021. Without solving these issues, the Taliban regime cannot ensure strategic stability and create a sustainable model of governance in Afghanistan.

This past winter the Taliban government scantly avoided a disaster associated with a humanitarian crisis that has left millions of Afghans facing severe food shortages. According to unofficial estimates, several thousand people, most of whom were children living in remote areas of Afghanistan, died of malnutrition or starvation. The crisis was exacerbated by the US decision to use half of the Afghan central bank’s assets deposited in the US (around $3,5 bn) to compensate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the second half was directed to Afghanistan as humanitarian aid. Famine was averted because of foreign aid assistance. However, some analysts point out that the humanitarian catastrophe was merely postponed and up to one million Afghans could face starvation in the coming months. If this prediction is confirmed, the Taliban administration will have to deal with a worsening socio-economic situation which in turn could be amplified by political and military conflicts on the ground.

The end of winter season in Afghanistan in late March traditionally marks the beginning of the season of war. Ahmad Masoud's National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) and other anti-Taliban groups have recently confirmed their intention to start a spring offensive in Panjshir, Baghlan (Andarab District), Kapisa, Badakhshan, Takhar, Jawzjan and Parwan (the northern and north-eastern provinces.) They may also attack the western province of Herat. If this happens, the Taliban will have to bring additional troops and fight on at least two fronts. Earlier, the NRF spokesmen stated that they had plans to attack the Taliban from four directions, and bring fighting to Pashtun-dominated areas (most likely the eastern province of Nangarhar). In early April, fighters from another anti-Taliban group, the Afghanistan Freedom Front (AFF), successfully attacked the Taliban in the southern Pashtun-dominated province of Kandahar. However, two factors hinder the ability of the anti-Taliban forces to wage a sustainable military campaign: the lack of foreign assistance and the lack political unity among the anti-Taliban groups.

The lack of foreign financial assistance

At present only Tajikistan has a consistent anti-Taliban position. One of the NRF offices is located in Dushanbe. Iran, Russia and Turkey have informal contacts with several centers of Afghan opposition, but are not yet ready to support the anti-Taliban forces. In early March 2022, Tehran had reached some kind of behind-the-scenes deal with the current Kabul government. As a result, the Iranian authorities curtailed the political activities of the Afghan anti-Taliban diaspora in the country. India, which is sympathetic to the anti-Taliban cause, also does not show any signs of willingness to provide support for the armed anti-Taliban resistance.

The lack of political unity

There are four main opposition political centers abroad, claiming to represent the interests of the Afghan people: ·

  1. The National Resistance Front of Afghan (NRFA) headed by Ahmad Masood. Its political offices are located in Tajikistan, Turkey, France, the UAE and other countries. NRFA has plans to open an office in Russia in 2022. In April, NRFA announced the creation of the "Society of Friends of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan in Russia" made out by Afghans residing there; Afghans living in the republics of Central Asia and the South Caucasus are also expected to join in. One of the shortcomings of the NRFA is its ethnic/regional orientation as it is composed primarily of Tajiks, natives of the Panjshir Province. In fact, the NRFA has the reputation of a "Panjshir sect," which so far has limited the Front's ability to attract other ethnic and regional groups.
  2. The National (Supreme) Council of Resistance of Afghanistan" (NCAA), whose leadership includes Marshal Abdul Rashid Dustum (ethnic Uzbek), Haji Mohammad Mohaqqiq (ethnic Hazara), and Atta Mohammad Noor (Tajik). The NSSA leaders, based in Turkey, are more experienced in politics than Ahmad Masoud, but they represent a generation of politicians that the Afghan society is already weary of.
  3. The group led by Mohammad Hanif Atmar, former Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA). Hanif Atmar spends most of his time between Germany and Turkey. He relies on a network of Afghan diplomats to gather information and organize contacts with foreign powers. Hanif Atmar has authority in many capitals and is still considered as a promising political figure by some experts.
  4. The National Liberation Front of Afghanistan (NLFA) headed by the former IRA foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani. The informal headquarters of the NLFA is located in Dushanbe, and Rabbani himself actively moves between Tajikistan, Turkey, the UAE and, less frequently, Russia. The Rabbani group is characterized by the dominance of natives of Afghan Badakhshan. Just like Masoud Jr. in the Panjshir, Rabbani Jr. controls several thousand armed fighters in Badakhshan and can create serious trouble for the Taliban if he wants to.

All four anti-Taliban opposition centers maintain contact with each other, but for the time-being they clearly value their operational autonomy more than the idea of immediate liberation of Afghanistan from the “Taliban occupation”. However, recently there have been reports that Ahmad Masoud and Salahuddin Rabbani have allegedly agreed to cooperate and coordinate their actions after the start of military operations against the Taliban this spring.

Anti-Taliban armed groups

Just as important as attempts at political engagement are the prospects for cooperation among the various armed anti-Taliban groups on the battlefield. As of early April 2022, the armed Afghan anti-Taliban resistance is represented by the following groups:

  1. Afghan National Resistance Front (ANRF) under the leadership of Ahmad Masood (The Panjsher group).
  2. Afghan Liberation Front (ALF) under the probable command of Masood Andarabi, former Minister of Interior of Afghanistan (The Andarab group, active in Adarab district of Baghlan province).
  3. Afghan National Liberation Front" (ANLF), controlled by people from the entourage of Salahuddin Rabbani, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan (“Badakhshan group”).
  4. Tigers of Free Turkestan (TFT), a group controlled by Abdul Rashid Dustum (“Jawzjan group” composed mainly of ethnic Uzbeks).
  5. The Freedom Corps, which operates in central Afghanistan and is aligned with Ahmad Masood's FNSA, but retains a degree of operational autonomy.
  6. Afghan Freedom Front (FFA)/ Free Front, active since early March 2022 in the Afghan provinces of Takhar, Parwan, Badakhshan, Baghlan, Samangan, as well as Kandahar (composed mainly of ethnic Tajiks). The leader is General Zia Yassin, former chief of staff of the Afghan National Army (ANNA); aligned with Ahmad Masood's FNSA, but currently maintains operational autonomy.
  7. National Resistance Council/Armed groups of the Islamic Society of Afghanistan (ISA) Party, controlled by the former governor of northern Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor. The group operates in Faryab, Kunduz, Sari Pul, Samangan, Balkh, Parwan, Kabul, Ghor, Baghlan and Jawzjan provinces.
  8. Western Nuristan Liberation Front, an armed group consisting of Nuristanis and Pashtuns. It operates against the Taliban in the province of Nuristan; allegedly pursues separatist goals, focusing on secession of part of Nuristan province from Afghanistan.
  9. Armed wing of the remnants of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), a former governing communist party ousted from power by the mujahidin coalition in 1992. The group has announced its intention to fight the Taliban and the Islamic State fighters. Operates in Kabul province. Whether it is operational and not a hoax is to be seen.

According to independent Afghan observers, the armed anti-Taliban resistance is ill-prepared for combat operations against the Taliban. The main shortcomings are its fragmentation, lack of effective coordination, ideological ambiguity, insufficient funding, weak political leaders, ethnic limitations (the anti-Taliban's resistance is made up mostly of Tajiks and, less frequently, Uzbeks), the lack of noticeable support among the country's Pashtun majority.

All this casts doubt on the success of a large-scale “spring-summer offensive” and increases the chances of the Taliban maintaining their dominant position in Afghanistan in the near future. Nevertheless, some observers do not rule out a possibility of limited successes of the anti-Taliban forces, including the transition of some areas in the north or north-east of the country under their control.

The Taliban’s instability

At the same time, the sustainability of the Taliban political regime in Kabul is not a done deal. First, there are tensions between the Taliban leadership and its Islamabad curators. The Taliban leaders are in no hurry to recognize the Durand Line as the official border between Afghanistan and Pakistan1. The Taliban fighters have clashed with the Pakistani security forces in the border areas and sheltered the Pakistani Taliban fighters in several provinces of eastern Afghanistan. There is a growing criticism of Pakistan among the Afghan Taliban's field commanders and rank-and-file fighters. Moreover, some Afghan Taliban fighters are already considering taking part in a new “jihad” against Islamabad. It is obvious that the Pakistani authorities will try to maintain control over the Afghan Taliban, possibly through supporting alternative political and jihadist projects, in particular the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K).

Second, rivalries within the Afghan Taliban leadership are intensifying and becoming increasingly disruptive. These rivalries are occurring simultaneously at several levels and contribute to the weakening of the entire Taliban system of governance.

At the upper echelon of the Taliban, tensions are rising between the rival groups of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (Deputy Prime Minister in Kabul), Mullah Mohammad Yaqub (head of the Ministry of Defense) and Sirajuddin Haqqani (head of the Ministry of Interior).

At the middle level (ministries and provinces) rivalry takes place between proxies of the leaders of the three main factions in the Taliban leadership. In Panjshir, for example, there is a conflict between Governor Kudratullah, an ally of Mullah Yakub, and former local police chief Abdul Hamid Khorasani, who represents the interests of Sirajuddin Haqqani. Similar conflicts take place in Badakhshan, Faryab and a number of other regions of the country.

Within the Taliban's Main Intelligence Directorate (GID) the conflict between intelligence chief Mullah Abdul Haq Wasiq and his deputy Taj Mir Jawad has become particularly acute, with the two, according to sources familiar with the situation, “literally at each other's throats.”

The resignation in early March of Maulawi Ataullah Omari, an Uzbek ally of Mullah Yakub, from the post of commander of the 209th Army Corps Al-Fath based in northern Afghanistan, and his replacement with Rumi Amir Khan Haqqani, an ally of Haqqani, should be viewed as a part of the factional infighting.

It should be noted that the internal rivalry has begun to undermine the stability of top brass of the Taliban leadership. It appears that internal conflicts consumed the Haqqani group: in March Alam Gul Haqqani, the former head of the Afghan passport service and an influential figure in the Taliban hierarchy, was accused of corruption and removed from office. Then his brother, Abdullah Haqqani, was accused of “behavior inconsistent with the Shariah norms.” Independent observers in Afghanistan believe that “the level of internal competition within the Taliban is taking on an alarming scale and it could, under certain conditions, lead to an armed struggle for power between different factions of the Taliban”.

Third, the Taliban does not have a strategy for the Afghan economic and social development and no political planning, even in the medium term. Sources in Kabul familiar with the situation note the "futility of thinking" of the Taliban officials: “It seems that until recently the Taliban leaders did not believe that they could retain power. That is why the same functionaries from the Haqqani group even moved their families back to Pakistan at the end of 2021.

On the ground, in the provinces and counties, Taliban officials have created a new corruption system that is focused on immediate enrichment. The money they receive is not invested in real estate or luxury goods, something corrupt officials of Presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani did. The bribe-taking Taliban prefer to make their savings in a form that allows them to leave the country quickly and easily. Eight months after seizing power, senior and mid-level Taliban leaders are still unsure about their political prospects and remain ready to leave at any time." Afghan sources believe that this “suitcase mood” most likely will continue until the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan receives at least partial international recognition.


  1. The Durand Line had been an issue of contention between Afghanistan and Pakistan since 1947. In 1976, the then Afghan President Mohamed Daud Khan recognized Durand Line as the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, this recognition was never formalized and no Afghan government since then has recognized the Durand Line border.