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Afghanistan: Among Nomads, Voter Education Is A Difficult And Dangerous Task

By Laura Winter http://gdb.rferl.org/DCE574CF-B46B-42D5-B29B-58006B6B328C_w203.jpg Afghanistan's elections for president and the lower house of parliament are slated for sometime this fall. But when it comes to Afghanistan's sizable population of nomads, known as Kuchis, voter education is a difficult and a perilous task for all.

Kabul, 25 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The three officials from the Joint Electoral Management Body overseeing the country's elections have no idea that the Kuchis will not quietly fall in line with their plans to educate them about democracy and the upcoming elections.

The officials have just told the 15 Kuchi leaders seated inside a United Nations office in Kabul that just one Kuchi election representative will work in each of the 28 provinces in which they live.

The lids of Wakil Ashraf Ahmadzai's eyes narrow with tension and his brow furrows below his bronze-colored turban. It's too much for the 50-year-old nomad leader to take.

"If you choose 28 [non-Kuchi] representatives for all the provinces, it is your responsibility if this fails," Ahmadzai says. "This plan for one person for each province is not enough. For example, there are many Kuchi tribes. If someone from an outside tribe tries to comes to speak [to a different tribe] about the election, they will not accept it."

The Kuchis are a tightly knit nomadic tribe -- a minority with an estimated population of 3 million in Afghanistan. What Ahmadzai and the Kuchi leaders are demanding is all 45 of the members of their tribal council be employed as election educators. He fears if outsiders come to their camps, their tribesmen and women may chose not to vote.

The elections for president and the lower house of the parliament are scheduled for sometime this fall. Registration for the polls is due to close by the end of July. Many election officials worry the voter registration effort will fall short of signing up 10.5 million people. Less than half that number have registered in eight months.

Election officials say faltering security and the lack of voter education are preventing people from registering. Ahmadzai says these 45 men, also called maleks, are recognized and respected throughout the tribe, and will be trusted when they speak about democracy and elections.

"There are some Kuchis who are living in such far-off places that they don't even know who the president of Afghanistan is. We are here because we have to find out about the election, and then we are going to go to our tribes and to the maleks and explain to them what the election is, whey they need to register, what the rules are and how to make a choice," Ahmadzai says.

Finding the Kuchis is difficult because they are constantly on the move along the many nomadic trails that crisscross Afghanistan. The Kuchis argue their leaders not only know how to find their wandering people, but they are the only ones who will be welcome when they do.

These men are fiercely protective of what they see as their women's honor. They will not allow an outsider to see one of their women, let alone talk to her about democracy and elections.

Moreover, participating in the vote has become an issue of security.

Amandine Roche, the United Nations' election civic-education supervisor for the five provinces surrounding the capital Kabul, takes the Kuchis' security concerns seriously. She says earlier this month a group of 70 armed men entered a Kuchi camp in southern Afghanistan, warning the nomads not to register to vote.

She says when Kuchi leaders came for election education training, one of them handed her a letter.

"He gave me this letter because when he went in Logar in the camp the Kuchi gave him this letter," Roche says. "They [told him] Al-Qaeda came during the night and they give this [letter], but they [couldn't] read it, so they even didn't know what it was talking about. But [Al-Qaeda] just threatened them and said 'If you collaborate with this foreign invader we will kill you.' It's like propaganda and intimidation."

Roche says another threatening letter was posted on the door of the election education office in Logar Province, just south of Kabul. Earlier this week that office came under rocket attack. No one was hurt -- this time.

Roche says warlords are a problem too: "How can you bring democracy [to] a country where all the warlords have weapons? I mean, people are very scared and all of them say 'I will take my [election] registration card once the warlords do not have weapons.'"

It took two days of negotiating, but the Kuchi are successful. All 45 council members are hired to educate their tribe about democracy and register them for the elections. They are taking to the trails on camel and donkey. They are armed with election posters, stickers and large charts with pictures that help explain the voting process to their mostly illiterate tribe. And they have just over a month to get the job done.

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Afghan Sisters Escape The Taliban To Achieve Olympic Dreams

Afghan Sisters Escape The Taliban To Achieve Olympic Dreams
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Sisters Yulduz and Fariba Hashimi are set to become the first female cyclists from Afghanistan to compete in the Olympics. The siblings fled their country after the Taliban seized power in 2021 and cracked down on women's rights, including banning women from participating in sports.

New Extremist Groups -- At Least In Name -- Enter Pakistan's Militant Scene

Men watch as smoke rises following an explosion after militants attacked an army base in Pakistan's northwestern city of Bannu on July 15.
Men watch as smoke rises following an explosion after militants attacked an army base in Pakistan's northwestern city of Bannu on July 15.

Suicide bombers and gunmen penetrated a military base in northwestern Pakistan last week, killing eight soldiers.

It was just the latest in a string of deadly attacks to hit the South Asian country, where militant violence has surged in recent years.

But what was significant about the July 15 attack in the city of Bannu was the group that claimed responsibility -- Jaish Fursan-e Muhammad (JFM) -- a previously unknown militant outfit.

JFM is among several new militant groups that have announced their arrival on the crowded militant scene in Pakistan in recent months.

But experts believe the new actors are in fact fronts for existing groups, including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the most lethal militant organization waging war against Islamabad.

JFM is a believed to be a front for Hafiz Gul Bahadar (HGB), a separate extremist group. The group is named after its leader, a former TTP commander.

Tehrik-e Jihad Pakistan (TJP), another militant group that announced its emergence last year, is considered by experts to be a front for the TTP. It marked its arrival with a spectacular attack on a key air base in the eastern province of Punjab in November.

Experts say the fronts have allowed the TTP and HGB -- which are coming under military pressure from Islamabad -- to maintain a position of plausible deniability.

"All these groups are either part of the TTP or Hafiz Gul Bahadar," said Mansur Mehsud, director of the FATA Research Center, an Islamabad-based nonprofit organization. "This is part of the TTP and HGB's strategy to create confusion."

TTP fighters in Pakistan's northwestern district of South Waziristan, near the Afghan border, in 2012
TTP fighters in Pakistan's northwestern district of South Waziristan, near the Afghan border, in 2012

'Using Different Names’

The TTP and HGB are both believed to be based in Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban seized power in 2021.

Experts say the Taliban takeover has emboldened and strengthened Pakistani militants. The withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan has significantly reduced U.S. air strikes in the region, allowing militants to operate more freely.

TTP and HGB fighters have also obtained sophisticated weaponry, including U.S.-made firearms, left behind by international forces.

Pakistan has accused the Afghan Taliban of sheltering the TTP, with which it has close ideological and organizational ties.

Pakistan has used pressure tactics, observers say, to force the Afghan Taliban to sever ties with the TTP, including by expelling hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees from Pakistan, shutting key border crossings, and blocking Afghan transit goods in recent years.

Islamabad has also conducted deadly cross-border attacks targeting alleged TTP hideouts in eastern Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban has tried to appease Pakistan by relocating TTP fighters away from the border with Pakistan to other areas of Afghanistan and brokering a year of peace talks between the Pakistani militants and Islamabad that broke down. But the Afghan militants have refused to expel the TTP from Afghanistan.

Each major TTP attack inside Pakistan has been followed by Islamabad issuing condemnations and summoning the Afghan Taliban's ambassador in protest.

"The [Pakistani] Taliban are strong, but also under pressure," said Muhammad Amir Rana, an Islamabad-based security and political analyst. "They are using different names as part of their strategy and also to avoid pressure."

Mehsud of the FATA Research Center said the "TTP sometimes deliberately avoids large-scale attacks just to avoid pressure" from the Afghan Taliban, which he said has tried to convince its Pakistani ally to rein in its attacks.

'Security Situation Is Very Bad'

The TTP and HGB as well as their affiliates have concentrated most of their attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwestern province along the border with Afghanistan that has long been a hotbed of militancy.

Several other militant groups that have attracted less headlines have also recently emerged in the region. They include Lashkar-e Khorasan, a militant group believed to be a front for the TTP. The other is the Shaheen Group, which is considered a front for the HGB. Both groups have claimed attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in recent months.

Pakistan earlier this year said the military would launch a new offensive to root out militants in the northwest, without offering details.

The planned military operation has been fiercely opposed by locals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the scene of numerous offensives that have killed thousands and uprooted millions of civilians in the past.

Thousands of people rallied in Bannu on July 19 to call for an end to military operations in the region. The demonstration turned violent and security forces fired on protesters, killing one person. Since then, thousands of people have been participating in a sit-in protest in Bannu.

Rana, the Islamabad-based analyst, says Pakistan faces no good choices in its battle to curb the soaring number of militant attacks in the country.

If it launches a deadly military assault, it will attract the wrath of the public. If it targets alleged TTP strongholds inside Afghanistan, it will further escalate tensions with the Afghan Taliban, he says.

"The security situation is very bad," Rana said. "This is the peak of it now."

China Breaks Ground On Massive Afghan Copper Mine After 16 Years Of Delays

Taliban security personnel surround an excavator at work during an inauguration ceremony of the Mes Aynak copper-mining project on July 24.
Taliban security personnel surround an excavator at work during an inauguration ceremony of the Mes Aynak copper-mining project on July 24.

Chinese engineers and the Taliban government officially started work on a massive project in Afghanistan to mine the world's second-largest deposit of copper.

At the July 24 event at Mes Aynak, some 40 kilometers southeast of the capital, Kabul, Taliban officials along with Chinese businessmen and diplomats carried out a ribbon-cutting ceremony as work began on the construction of a road to the mining site.

A $3 billion deal signed in 2008 gave the Chinese state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) a 30-year mining concession, but combat between NATO-led troops and Taliban insurgents at the time delayed the project from moving forward for 16 years.

With violence waning since the Taliban's 2021 takeover of power amid the withdrawal of foreign troops, the cash-strapped Taliban-installed government is eager to exploit the country's vast and lucrative mineral deposits.

"The time wasted in the implementation of the project should be recuperated with speedy work," Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdul Ghani Baradar said at the ribbon-cutting event.

Can China Learn To Live With The Taliban?
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Taliban officials said it would likely be at least two years before the first copper was extracted by MCC while Chinese diplomats praised the progress as a sign of warming ties between Beijing and Kabul.

"The economic and trade relations between the two countries are becoming increasingly close," said China's ambassador to Afghanistan, Zhao Xing.

Since it seized power, the Taliban has faced the task of undertaking the reconstruction and development of a country devastated by decades of war.

But officials have also found their economy suffocated by Western sanctions and dealing with international isolation that has cut them off from receiving financial support.

China has been an exception for the Taliban government, with Beijing vowing to pursue deeper cooperation shortly after the group took control of Kabul.

Beijing has been particularly focused on exploiting Afghanistan's extensive resource wealth, from oil and gas to rare-earth metals.

Mes Aynak remains one of the most attractive offerings for Chinese firms. The deposit is estimated to contain 11.5 million tons of copper ore, which is vital for electronics components and is surging in value due to its use in growing markets related to electric vehicles, renewable energy, and data centers.

According to a Brookings Institute report, Afghanistan sits on some 2.3 billion metric tons of iron ore and 1.4 million metric tons of rare-earth minerals, and the U.S. Geological Survey has calculated that the country is sitting on $1 trillion in untapped minerals, such as iron, gold, and lithium -- an essential but scarce component in rechargeable batteries and other technologies.

Amir Mohammad Musazai, a retired professor from the Department of Geology and Mines at Kabul Polytechnic University, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that mining Mes Aynak is likely to yield amounts of copper ore worth more than the $3 billion that was signed for the mining rights, given that nearby areas also hold large copper reserves that weren’t factored into the original plans.

While the groundbreaking event at Mes Aynak is a sign that Chinese resource ventures are moving forward in the country after decades of delays due to war, security concerns are still a major hurdle holding back more expansive projects, which often rely on Chinese engineers and other staff.

The July 24 ceremony was closely guarded by dozens of armed men and Taliban officials made assurances that they would protect staff at the mining project.

Chinese workers have increasingly become a target of attacks in the region, including a suicide attack that killed five Chinese enginners in Pakistan in March and a 2021 bombing that killed 13 people, including nine Chinese workers, at a dam project in the South Asian country.

In Afghanistan, at least five Chinese nationals were wounded when gunmen stormed a Kabul hotel popular with Beijing businessmen in 2022.

Pakistan Reopens Key Border Point With Afghanistan After Months Of Closure

Pakistan has reopened the key Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing with Afghanistan after a nine-month closure that resulted in financial losses and rising anger on both sides.

Macron Praises Afghan Female Athletes Coming To Paris

Macron Praises Afghan Female Athletes Coming To Paris
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RFE/RL's Radio Azadi asked French President Emanuel Macron on July 22 about the significance for Afghan female teams competing in the upcoming Paris Olympics. He says these athletes carry the "hope of other women" and praises the resilience of Afghans.

Interview: Pakistani Islamist Leader Opposes Military Operation To Root Out Militants

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal on July 22, the controversial cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman called for peace talks between Pakistan and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. (file photo)
In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal on July 22, the controversial cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman called for peace talks between Pakistan and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. (file photo)

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the largest Islamist party in Pakistan, has voiced his opposition to a planned operation by the military to root out militants along the Afghan border.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal on July 22, the controversial cleric called for peace talks between Pakistan and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the most lethal militant group waging war against Islamabad.

The comments from Rehman, the head of the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) party, came as militant violence has surged across the predominately Muslim nation of some 240 million people.

A high-profile bomb-and-gun attack on a military base in the northwestern city of Bannu on July 15 killed 10 government security personnel.

But residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwestern province that has been the scene of devastating military operations that uprooted millions of people and killed thousands of civilians in the past, have protested against any new military operations in the region.

"People are not ready to suffer yet again," Rehman, who hails from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told Radio Mashaal. "We have been through bitter times."

Thousands of people waving white flags and calling for peace rallied in Bannu on July 19 calling for an end to military operations in the region. The demonstration turned violent and security forces fired on protesters, killing one person.

Residents take part in a July 19 peace rally to protest after the recent suicide attack by militants on an army enclave in Bannu.
Residents take part in a July 19 peace rally to protest after the recent suicide attack by militants on an army enclave in Bannu.

Since then, thousands of people have been participating in a sit-in protest in Bannu.


"The voices in Bannu are the voices of all the residents of Pakhtunkhwa," Rehman said.

Rehman
Rehman

Islamabad earlier this year said the military would launch a new offensive to combat militants along the Afghan border, without offering details.

Pakistani military spokesman Lieutenant General Ahmed Sharif on July 22 said the planned operation would be a "comprehensive counter-terrorism campaign" that would not displace locals.

But those comments have done little to quell the concerns of protesters and locals who fear for their lives and livelihoods in any new military offensive.

Since 2003, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in major counterterrorism offensives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where more than 6 million people have been displaced. The province was a former stronghold of the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, and Al-Qaeda.

A soldier stands guard as a tractor carrying refugees fleeing the military offensive against militants in North Waziristan drives past a checkpoint in Bannu in 2014.
A soldier stands guard as a tractor carrying refugees fleeing the military offensive against militants in North Waziristan drives past a checkpoint in Bannu in 2014.

"People are ready to be buried in the ruins of their homes," Rehman said. "But they do not want to be humiliated again."

Peace Prospects

The TTP has intensified its deadly insurgency against Pakistan since the Afghan Taliban seized power in Kabul.

Islamabad has repeatedly accused the Afghan militants of sheltering the TTP, with which it has close ideological and organizational ties. Kabul has rejected the claim, and ties between Pakistan and the Taliban, which have been close allies for decades, have plummeted.

An injured man is shifted to a hospital to receive medical treatment following a blast that targeted a police vehicle near the Afghan border in the Bajaur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on January 8.
An injured man is shifted to a hospital to receive medical treatment following a blast that targeted a police vehicle near the Afghan border in the Bajaur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on January 8.

In January, the 71-year-old Rehman visited Afghanistan to repair ties. During his stay in Kabul, he met with Taliban officials, including its reclusive chief, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, and TTP leaders.

In his interview with Radio Mashaal, Rehman said he presented a plan to resolve the conflict between Islamabad and the TTP with the mediation of the Afghan Taliban.

"But our [security] establishment and rulers are so incompetent that they didn't accept that solution," said Rehman.

Members of the National Democratic Movement, the Pashtunkhwa National Awami Party, and the Awami Workers Party protest in Karachi on July 21 against the shooting at the peace rally in Bannu two days earlier.
Members of the National Democratic Movement, the Pashtunkhwa National Awami Party, and the Awami Workers Party protest in Karachi on July 21 against the shooting at the peace rally in Bannu two days earlier.

Rehman said a peace deal was the only way to end the TTP’s 17-year insurgency against Islamabad.

In 2022, the Afghan Taliban brokered yearlong peace talks between the TTP and Islamabad. But the talks broke down and the TTP resumed its attacks.

Rehman has courted controversy for his support of the Afghan Taliban.

A JUI-F-led coalition governed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between 2002-2007. Critics blame the party for sheltering the Afghan Taliban whose presence in the region led to the emergence of the TTP. Many Afghan Taliban leaders were educated in Islamic seminaries run by JUI-F leaders.

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by Tahir Khan of RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

Taliban Intensifies Crackdown On Dissent In Afghanistan

Taliban fighters stand guard during a ceremony in Kabul. (file photo)
Taliban fighters stand guard during a ceremony in Kabul. (file photo)

The Taliban has detained a former politician, a journalist, and a filmmaker in recent days across Afghanistan, according to their relatives.

The detentions mark a sharp escalation of the extremist group's crackdown on dissent, a violent campaign that has targeted reporters, activists, and political figures.

The latest target of the clampdown was Sayyed Rahim Saeedi, a television producer and filmmaker based in the capital, Kabul.

Relatives of Saeedi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that members of the General Directorate of Intelligence, the Taliban's notorious intelligence agency, detained him and his son on July 20.

His son was freed on July 21, the relatives said.

It was not clear why they were detained. The filmmaker's whereabouts remain unknown, and the Taliban has not commented on his detention.

Meanwhile, the Taliban detained Rohullah Rauf, the former head of the provincial council in the northeastern province of Takhar, a source close to him who spoke on condition of anonymity told Radio Azadi.

The source said Rauf was detained by the Taliban after returning home from Friday Prayers on July 19. It was unclear why he was detained, the source said.

Mowloda Tawana, an Afghan rights campaigner, said Rauf's detention showed that the Taliban was not committed to the amnesty that it announced shortly after seizing power in 2021.

The blanket amnesty included all Afghan officials, security forces, and individuals who cooperated with the departed U.S.-led military presence in Afghanistan.

But international rights watchdogs and the United Nations have documented widespread cases of retribution -- including extrajudicial killings and torture.

An Afghan man at a Kabul restaurant watches a live television broadcast of the Tolo News channel showing a religious scholar speaking.
An Afghan man at a Kabul restaurant watches a live television broadcast of the Tolo News channel showing a religious scholar speaking.

Meanwhile, freelance journalist Mohammadyar Majrooh was detained by the Taliban in the southern city of Kandahar, according to his relatives.

Relatives of Majrooh said the reporter was detained on July 12. His whereabouts are unknown, they said.

Majrooh was previously detained in February 2023 while working on a report for the private Tolo News channel.

In a statement issued on July 17, the Afghanistan Journalists Center, a local media watchdog, demanded that Majrooh be released "without further delay and without conditions."

Hamid Obaidi, head of the Afghanistan Journalists Support Organization, another media watchdog, said the "illegal detentions and harassment of journalists violate the freedom of speech."

"We strongly condemn these detentions," Obaidi told Radio Azadi.

The Taliban's intelligence agency did not respond to Radio Azadi's requests for comment about the recent detentions.

Since its takeover in August 2021, the Taliban has detained and jailed scores of journalists, activists, and academics for publicly opposing its repressive policies.

Hundreds of Afghan journalists have fled their homeland because of intimidation or for fear of persecution. The Taliban has banned several international broadcasters and denied visas to foreign journalists.

As part of its assault on dissent, the militant group has also clamped down on political parties and local nongovernmental organizations. The Taliban banned all political groups and NGOs last year.

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by Firuza Azizi of RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

Pakistan Reopens Key Border Point With Afghanistan Following Complaints

Persons with disabilities protest in Chaman against the closure in December.
Persons with disabilities protest in Chaman against the closure in December.

Pakistan on July 21 reopened a key border crossing point with Afghanistan after a nine-month closure following complaints by residents. Pakistan in October closed the Chaman-Spin Boldak border that runs through Pashtun communities, ending the century-old Easement Rights, which had allowed certain communities along the 19th-century Durand Line border to cross freely. Pakistan began requiring people show valid documents like passports and visas to cross into Spin Boldak, a district in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, sparking anger. Pashtun communities on both sides of the border argued that it harmed their livelihoods and caused significant financial losses.

Homes Of Afghan Migrants Reportedly Attacked After Killing Of Iranian

Hundreds of Afghans are deported from Iran every day. (file photo)
Hundreds of Afghans are deported from Iran every day. (file photo)

The homes of several Afghan migrants in the southern Iranian city of Khur have reportedly been set on fire in apparent retaliation for the killing of an Iranian man allegedly by an Afghan national.

Hosna, an Afghan who lives in Khur, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi on July 19 that he moved his family from Khur to Shiraz in Fars Province out of fear for their safety.

"People in the region are very angry and set homes of several Afghans on fire," he claimed.

Hosna and others who spoke to Radio Azadi attributed the anger to the July 3 killing of a 62-year-old restaurant owner in the town of Khenj by his 17-year-old apprentice. Iranian media have not identified the nationality of the suspected killer, but Hosna said the suspect was an Afghan citizen.

"The people of the region have sworn not to sell 1 kilogram of meat, or even a piece of bread, to Afghan nationals," Hosna said. "So, many were forced to flee to Shiraz."

Anti-Afghan sentiment in Iran has been on the rise in recent years, especially after a mass influx of migrants following the Taliban's return to power in August 2021.

Occasionally, a hashtag that describes the expulsion of Afghan migrants as a "national demand" becomes a top trend on X, formerly Twitter, often boosted by anonymous accounts.

Last week, an unsubstantiated claim on social media blamed Afghan migrants for an alleged rise in leprosy cases in Iran.

The UN’s refugee agency says Iran hosts around 780,000 Afghan refugees, in addition to some 2.6 million undocumented Afghan migrants. But Iran claimed last year that the number of illegal Afghan immigrants was closer to 5 million.

The authorities have vowed to deport illegal refugees and hundreds of Afghan migrants are sent back to Afghanistan every day. They are also banned from living or working in half of Iran's 31 provinces.

Afghans living in Iran have complained to Radio Azadi about rising harassment, even during deportation.

Iranian Film Casts Real Refugees To Show Plight Of Displaced Afghans
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Tehran has for years maintained that it does not receive sufficient financial aid from international organizations to handle the number of refugees on its soil.

Pakistan Summons Diplomat Of Taliban-Led Government Over Bannu Attack 

Residents appear on a street partially blocked by barbed wire a day after a Pakistani Army garrison was attacked by a suicide bombing squad in Bannu.
Residents appear on a street partially blocked by barbed wire a day after a Pakistani Army garrison was attacked by a suicide bombing squad in Bannu.

Islamabad summoned a senior Afghan diplomat over a deadly militant attack on the Bannu garrison in northwest Pakistan, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said on July 17.

Pakistani officials said the attack on July 15 led to the deaths of eight soldiers after a militant rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the outer wall of the garrison.

The army said that its forces opened fire and killed all 10 suspected militants in the encounter.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it summoned the deputy minister of the Taliban-led government's Afghan Embassy to the ministry and strongly protested.

The ministry blamed the Afghanistan-based Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group for the attack and said in its statement that it had asked Kabul to take “immediate, robust, and effective action against the perpetrators.”

The ministry also said the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, an ally of the Afghan Taliban, are responsible for killing “hundreds of civilians and multiple members of law enforcement agencies” throughout Pakistan.

On the day of the attack, a previously unknown group called Jaish-e Fursan-e Muhammad claimed responsibility in a WhatsApp message to media outlets. RFE/RL could not independently confirm the existence of any such armed group.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement on July 17 said it asked Kabul to fully investigate the bombing and take immediate action against the perpetrators.

There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban-led Afghan government.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in recent years, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where Bannu is located. Residents of the province have protested the lack of security provided by Islamabad against the actions of extremists.

Pakistani security forces have said that they have conducted targeted operations against militants in several parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

With reporting by AP

Health Fears Over Leprosy Fuel Anti-Afghan Sentiment In Iran

Iranian authorities said last year that 5 million Afghans lived in the country illegally and vowed to deport them. (file photo)
Iranian authorities said last year that 5 million Afghans lived in the country illegally and vowed to deport them. (file photo)

An unsubstantiated claim on social media linking an alleged rise in leprosy cases in Iran to the country’s Afghan community has resulted in renewed calls for the expulsion of Afghan migrants.

Iranian media have cited the Health Ministry as reporting nine new cases of leprosy over the past year. The reports said three of those afflicted were Afghans.

The same day, a freelance Iranian journalist who advocates for the expulsion of Afghan refugees alleged without evidence that “Afghan migrants” were responsible for spreading leprosy in Iran.

He incorrectly charged that “no cases of leprosy had been seen in Iran in years” -- a claim that is easily debunked by data available on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website.

On July 9, another journalist who often writes in support of expelling Afghan migrants went as far as calling the alleged rise in leprosy cases “bioterrorism” and demanded that the incoming government of President-elect Masud Pezeshkian “start deporting Afghans.”

“Afghans are bringing and spreading the leprosy virus,” he wrote without offering evidence, falsely claiming that leprosy, which is caused by bacteria, is a viral disease.

Both posts on the social media platform X have received nearly half a million views, been shared more than 1,000 times, and liked by over 7,000 accounts.

What Does The Data Say?

Leprosy in Iran has never been eliminated, but it has declined sharply since 2005, dropping from 79 to six in 2022, according to WHO data. No certified health authority has ever declared leprosy an epidemic in Iran or Afghanistan.

Leprosy is a chronic bacterial infectious disease that mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. It is curable but leaving it untreated may cause permanent disabilities.

The disease spreads via droplets from the nose and mouth through close and frequent contact with untreated individuals.

Rising Anti-Afghan Sentiment

Afghans fleeing the Soviet invasion in the 1980s were welcomed in Iran, thanks in large part to the anti-Soviet views of the recently established Islamic republic. But animosity toward the growing Afghan community has only worsened since.

In recent years -- especially after an influx of migrants following the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021 -- there have been more frequent displays of anti-Afghan sentiment.

Over the past several months, a Persian hashtag that calls the “expulsion of Afghans” a “national demand” has been trending, often boosted by anonymous accounts.

The UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, says Iran hosts 780,000 Afghan refugees, in addition to 2.6 million undocumented Afghan nationals.

But the authorities in Tehran claimed last year that 5 million Afghans were living in Iran illegally, and vowed to deport them. Afghan migrants were later banned from living or working in half of the country’s 31 provinces.

In recent months, Afghan migrants in Iran have complained to RFE/RL's Radio Azadi about rising harassment, even during deportation.

Iran has long said that it does not receive enough financial assistance from international bodies to deal with the number of refugees on its soil.

Death Toll After Afghan Floods Rises To At Least 45

Afghan villagers shovel mud on July 15 following flash floods after heavy rainfall in the Dara district of Panjshir Province.
Afghan villagers shovel mud on July 15 following flash floods after heavy rainfall in the Dara district of Panjshir Province.

The death toll from heavy rains and storms in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province has risen to 40, with 347 people injured, Sharafat Zaman, a spokesperson for the de facto Taliban government's Health Ministry said on July 16. Zaman said the storms have destroyed numerous houses, without providing specific numbers. Zaman said aid and health workers had arrived in the region and were coordinating relief efforts with international organizations. However, locals speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Azadi voiced frustration over the lack of official assistance. Panjshir and Kunar provinces were also hit by floods on July 15, with at least five dead in Kunar. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.

40 Dead, Hundreds Injured After Heavy Rain, Storms In Eastern Afghanistan

Heavy rains and storms have killed dozens in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan.
Heavy rains and storms have killed dozens in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan.

Thirty-five people have died and more than 230 others have been injured in heavy rains and storms in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan, the provincial administration of the Taliban-led government said on July 15 in a statement. Earlier on July 15, five people died in heavy rain and floods in the eastern province of Kunar. The statement on the situation in Nangarhar Province said that heavy rain and strong winds contributed to the deaths there and said the number of victims is expected to increase. Officials also said financial losses and telecommunication interruptions are expected. The Meteorological Department of Afghanistan's Taliban-led government predicted heavy rains and floods in 12 Afghan provinces. To read the full story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.

Pakistani Court Ensures Dual Citizenship For Women Married To Afghans

An Afghan refugee (second from right) deported from Pakistan receives humanitarian aid at a UN camp on the outskirts of Kabul in 2023.
An Afghan refugee (second from right) deported from Pakistan receives humanitarian aid at a UN camp on the outskirts of Kabul in 2023.

The Pakistani High Court in Peshawar has ruled in a case brought by 95 Afghan and Pakistani citizens that women married to Afghan nationals have the right to both Pakistani and Afghan citizenship, eliminating a problem for many women stemming from administrative obstacles arising from such dual registrations. Millions of Afghan nationals live in neighboring Pakistan, many of them for decades dating back to the Afghan-Soviet War of the 1980s. A number of Pakistani women recently protested in Peshawar after Pakistani authorities expelled their husbands. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

The Push To Recognize 'Gender Apartheid' As A Crime

Afghan women wait to receive food rations distributed by a humanitarian aid group in Kabul.
Afghan women wait to receive food rations distributed by a humanitarian aid group in Kabul.

The world has long been aware of the scourge of apartheid -- the systemic segregation or discrimination of people based on their race. But what about the institutionalized practice of singling people out for ill-treatment due to their gender?

The push to recognize "gender apartheid" under international law is gaining steam, with oppression against women and girls in Afghanistan and Iran fueling calls for immediate action, but tremendous obstacles remain.

What Do They Want?

Advocates want to clearly define gender apartheid as a crime under international law. Currently, only "persecution" on the basis of gender is recognized as a crime against humanity. But rights groups and activists say the concept of persecution does not fully capture the scope of the abuses committed under a system of institutionalized gender apartheid.

The goal is for the United Nations to make up for this gap by legally shielding women and girls from systemic abuse and violence.

Afghan women's rights defenders are credited with being the first to articulate the concept of gender apartheid in the 1990s, during the Taliban's first regime.

Since the Taliban returned to power in 2021, the hard-line Islamist group has reimposed its oppressive policies against women and girls, including severe restrictions on their appearances, freedom of movement, and right to work and study.

Hoda Khamosh, an Afghan women's rights activist, says the recognition of gender apartheid would greatly benefit women's rights in the country.

"We would be able to hold accountable the authorities and perpetrators of gender-based violence and discrimination against women," Khamosh told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Meanwhile, Iranian women’s rights activists have said the institutionalized discrimination against women in the Islamic republic amounts to gender apartheid.

UN experts have said the violent enforcement of the hijab law and punishments on women and girls who fail to wear the head scarf could be described as a form of gender apartheid.

Security forces in Iran warn women to wear their hijabs properly.
Security forces in Iran warn women to wear their hijabs properly.

When Do They Want It?

Today. The United Nations has been considering the adoption of a major treaty that would unite signatories against crimes against humanity.

Dozens of rights groups and hundreds of individuals signed a statement in March calling for gender apartheid to be included on the draft list of such crimes.

The hope is that the UN General Assembly will adopt procedures to begin negotiations on the treaty when it next meets in September.

Tough Going

While the concept of gender apartheid has increasingly been used by the United Nations and international organizations, particularly in connection with abuses against women and girls in Afghanistan and Iran, there have also been missed opportunities.

During UN-hosted talks in Doha with the Taliban in early July, for example, women did not have a seat at the table.

Where Are The Women? All-Male UN Talks With Taliban Spark Controversy
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Rights activists calling for the recognition of gender apartheid and for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible accused the UN of giving legitimacy to the Taliban's rule and of betraying its commitment to women's rights.

"The international community has a moral obligation to ensure the protection of Afghan women’s rights and uphold the principles of justice and equality in any engagement with the Taliban," Sima Samar, former chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), told CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations.

Imprisonment And Death In Iran

Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran's clerical regime has been labeled a "gender apartheid regime" by rights watchdogs.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights activist who lives in exile, is among the key signatories of a global effort to End Gender Apartheid Today.

The movement, highlighting the international community's successful effort to end apartheid in South Africa decades ago, noted that women in Iran are banned from many fields of study, sporting events, and from obtaining a passport or traveling outside the country without their husband's consent.

The Iranian authorities' goal is to maintain women's subjugation to men and the state through a system of laws, the movement said. Violations can lead to "violence, imprisonment, and death."

"The situations in the Islamic Republic of Iran and under the Taliban in Afghanistan are not simply cases of gender discrimination," the movement concluded in its call for support.

"Rather, these systems are perpetuating a more extreme, systematic, and structural war against women designed to dehumanize and repress them for purposes of entrenching power.”


Written by Michael Scollon with reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

44,000 Afghans In Pakistan Still Awaiting U.S., Foreign Resettlement

Afghan refugees arrive from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in December 2023.
Afghan refugees arrive from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in December 2023.

At least 44,000 Afghans approved for relocation to Western countries following the Taliban's return to power are still waiting in limbo in Pakistan, Islamabad said on July 11. In the days after the NATO-backed government collapsed in August 2021, more than 120,000 people, mostly Afghans, were airlifted from Kabul in a chaotic evacuation. Hundreds of thousands more Afghans have fled Taliban rule since then, with many promised new lives in the nations involved in their country's 20-year occupation. Pakistan’s Foreign Office said that 25,000 Afghans approved for relocation to the United States are still living in Pakistan.

Iranian Film Casts Real Refugees To Show Plight Of Displaced Afghans

Iranian Film Casts Real Refugees To Show Plight Of Displaced Afghans
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An Iranian writing-directing duo has filmed the story of millions of Afghans living for decades in Iran without fundamental rights. Alireza Ghasemi and Raha Amirfazli cast real Afghan refugees as their characters, secretly shooting in locations where their cast cannot legally go. In the Land Of Brothers screened at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in July, shedding light on a population of permanent refugees that began streaming into Iran in the 1980s during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Many are still eking out a living, taking on unofficial manual labor jobs while facing constant discrimination.

UN Refugee Chief Welcomes Pakistan Suspending Expulsions Of Undocumented Afghans

Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif (right) meets UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi on July 9 in Islamabad.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif (right) meets UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi on July 9 in Islamabad.

The UN's high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, has commended Pakistan for suspending its forced deportation of undocumented Afghan migrants and called for increased efforts toward long-term solutions for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said.

Grandi expressed appreciation that the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan had been suspended and sought assurances that it would "remain on hold," the UNHCR said in a statement on July 9.

Islamabad suspended the deportation of Afghan refugees following talks between Grandi and top Pakistani officials during the former's three-day visit to Pakistan.

Grandi met with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar, and Minister for States and Frontier Regions Amir Muqam, along with senior officials from the ministries of the interior and foreign affairs.

The commissioner called for a permanent solution to the problem of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the statement said, adding that he also called for "the timely extension of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards."

PoR cards are a crucial identity document for the more than 1.3 million legal Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

The number of undocumented Afghans who sought refuge in neighboring Pakistan rose steeply following the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan in August 2022 following the departure of the U.S.-led international forces.

There is no accurate figure for the total number of Afghans in Pakistan, but UN estimates put the number in October last year at nearly 3.7 million. Pakistani authorities, however, put the number at 4.4 million.

Last year, Pakistan's interim government decided to deport 1.7 million undocumented Afghan refugees from the country and send them back to Afghanistan.

Since the decision in November last year, an estimated 500,000 Afghan refugees have been returned to Afghanistan.

“We need to seize this opportunity to accelerate solutions and have a bigger, broader vision for the Afghan people in Pakistan,” Grandi was quoted as saying in the statement.

Taliban Authorities Slash Government Salaries Of Afghan Women

The Taliban has severely curtailed women’s rights since seizing power in Afghanistan in 2021. (file photo)
The Taliban has severely curtailed women’s rights since seizing power in Afghanistan in 2021. (file photo)

Afghan authorities have slashed the salaries of women government workers who have been forced to stay at home since the Taliban seized power, the Taliban-led government's Finance Ministry said on July 8. After kicking out the foreign-backed government in 2021, the Taliban administration stopped most women employed in the public sector from attending their offices while continuing to pay them. "Women who are at home and do not go to the office... their salaries are 5,000 afghanis ($70) a month," Ahmad Wali Haqmal, the ministry spokesman, told AFP. Women who are permitted to work in segregated areas such as in government hospitals or schools would continue to get paid a salary according to their position.

France's Afghan Community 'Extremely Happy' As Far Right Denied Majority

France's Afghan Community 'Extremely Happy' As Far Right Denied Majority
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France’s far-right National Rally party failed to secure a majority in parliamentary elections on July 7 after being relegated to third place behind centrists and a left-wing alliance. Some in France's Afghan community expressed relief that the National Rally won't be in power to implement its anti-immigration platform that could have limited family reunions for refugees. A hung parliament could mean lots of political uncertainty ahead, but without a far-right majority President Emmanuel Macron is expected to be able to maintain France's support for Ukraine.

UNHCR Chief Meets With Afghan Refugees In Pakistan

An Afghan refugee family in Peshawar, Pakistan (file photo)
An Afghan refugee family in Peshawar, Pakistan (file photo)

The United Nations' high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, who is on a three-day visit to Pakistan, met with Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on July 7. Grandi listened to the refugees’ concerns and assured them of the support of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Qaisar Afridi, the UNHCR spokesperson in Peshawar, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. Grandi will meet Pakistan government officials and other humanitarian and development partners. Grandi's visit comes as Pakistan continues to deport unregistered Afghan refugees. According to the UNHCR, Pakistan hosts approximately 3.2 million Afghan refugees, 76 percent of whom are women and children. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Residents Protest Planned Military Offensive In Pakistan's Swat Valley, Orakzai District

Residents of Pakistan's Swat Valley protest against a planned operation by the nation's military.
Residents of Pakistan's Swat Valley protest against a planned operation by the nation's military.

Hundreds of residents in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and Orakzai tribal district rallied to condemn a newly announced military operation by the federal government, with one movement calling for a nationwide protest on July 7.

The Ulasi Pasoon (Public Revolution) and Orkazai Peace Movement organized the protests on July 5 in which political workers, rights activists, and students carried placards demanding peace and security in their areas and denouncing the planned military operation.

Residents have long opposed the national government's military operations in the region, claiming they have driven millions of people from their homes and disrupted businesses and other activities of ethnic Pashtuns in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Pakistani Protesters Fear Impact Of Military Operations
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They have also protested the lack of overall security provided by the national authorities.

The protesters in Swat and Orakzai demanded peace and asked the military forces to target the terrorists’ hideouts rather than conducting operations in civilian areas.

Pakistan’s top leadership on June 22 approved plans for the Resolve For Stability military operation designed to combat escalating extremist violence and terrorist attacks in the region. The operation has not yet started.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a remote northwestern province near the Afghan border, has seen an increase in deadly attacks in the past two years, mostly blamed on Islamist extremist groups, including Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and affiliates of Islamic State.

Islamabad has accused neighboring Afghanistan of providing safe havens for the groups operating in Pakistan, something Kabul has denied.

Pakistani security forces have said they have been conducting targeted operations against militants in several parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Citing the effects of previous military operations, local residents and political activists in several districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa launched the protest rallies and other actions after plans for Resolve For Security were announced by the government in Islamabad.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) rights group has announced plans for countrywide protests against new military operations on July 7.

The office of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had stated that the new operation would not be a full-scale military campaign displacing a large number of people like the previous operations.

The Pakistani military on July 5 said in a statement that the new operation is aimed at “harnessing the national counterterrorism efforts in a synchronized manner to dismantle the nexus of terrorism and illegal spectrum in the country for enduring stability and economic prosperity.”

Taliban Says Restrictions On Women Stand, Praises UN 'Spirit Of Cooperation'

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (file photo)
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (file photo)

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a July 3 press conference in Kabul that the Taliban will not remove restrictions on women and women’s education in Afghanistan. The announcement comes at the end of UN-sponsored talks in Doha, the first that Taliban representatives have attended since the annual discussions began in 2021. The talks held this time were condemned by human rights organizations for the UN’s decision to exclude women and civil society representatives to encourage the Taliban’s participation. While the UN does not recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government, Mujahid praised the “spirit of cooperation” and “atmosphere of trust” at the conference. To read the original story on RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.

Updated

Xi, Putin Kick Off SCO Summit In Kazakhstan With Belarus Set To Join

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (left) welcomes Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Astana on July 2 for a state visit and two-day SCO summit.
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (left) welcomes Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Astana on July 2 for a state visit and two-day SCO summit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met on July 3 in Kazakhstan as part of a two-day summit for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is poised to admit Belarus as a member.

The expected expansion of the club of Eurasian countries is part of another push from Beijing and Moscow to use the regional security bloc as a counterweight to promote alternatives to the Western institutions that make up the U.S.-led world order.

Putin told Xi ahead of their bilateral meeting that Russia's ties with China were stronger than ever and touted the SCO as a powerful instrument to advance their foreign policy agendas.

"Russian-Chinese relations, our comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation, are experiencing their best period in history," Putin said in comments broadcast on Russian state TV. He hailed the SCO for "strengthening its role as one of the key pillars of a fair multipolar world order."

Moscow and Beijing have deepened their political, military and economic links since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

In his opening remarks, Xi told Putin that China and Russia should "uphold the original aspiration of friendship for generations" in response to an "ever-changing international situation."

Calling Putin an "old friend," Xi alluded to the progress the two countries had made in putting in place "plans and arrangements for the next development of bilateral relations."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also met with Putin at the SCO, offering to help end the Ukraine-Russia war. Erdogan said he believed a fair peace suiting both sides was possible, according to the Turkish presidency. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Erdogan could not play the role of an intermediary.

"No, it's not possible," Peskov said when asked whether Erdogan could assume such a role, according to TASS. There was no explanation for why the Kremlin was opposed to Erdogan's participation.

The SCO summit, which ends of July 4, was also set to focus on better coordination for counterterrorism in the region, which remains high on the agenda for members following Moscow's Crocus City Hall attack in April. The security situation in Afghanistan and a new mechanism for an investment fund proposed by Kazakhstan will also be discussed by leaders.

"The mandate for the SCO can be quite vague and far-reaching," Eva Seiwert, an analyst at the Berlin-based MERICS think tank, told RFE/RL. "Officially speaking, this is a security organization that focuses on improving collaboration among its member states and building mutual trust throughout the region."

The bloc was founded in 2001 with China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as members with a focus on settling territorial disputes and has grown to tackle issues like regional security and economic development. The SCO added India and Pakistan in 2017, Iran in 2023, and is set to grow again with the addition of Belarus this year.

The SCO's evolution over its 23-year history has largely been shaped by China and Russia's evolving relationship.

At times, Moscow has looked to water down or block Chinese-led plans for the bloc, including proposals for a regional development bank and a free-trade zone. But as Xi and Putin have built stronger ties between their countries in recent years -- especially since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine -- the two leaders have more actively made the SCO a part of their broader cooperation together and a centerpiece of their shared anti-U.S. worldview.

"For a long time, China wanted to make sure that the SCO is not portrayed as an anti-Western organization, but this has changed, especially since Iran joined," Seiwert said. "It's becoming clear that the SCO doesn't care so much about what the West thinks anymore."

At a meeting of senior Russian officials in June, Putin spoke about the creation of "a new system of bilateral and multilateral guarantees of collective security in Eurasia," with the help of existing organizations like the SCO, to work toward gradually "phasing out the military presence of external powers in the Eurasian region."

Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin, told RFE/RL that while the SCO is increasing its international visibility and geopolitical weight, it still remains an organization that is heavy on symbolism but light on substance.

"It's still trying to figure out what it is now and what it can be," he said. "At the end of the day, its main advantage is just the sheer size and its collective GDP, but there are still almost no substantial results."

In the absence of a clear mandate, the SCO is largely serving as a diplomatic forum for regional leaders to get sought-after face time with Xi and Putin.

Leaders and representatives from nonmember states like Azerbaijan, Qatar, Mongolia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkmenistan, and Turkey are also expected to attend, as is United Nation Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Notably absent from this year's summit is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar attending in his place.

Niva Yau, a fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub, says that India appears to be losing interest in the SCO, in part due to New Delhi's tense rivalry with Pakistan, but also over ongoing tensions with China amid a multiyear border dispute.

She says that this growing reticence from India may hamstring the bloc's potential and Beijing's future plans for it.

"It reduces the SCO's global profile and limits some of China's bigger plans," she told RFE/RL.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Where Are The Women? All-Male UN Talks With Taliban Spark Controversy

Where Are The Women? All-Male UN Talks With Taliban Spark Controversy
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Women's rights were not on the agenda and women were excluded, as members of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban took part in UN-organized international talks in Doha on June 30-July 1, prompting criticism from human rights groups.

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