Last week in Central Asia and the Caucasus, clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban led to a high number of fatalities, while the leader of an Al Qaeda-linked extremist group was also killed with an operation. In the Caucasus, following a week of intense fighting along the Armenia-Artsakh-Azerbaijan Lines of Contact, an agreement was reached to end the war. Accordingly, the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the de facto Artsakh Republic began last week. Protests against this agreement continued in Armenia. In Georgia, recent parliamentary election results were still being contested by the opposition as demonstrations occasionally turned violent. In Kazakhstan, the death of a teenager, a well-known activist’s son, sparked protests, reflecting distrust towards the government.
In Afghanistan, while levels of violence have decreased relative to recent weeks, fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban has become more lethal. Afghan forces claim to have killed over 150 Taliban members in Kandahar province, most of them in Zhari district. At least 50 more militants were killed in Qadis and Murghab districts in Badghis. The Taliban also continued launching offensives around the country. They inflicted tens of fatalities on Afghan forces in Imam Sahib district and Khan Abad district of Kunduz, where a retaliating Afghan airstrike also hit civilians. Meanwhile, a Taliban truck packed with explosives hit a police camp in Maywand district of Kandahar, killing civilians nearby in addition to police officers. Afghan forces defended a number of districts from Taliban assaults in Farah and Baghlan provinces and regained control of some areas in Deh Rahwod district of Urozgan province.
In a separate development, a leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group closely linked to Al Qaeda, was killed by Afghan special forces in Gormach district of Faryab province. Founded in Uzbekistan, but later declaring allegiance to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS), IMU is an extremist group currently operating in Afghanistan (Sputnik News, 12 November 2020). Despite the Taliban denying the presence of such groups, extremist factions of Al Qaeda and IS are still operating in Afghanistan (TOLO News, 4 November 2020).
Earlier this week, US President Trump announced the decision to withdraw a large number of American troops from Afghanistan by 15 January, five days before the inauguration of President-Elect Biden (New York Times, 18 November 2020). As the ongoing presence of Al Qaeda already complicates the war in Afghanistan, the US withdrawal may further jeopardize the potential for peace in the country (BBC, 18 November 2020).
Six weeks of heavy fighting between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the de facto state of Artsakh ended after Armenia and Azerbaijan signed an agreement on 10 November. Per the agreement, Russian peacekeepers established 25 checkpoints in the southern and northern parts of Artsakh, and alongside the Lachin corridor, which connects Armenia with Artsakh. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan will keep the territories it gained in the de facto Artsakh Republic, and Armenia will withdraw its forces from the surrounding regions (RFE/RL, 15 November 2020). According to the agreement, the parties agree on the return of refugees to the territory of the de facto Artsakh Republic and adjacent areas under the control of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, though no practical steps and mechanisms have yet to be introduced (Crisis Group, 10 November 2020). Last week, the residents of the Shahumyan region in the de facto Artsakh Republic started leaving their homes and headed to Armenia, as the agreement requires the transfer of this territory to Azerbaijan. Some residents destroyed their property before leaving, in response to upcoming Azerbaijani rule in the region.
In Armenia, protests were reported in response to the agreement. Prosperous Armenia, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Homeland, and several other political parties held protests in Yerevan last week. They claim that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan failed to lead Armenian forces, especially in signing an agreement favoring Azerbaijani control over the territories of the de facto Artsakh Republic. The leader of the opposition Homeland party was accused of plotting to overthrow the government and was briefly detained. The opposition criticized this detention as an attempt to repress the ongoing protests (RFE/RL, 14 November 2020). The political crisis has grown further this week as the Armenian Foreign Minister resigned amid the ongoing protests on 16 November (Al Jazeera, 16 November 2020).
Opposition protests also continued in Georgia, led by the United National Movement and seven other political parties, against the results of the parliamentary elections held on 31 October. On 8 November, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Tbilisi, demanding new elections and clashing with police forces (Civil Georgia, 9 November 2020). Police dispersed the demonstration using water cannons and arrested 19 people. However, the inaction of the government over the objections sparked even more protests. On 14 November, around 8,000 people gathered in Tbilisi with the support of opposition parties, insisting on re-elections (Agenda.ge, 14 November 2020). Similar demonstrations took place in Telavi, Poti, Batumi, Gori, and Zestafoni towns across the country.
Lastly, in Kazakhstan last week, a teenager was stabbed to death during a brawl that started for unknown reasons. The victim is Zhanbolat Agadil, the son of Dulat Agadil, who died in government custody in February 2020. Dulat Agadil was detained many times on various charges linked to his participation in opposition protests and his support of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), an oppositional movement deemed as extremist by Kazakh courts. His latest detention took place on 24 February as a preventative measure as he did not appear for trial. He died the following day under suspicious circumstances (Eurasianet, 26 February 2020, 28 February 2020). Demonstrations across Kazakhstan were held after Dulat Agadil’s death. Like his father, Zhanbolat Aghadil had also actively criticized the government, demanding a fair investigation into his father’s death. Upon Zhanbolat Agadil’s death, activists organized demonstrations in Almaty, Uralsk city, Shymkent, and Kyzylorda cities, claiming that Kazakh officials may have persecuted the activist for his political views. Besides expressing their distrust towards Kazakh authorities, protesters also demanded an end to ongoing political persecution in the country. Although authorities rarely allow for such gatherings, protests against political repression took place on a monthly basis in Kazakhstan in 2018 and 2019, and have taken place even more frequently in 2020.
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