Last week in Central Asia and the Caucasus, fighting continued between the Taliban and Afghan forces, as unidentified militants conducted several suicide attacks. In the Caucasus, Azerbaijan took control over the Lachin region of the de facto Artsakh Republic, according to the November agreement ending the recent war. The Armenian opposition continued demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. In Georgia, the opposition expressed readiness for negotiations with the ruling party to overcome the country’s political crisis. In Georgia’s breakaway state of South Ossetia, a new report on the death of a detainee in August 2020 sparked a new round of protests with anti-government undertones. In Kyrgyzstan, demarcation efforts by Uzbek authorities resulted in discontent among the residents of border areas.
In Afghanistan, the Afghan military overtook the Taliban in Deh Rahwod district in the center of Urozgan province, as well as Andkhoy, Qaramqol, Khani Chahar Bagh, and Qurghan districts in Faryab province. Clashes between the two sides increased in Kandahar province last week as the Taliban launched an offensive. Afghan forces responded with air and ground operations, killing 85 militants. Civilians were also affected by the airstrikes. Last week, one air attack killed 14 Taliban militants and four civilians in Nad Ali district of Helmand province. The Taliban accused the US of the attack and warned against violating the peace deal (Voice of Jihad, 5 December 2020). However, the Afghan Ministry of Defense did not mention US forces as a collaborator in the airstrikes.
Separately, a number of suicide attacks took place across Afghanistan. In Ghazni province, a suicide bomber targeted a military base, killing at least a dozen soldiers. Another suicide bomber targeting the convoy of the Zabul provincial council chief killed three civilians. A third attack on Paktia’s provincial capital, Gardez city, killed three intelligence officers, although conflicting reports were given as to whether a suicide bomber or an explosive-laden car caused the attack. No group has yet claimed responsibility for any of these attacks.
Despite the growing tension and the increasing lethality of the armed engagements, last week, the Taliban and the Afghan government agreed on the procedural rules that will guide the peace negotiations in Qatar (Reuters, 2 December 2020). During the week prior, the talks were halted by the Taliban’s objection over the official name of the country, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The group insisted on its version: the Islamic Emirate. How this disagreement was resolved is still unknown (New York Times, 2 December 2020), but the step was welcomed by many international actors who reportedly put pressure on both sides to compromise after last week’s crisis (TOLO News, 2 December 2020).
In the Caucasus, the trilateral ceasefire agreement of 9 November signed between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia has been underway. Last week, Azerbaijani forces gained control over the Lachin region according to the agreement. They entered the territory for the first time since Armenian forces captured it in 1992. The Lachin region of Azerbaijan corresponds to a part of Kashatagh region in the de facto Artsakh Republic. Russian peacekeepers continue to control the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia with Stepanakert, the de facto capital of Artsakh. With this transfer, the parties realized the parts of the agreement dedicated to territorial changes. The next step is expected to be the exchange of military prisoners between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The prime minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, announced that the sides agreed to finalize the list of military prisoners in the coming days and to make the exchange based on the principle of ‘all for all.’ This includes the military prisoners that were captured before the latest war (Deutsche Welle, 5 December 2020).
Separately, joint opposition led by Prosperous Armenia, Homeland, and Armenian Revolutionary Federation continued to protest in Armenia, demanding the resignation of the prime minister for signing the agreement ending the war in the de facto Artsakh Republic. The protesters blocked the streets in Yerevan and occasionally demonstrated in front of the residences of representatives from Pashinyan’s party, Civil Contract. Artists and public figures organized marches to the embassies of the US, France, and Russia demanding mediation during the prisoner exchange.
Following weeks of demonstrations against the parliamentary election results in Georgia, the Georgian Central Election Commission confirmed the Georgian Dream party’s win with over 48% of the vote. Sixty mandates out of 150 will be distributed among the opposition National Movement bloc, European Georgia, and another six smaller parties. Despite continuing protests objecting to the results, the opposition parties announced that they are ready to meet with the Georgian Dream to resolve the deadlock (JAM News, 4 December 2020). According to Georgian legislation, the parliament’s first session should be convened within ten days of the announcement (RFE/RL, 3 December 2020).
Meanwhile, in Tskhinvali, the capital of the de facto Republic of South Ossetia, a new report was published claiming that Inal Djabiev, who was presumably beaten and killed under detention in August 2020, died due to “withdrawal symptoms” (JAM News, 6 December 2020). Djabiev was originally detained on charges of attempting to kill the South Ossetian Interior Minister. The report sparked a new round of protests last week, similar to those seen last August, where consecutive demonstrations had led de facto president Anatoly Bibilov to dismiss the government (Eurasianet, 1 September 2020). Protesters expressed their distrust in the government, claiming that by releasing such a report, the state is attempting to acquit the torturers.
Lastly, on the border of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, in the Aksy district of Jalal-Abad region, two protests took place as Kyrgyz residents objected to the demarcation work conducted by Uzbek border guards. Kyrgyz residents accused Uzbekistan of intruding on their territory, although Kyrgyz officials explained that the Uzbek work was in line with the demarcation plan agreed to by both states. Still, the protests led Uzbek guards to halt the work to avoid potential escalation between local communities (RFE/RL, 30 November 2020). The border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan has been much less contentious in recent years, with both countries advancing the delimitation of state borders. However, the lack of arable lands and limited access to water in the region makes the population prone to tensions (CABAR, 17 November 2020).
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