Bazarak, Afghanistan (AFP):
A year since returning to power in Afghanistan, the Taliban are a stronger military force than ever, but threats to their rule do exist.
To tighten their grip, the Taliban have poured thousands of fighters into the Panshjir Valley, home to the only conventional military threat the Islamists have faced since their takeover.
The scenic valley, located in northeastern Afghanistan, was for decades a bastion of resistance against outside forces, and the birthplace of the National Resistance Front (NRF).
On the other side of the spectrum, the Islamic State-Khorasan group (IS-K) has planted bombs and staged multiple suicide attacks in the past 12 months.
But the extremists have focused on soft targets — chiefly Shiite mosques and Sikh temples — rather than tackling the Taliban head-on.
Following the chaotic exit of US-led troops on August 31 last year, Western threats to Taliban rule have also been crushed.
Still, the recent assassination of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri by a US drone strike on his hideout in Kabul shows how vulnerable Taliban leaders could be to a high-tech enemy.
Rights groups have accused the Taliban of committing widespread abuses in Panjshir — allegations they deny — including extrajudicial executions.
“Those arbitrarily arrested are also facing physical torture and beatings that, in some cases, even resulted in death,” Amnesty International said in June.