Afghanistan is the only country in Asia affected by intense and extensive violent conflict. Security has not improved in the last few years, as the Taliban continue to challenge the government and instability persists. Other armed groups and factions, including Daesh (also known as Islamic State Khorasan Province, or as ISIS), also maintain an active presence. The number of recorded battle incidents in 2019 surged by over 50 percent from the previous year before declining in 2020.
Political tensions associated with the contested 2019 presidential election and ethnic politicization have deeper roots in the long-term failure of both Afghan and international actors to establish an effective national political settlement. These tensions have continued to undermine government stability. Parliamentary elections finally occurred in October 2018 after three years of postponement. The 2019 presidential election saw widespread reports of fraud and irregularity and led to a political impasse that eroded confidence in the democratic process. A power-sharing agreement between the two main political candidates was eventually reached in 2020.
In 2020, the peace process moved ahead as U.S.-Taliban dialogue led to an agreement in early 2020 and U.S. troop withdrawals continued. After numerous upsets and delays, a framework for future discussions between the government and the Taliban was accepted in December 2020. Despite the ongoing violence, hopes for peace persist; over half (54.1 percent) of Afghans interviewed in late 2020 felt that peace was achievable within the next two years. In the same survey, an overwhelming majority (84.7 percent) said that it is very important for women’s rights to be protected as part of a peace agreement. U.S. withdrawal plans accelerated as the Biden administration set a target for all troops to depart by September 2021. Afghan and international actors voiced concerns over the likely impact of the withdrawal on the political process, human rights, and security. These concerns increased as the Taliban advanced across the country in July and August 2021.