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Azadi Briefing

Friday 14 June 2024

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U.A.E. President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan received a delegation led by the Taliban's Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani on June 3.
U.A.E. President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan received a delegation led by the Taliban's Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani on June 3.

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, a U.S.-designated terrorist who has a $10 million bounty on his head, visited the United Arab Emirates on June 4.

Haqqani, accompanied by the Taliban's intelligence chief, met the U.A.E. president in Abu Dhabi.

The foreign visit, Haqqani's first since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, sparked widespread outrage among Afghans.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that "hosting UN-sanctioned Taliban members must seek permission for travel through an exemption process as outlined by the UN 1988 sanctions committee, and it's important that member states follow these procedures."

"We understand the complex relationship countries have with the Taliban, particularly those in the region," said a State Department statement later sent to the Associated Press.

It is unclear whether Haqqani or the U.A.E. government had obtained such permission. But on June 5, the UN Security Council allowed Haqqani and several other Taliban officials to travel to Saudi Arabia later this month to perform the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage.

Why It's Important: Haqqani's trip is a public relations win for the Taliban, whose government is not recognized by any country.

Despite its lack of international recognition and limited engagement with the West, the Taliban has established diplomatic ties with around a dozen countries in the region.

Ishaq Atmar, an Afghan political analyst, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that Haqqani's trip can "open a new door" for greater international engagement with the Taliban.

Ghous Janbaz, an Afghan political analyst, told Radio Azadi that Haqqani's trip came weeks before a key UN meeting on Afghanistan in Qatar during which the group will look to allay international fears over the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan.

But Haqqani's trip has triggered online condemnation, with some Afghans asking how one of the FBI's most-wanted men was able to visit the U.A.E., a U.S. ally.

What's Next: International engagement with the Taliban has not moderated its extremist policies.

The militant group has refused to budge on key issues, including establishing an inclusive government, ensuring women's rights, and breaking ties with extremist groups.

The Taliban is likely to use its engagement with the international community to win concessions and present itself as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan.

What To Keep An Eye On

A new survey by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has identified "widespread shocks" in Afghanistan, where many live in severe food poverty.

"Much higher food prices and drought are affecting 60 and 58 percent of Afghan households, respectively," the organization said in a briefing on June 3.

The survey found that despite the decrease in the prices of some food items, poor "households remained vulnerable to intrahousehold and economic shocks," which reflected "broader macroeconomic vulnerabilities in Afghanistan."

More than two-thirds of households reported a decrease in their primary source of income, the survey said, while another 10 percent lived on savings and debt.

Why It's Important: The survey highlights the effects of the devastating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the world's largest.

Shortfalls in international funding, the Taliban's inability to address the crisis, and a series of deadly natural disasters have exacerbated the humanitarian situation.

That's all from me for now.

Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

Qalandar Ebad, the former Taliban health minister, was a physician and considered to be a “capable and effective” administrator.
Qalandar Ebad, the former Taliban health minister, was a physician and considered to be a “capable and effective” administrator.

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The only technocrat in the Taliban’s cabinet has been dismissed and replaced by a hard-line cleric.

Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada on May 28 removed Health Minister Qalandar Ebad, a trained doctor, and named Noor Jalal, a former deputy interior minister, as his successor.

The move has triggered criticism and added to fears over the health sector in Afghanistan, which has been in crisis over a lack of funding.

Former Afghan lawmaker Arif Rahmani said on X, formerly Twitter, on May 28 that the move was irrational and accused the Taliban leadership of “carelessness and arrogance.” He added that a technocrat was needed to oversee the health-care system.

Gholam Dastgir Nazari, a former Health Ministry official, said that providing health care was impossible without “good professional leadership.”

Why It's Important: The move appears aimed at purging non-Taliban Afghans, including technocrats and professionals, from the Taliban-led government.

The Taliban’s theocratic regime is dominated by senior Taliban veterans and loyalists, most of them clerics from the Pashtun ethnic group.

Ali Latifi, an Afghan-American journalist based in Kabul, said Ebad’s removal was significant because he was considered to be a “capable and effective” administrator.

Latifi said health-care professionals believed that Ebad was “trying to keep medical treatment available to Afghans across the country, including women.”

Under Akhundzada’s leadership, the Taliban has imposed restrictions on women’s access to health care and limited women’s ability to work in the health sector.

Akhundzada has previously replaced ministers who have defied his hard-line policies with loyal clerics, including the minister of education.

What's Next: The move is likely to further damage the health-care system in Afghanistan, which has been in free fall since the Taliban seized power in 2021. International donors immediately cut financial funding and imposed sanctions on the Taliban government.

Hundreds of health facilities have been shuttered in the past two years, with no funds to pay the salaries of doctors and nurses. Hospitals that are still open suffer from severe shortages of medicine.

Ebad’s sacking could also be part of a wider overhaul of the Taliban government. There has been speculation that Akhundzada wants to establish an administration that would be entirely made up of clerics loyal to him.

What To Keep An Eye On

The first freight train from Afghanistan reached Turkey via Iran on May 29. The nearly 2,200-kilometer journey took 40 days.

The train transported over 1,100 tons of talc from the western Afghan city of Herat to the eastern Turkish city of Van.

"The customs clearance process caused the delay," Mohammad Yusuf Amin, director of the Herat Chamber of Commerce and Investment, told Radio Azadi.

Talc exporters hope the new route will allow them to access international markets. Afghanistan currently exports up to 500,000 tons of talc annually.

Why It's Important: Transport by railway is seen as the fastest and cheapest means of moving goods.

For decades, Afghan governments have participated in regional railway projects to better connect the landlocked country to Central Asia and western Asia.

New railway links or the revival of dormant railways can open more routes and markets for Afghan exports.

Railway transport can help reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on neighboring Pakistan. Transit goods of Afghan traders have been sporadically stranded in Pakistan’s ports and border crossings because of bilateral tensions.

That's all from me for now.

Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

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