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UN Official Warns Against Slowdown In Afghanistan

United Nations, 9 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The UN's top peacekeeping official has urged the international community to avoid complacency in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the successful presidential poll.

UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno told the UN Security Council that international aid remains indispensable as Afghanistan prepares for parliamentary elections.

"The international community might be tempted to diminish its commitment after the success of the presidential elections," Guehenno said. "If so, it should resist that temptation. While Afghans have shown a remarkable political maturity, they must still be able to count on the full backing -- economic, financial, political and military -- of the international community."

Guehenno said parliamentary polls, set for next spring, would be more complicated and vulnerable to security problems than last month's presidential elections. Among the key issues to be addressed, he said, are setting boundaries of districts, refining voters' lists, and vetting thousands of potential candidates.

[For more on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" webpage.]

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Taliban's Education Ban On Afghan Girls Fuels Spike In Child Marriages

Afghan girls attend their classes at a primary school in Bati Kot, a rural district in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
Afghan girls attend their classes at a primary school in Bati Kot, a rural district in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Amina was in the seventh grade when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021.

Shortly after their takeover, the militants banned teenage girls from attending school, dashing the 14-year-old’s dreams of completing her education.

Months later, Amina’s family in the central province of Maidan Wardak forced her to marry a local 37-year-old man.

Amina, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said she was “traumatized and sick” when she was told of her family’s plans.

“My family faced economic ruin after the Taliban takeover,” Amina, now 16, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

Amina’s husband paid a "walwar" -- a premarital fee given to the bride-to-be's parents -- that amounted to around $12,000. Walwar payments are common in Afghanistan and provide an incentive for parents to marry off their daughters at a young age.

Amina is among the thousands of underage girls who have been forced into marriage since the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government in August 2021.

Activists say the Taliban’s education ban has contributed to the surge in early and child marriages. A devastating humanitarian crisis and the lack of educational and professional prospects for women have fueled the sharp uptick, they say.

June 13 marks 1,000 days since the Taliban banned teenage girls from attending school in Afghanistan, a move that has contributed to a surge in forced and child marriages. (file photo)
June 13 marks 1,000 days since the Taliban banned teenage girls from attending school in Afghanistan, a move that has contributed to a surge in forced and child marriages. (file photo)

'I Had No Choice'

Mursal was 15 years old when her family forced her into an engagement with an older man.

"I had no choice because my family told me that in the absence of education, my only option was to get married," said Mursal, now 17.

Mursal, whose name has also been changed to protect her identity, said her dream was to become a doctor.

For some families, marrying their girls off provides some sense of security: fewer mouths to feed at a time when the country is dealing with a humanitarian crisis and economic ruin.

Some parents have also married off their adolescent daughters to avoid forced marriages to Taliban fighters.

But activists say the Taliban’s September 2021 decision to ban millions of girls above the sixth grade from attending school has also helped fuel the spike in child marriages.

June 13 marks 1,000 days since the Taliban announced its ban, a move that triggered international condemnation and protests inside Afghanistan.

During its nearly three years in power, the militant group has severely curtailed women and girls’ appearances, freedom of movement, and right to work and study.

Wazir Khan, an Afghan man, conducts classes at a mobile school that he voluntarily runs, on the outskirts of Kabul in October.
Wazir Khan, an Afghan man, conducts classes at a mobile school that he voluntarily runs, on the outskirts of Kabul in October.

'Very Dangerous'

Child marriages have increased by around 25 percent since the Taliban takeover, according to UN Women, the United Nations agency for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

“This is terrible and very dangerous for the future of Afghanistan,” Shaharzad Akbar, an Afghan rights campaigner who headed the former Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, told Radio Azadi.

Akbar, who now runs the independent advocacy organization Rawadari, said their research has established the potentially devastating impacts of the Taliban’s education ban on teenage girls.

“In the future, we won’t have female university students," she said. "And there will be no female health-care workers or other [educated female] workers.”

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

Taliban Clamps Down On Activities Of Rival Islamist Parties

Students walk on the campus of Khatam-al Nabyeen University in Kabul, which the Taliban has announced it is shutting down. (file photo)
Students walk on the campus of Khatam-al Nabyeen University in Kabul, which the Taliban has announced it is shutting down. (file photo)

The Taliban government has cracked down on rival Islamist parties in Afghanistan in what is seen as an effort to prevent any future opposition to its hard-line rule.

Since banning all political parties last year, the Taliban has targeted two of its major former rivals. It shut down two Kabul-based TV stations owned by the Hezb-e Islami and Jamiat-e Islami parties, respectively.

Now, the extremist group has cracked down on Harakat-e Islami Afghanistan, closing a TV station as well as a university and seminary accused of having links with the Shi’ite political party.

The Taliban’s clampdown on political parties is part of a wider assault on dissent. After seizing power in 2021, the militants have jailed dozens of journalists, activists, and academics.

'Relentless Crackdown'

The Taliban’s Justice Ministry on June 8 ordered the closure of Tamadon TV due to its alleged affiliation with Harakat-e Islami Afghanistan. The ministry also alleged that the station was operating on “seized land.”

Tamadon TV, which covered news and current affairs as well as Shi’ite religious programming, has denied the claims.

The station was founded in 2006 by Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, a prominent Shi’ite cleric and leader of Harakat-e Islami Afghanistan who died in 2019.

The logo of Tamadon TV, which is the latest media outlet to have been shuttered by the Taliban. (file photo)
The logo of Tamadon TV, which is the latest media outlet to have been shuttered by the Taliban. (file photo)

Mohammad Jawad Mohseni, the director of Tamadon TV, rejected the Taliban’s claims about the broadcaster’s political affiliations. He said Mohseni had resigned as the leader of Harakat-e Islami in 2005, a year before establishing the station.

Global and Afghan media watchdogs have condemned the closure of Tamadon TV.

“The Taliban is expanding its relentless crackdown on Afghan media and suppressing any independent voices,” said a statement by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which called on the group to “immediately and unconditionally reverse its decision.”

In April, the Taliban shut down Noor TV and Barya TV for "violating Afghan and Islamic values and journalistic principles.”

Jamiat-e Islami owned Noor TV, while Hezb-e Islami ran Barya. The stations ran Islamic programs.

Harakat-e Islami Afghanistan, Jamiat-e Islami, and Hezb-e Islami were all factions of the mujahedin, the Islamist groups that battled the Taliban for control of Afghanistan in the 1990s. Prominent mujahedin figures received prominent roles in the new political order that emerged after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban’s first regime.

'Narrow-Minded Policies'

On the same day that it ordered the closure of Tamadon TV, the Taliban also announced that it was shutting down Khatam-al Nabyeen University and its madrasah, or Islamic seminary. The same allegations were made against the educational institutions.

“Political parties are abolished in the country,” Barakat Rasuli, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Justice Ministry, wrote on X. “Their media outlets do not have the right to operate.”

“The buildings [of all three] are built on usurped land,” Rasuli added. “This why we have stopped their activities and shut down their offices.”

The mosque at Khatam-al Nabyeen University in Kabul. (file photo)
The mosque at Khatam-al Nabyeen University in Kabul. (file photo)

The TV station, university, and seminary are all part of a sprawling complex in west Kabul, where members of the Shi’ite minority reside. Like Tamadon TV, the university and madrasah were established by Mohseni in 2006.

Mohseni was believed to have ties with neighboring Iran, where he lived for years during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Tehran allegedly helped fund the Khatam-al Nabyeen University and seminary as part of its efforts to build influence in the country.

Afghanistan’s Shi'ite community have been increasingly marginalized under the rule of the Taliban, a Sunni militant group.

The Taliban has prevented members of the Shi'ite community, which makes up around 15 percent of the population, from publicly marking important religious festivals and restricted the teaching of Shi'ite jurisprudence in universities in Afghanistan.

Sami Yousafzai, a veteran Afghan journalist and commentator, said the militant group’s closure of Tamadon TV as well as Khatam-al Nabyeen University and seminary "shows the Taliban's religious bias and its narrow-minded policies."

"They are against anyone who doesn’t follow their ideology, [including] followers of Islamist groups such as Hezb-e Islami, Jamiat-e Islami, or Harakat-e Islami Afghanistan," Yousafzai added.

Taliban's Name-Changing Campaign In Afghanistan An 'Ultimate Act Of Victory'

 A man walks past a wall mural depicting the Taliban flag in Kabul.
A man walks past a wall mural depicting the Taliban flag in Kabul.

One of the Taliban's first acts after seizing power in 2021 was to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Since then, the militant Islamist group has changed the names of scores of prominent streets, squares, universities, and even a city.

The Taliban has replaced some local Dari and Pashto names with Arabic ones that most Afghans do not speak. Landmarks honoring Afghan political figures, meanwhile, have been renamed to pay tribute to historical Islamic figures with no links to the country.

The Taliban's name-changing campaign has triggered online criticism, with some Afghans accusing the hard-line Islamist group of trying to eliminate indigenous cultural identities.

During the last four decades of war, ruling political groups have often renamed landmarks and other prominent sites, including the communist regime in the 1980s, the mujahedin in the 1990s, and the Western-backed government that came to power after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the first Taliban regime in 2001.

Changing the names of public sites has long proved highly contentious, a byproduct of conflict among rival and even warring ethnic, religious, and political groups.

Hameed Hakimi, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank, said the Taliban was "renaming places and institutions to project their victory narrative to their loyalists, and to simultaneously remove remnants of their foes."

"Renaming a geography and institutions may be perceived as an ultimate act of victory by the Taliban, he added.

A man pushes his cart past a portrait of late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Masud that was defaced with spray paint in Kabul.
A man pushes his cart past a portrait of late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Masud that was defaced with spray paint in Kabul.

Removing Tributes To Former Foes

When the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August 2021, it swiftly renamed streets, squares, and universities in the Afghan capital that honored its former enemies -- the toppled Afghan government and the former mujahedin, the Islamist groups that battled the Taliban in the 1990s. Many mujahedin figures received prominent roles in the new political order that emerged after 2001.

One of the Taliban's first targets was Kabul's main airport road -- the "Great Masud Road" -- which honored Ahmad Shah Masud, a prominent mujahedin commander and Taliban foe who was killed in 2001.

Kabul's airport -- Hamid Karzai International Airport -- which honored former President Hamid Karzai, was also quickly renamed as Kabul International Airport.

The militants also changed the name of a Kabul square -- "Martyr Mazari Square" -- honoring Abdul Ali Mazari, a mujahedin commander who was killed by the Taliban in 1995.

The Taliban also renamed a public university in Kabul honoring former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, a mujahedin leader who was assassinated by the Taliban in 2011.

Kabul's so-called Bush Bazaar, once a thriving market for U.S. military gear and foodstuffs, was renamed "Mujahedin Bazaar." Taliban militants often refer to themselves as mujahedin, which means freedom fighters.

In the past two years, the Taliban has extended its name-changing campaign to cities across Afghanistan.

The extremist group changed the names of the airports in the central provinces of Bamiyan, Daikundi, and Ghor -- which honored two former mujahedin leaders and an Afghan army general, respectively.

Meanwhile, two main roads in the western city of Herat that honored Masud and the son of Ismail Khan, a former mujahedin leader, respectively, were also renamed.

'Highly Political'

In many cases, the Taliban has restored the original names of streets, squares, and other public sites. In other cases, the militants have renamed places to honor Islamic scholars and jurists from the Arab world as well as the Koran, Islam's holy book. In some instances, streets and squares have been renamed after slain Taliban leaders and fighters.

In one of its most controversial moves, the Taliban renamed the city of Charikar, the provincial capital of the northern province of Parwan, to Imam Azam.

The new Arabic name refers to Imam Abu Hanifa, an eighth-century jurist who founded the Hanafi school of Islam, a denomination followed by many Sunni Muslims in Afghanistan.

Changing the name of Charikar, an ancient city with Buddhist roots, triggered widespread outrage.

The Taliban also changed the names of units in the Afghan military, replacing Persian and Pashto names with Arabic ones.

Taliban recently renamed this square in Herat to Iqra Square, which means read in Arabic.
Taliban recently renamed this square in Herat to Iqra Square, which means read in Arabic.

Meanwhile, a square in the western city of Herat long known as Education Square was recently renamed "Iqra," which means read in Arabic and appears in the Koran.

Locals have criticized the move.

Sayed Ashraf Sadat, an exiled activist from Herat, said the Taliban's name changes were "worrying" and "highly political."

Naqib Arwin, a former official in Herat, said the Taliban's decisions "have been done by force and without the consent and consultation of the people."

Haroun Rahimi, an Afghan academic who researches Islamic law, said the Taliban’s decision to replace Dari and Pashto words with Arabic ones was not surprising.

"They often name things after figures or events that have prominence in Islamic history," he said. "It is interesting that they are not naming things after their figures and leaders as much as the [previous government] did. Instead, they reach back to Islamic history."

Rahimi says that decision speaks to the Taliban’s complicated relationship with Afghan nationalism.

While the Taliban has its roots in a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, its ideology and practices are also grounded in Pashtun tribal codes. The group is predominately made up of Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in the country. Pashtuns have ruled Afghanistan for much of the country's more-than-270-year existence.

Hakimi said the Taliban’s name-changing spree will "certainly result in the weakening of any collective sense of nationalism that Afghans have, especially over the past century."

"The Taliban crackdown in this regard extends deeply into Pashtun areas of the country too, effectively challenging Pashtuns' sense of nationalism," he added.

The Azadi Briefing: Blacklisted Taliban Minister's Foreign Visit Triggers Outrage

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.

Taliban Publicly Flogs Dozens Of People In Northern Afghanistan

An Afghan judge hits a woman with a whip in front of a crowd in Ghor Province in 2015. (illustrative photo)
An Afghan judge hits a woman with a whip in front of a crowd in Ghor Province in 2015. (illustrative photo)

The Taliban has publicly flogged dozens of people in a sports stadium in northern Afghanistan after their convictions for crimes involving "immoral relations."

In a statement, the Taliban’s Supreme Court said 63 people, including 15 women, were flogged in Sar-e Pol Province in the presence of local officials on June 4.

The court said those flogged were accused of theft and so-called moral crimes, including adultery, homosexuality, and eloping.

Public punishments are on the rise in Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, ordered the return of Islamic sentences in November 2022.

That included "qisas" and "hudood" punishments, which allow "eye-for-an-eye" retribution and corporal punishments for offenses considered to be in violation of the boundaries set by God.

Since then, hundreds across Afghanistan have been publicly flogged or had body parts amputated for crimes such as theft and adultery. The extremist group has also publicly executed at least five people convicted of murder.

The executions and punishments have underscored the Taliban’s commitment to imposing its extremist interpretation of Shari'a law.

The punishments have provoked strong criticism from human rights watchdogs and Afghans.

"Because of the bad deed of one person, the reputation of an entire family or community is destroyed," a resident of the southwestern province of Nimroz told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. "Punishments shouldn’t be carried out in public."

Shaharzad Akbar, an Afghan rights campaigner who headed the former Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the aim of the Taliban’s "theatrical acts" is to incite fear.

"The Taliban's form of governance is contrary to human rights," she told Radio Azadi. "The human rights and human dignity of men and women are not important to them."

Meanwhile, Islamic scholars have said the Taliban has failed to meet the stringent conditions required by Islamic law in implementing such harsh punishments.

Salahuddin Saeedi, an Afghan religious scholar, told Radio Azadi that the Taliban also lacks the legitimacy to carry out Islamic punishments.

The Taliban’s hard-line government is not recognized by any country in the world, while its extremist policies are opposed by many Afghans.

Under the Taliban’s first regime in the 1990s, public executions and punishments were common. The group gained international notoriety for using sports stadiums to carry them out.

With Pensions Scrapped, Afghan Retirees Forced To Work As Street Vendors

An Afghan street vendor arranges tomatoes for sale in Kabul.
An Afghan street vendor arranges tomatoes for sale in Kabul.

Atel hauls a wooden cart every day around the Afghan capital, Kabul, selling vegetables.

The 70-year-old pensioner retired around five years ago. But since seizing power in 2021, the Taliban has stopped paying pensions.

That has forced thousands of pensioners like Atel back to work, often as street vendors, to feed their families amid a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis in the country.

"It's been nearly three years since we last received our pensions," Atel told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. "I don't have the strength to do manual labor. But I buy onions and potatoes at the market each day and resell them."

The work is grueling, and he only earns around $1 per day. But Atel, who has a family of eight, said he has no choice but to work.

An Afghan fruit vendor waits for customers along a street in Kabul.
An Afghan fruit vendor waits for customers along a street in Kabul.

Mohammad Nasim is another pensioner who has been forced to find a job. He sells notebooks and pens on the street, earning around $1 per day.

"I don't have the means to do other work," Nasim, who has a disability, told Radio Azadi. "On the other hand, I'm in pain and I don't even have money to pay for my prescriptions."

'Un-Islamic'

An estimated 150,000 pensioners received a monthly payment of around $100 from the state before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, where the retirement age is 65.

But retirees have not been paid their pensions since then, pushing some families toward starvation. Many of the pensioners served governments that had fought against the Taliban.

In April, the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, ordered his government to stop deducting retirement contributions from the salaries of civil servants, effectively dismantling the pension system. Akhundzada suggested the system was "un-Islamic."

The move triggered protests by retirees who said they cannot survive without state assistance.

Pensioners protest in Kabul. (file photo)
Pensioners protest in Kabul. (file photo)

Scores of retired civil servants and retired members of the armed forces staged a rally in Kabul on April 20. The protest was dispersed by the Taliban.

'Poorest People'

Mass unemployment and rising poverty as well as the lack of government assistance have forced the elderly and even children to find what work they can. The Taliban's severe restrictions on female employment has also deprived families of breadwinners.

Not all pensioners are able to work due to illness or their advanced age. And those who can find it difficult to secure even menial jobs.

"We have gray beards, our hands and feet tremble, and no one gives us work," a pensioner, who attended the April protest and spoke on condition of anonymity, told Radio Azadi.

An Afghan street vendor sells watermelons during Ramadan in Kabul.
An Afghan street vendor sells watermelons during Ramadan in Kabul.

Aafandi Sangar, head of the Afghan Pensioners Association, said the "poorest people in Afghanistan are pensioners who can no longer work."

"Some of them are doing hard work but some are sick [and unable to work]," he told Radio Azadi.

Sangar said pensioners will continue to protest and demand their rights from the Taliban government.

"This money is the personal money of the pensioners," he said. "It's not government money. Pensions are the inalienable right of every retiree."


Written by Frud Bezhan based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Iranian Newspaper Accuses Taliban Consulate Staff Of 'Torturing' Photographer

Entrance to the Afghan Consulate in Mashhad (file photo)
Entrance to the Afghan Consulate in Mashhad (file photo)

A centrist Iranian newspaper has accused a Taliban representative in Iran of “torturing” a photographer, ultimately leading to his expulsion from the country.

The Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper claimed on June 1 that a Taliban representative in the Afghan Consulate in the northeastern city of Mashhad had “dragged” the unnamed Iranian photographer into the consulate and “tortured” him.

The paper said the photographer later filed a complaint against the “diplomat,” identified as “Dr. Salim,” which ultimately resulted in him being expelled from Iran and replaced by another Taliban representative.

The newspaper has been a staunch critic of the Taliban since the group seized power in Afghanistan in 2021 and has questioned Tehran’s willingness to maintain relations with the group.

In its report, Jomhuri-ye Eslami alleged that “Dr. Salim” was one of three “diplomats” who had moved into the consulate prior to receiving Iran’s approval. It described the move as a “sign of disrespect toward Iran.”

In the same piece, the newspaper claimed that the same trio had “kidnapped” Qari Eisa Mohammadi, a prominent Afghan opposition figure based in Germany who had traveled to Mashhad several months ago.

According to Mohammadi, he was held “prisoner” in the consulate for several days until Iranian authorities secured his release.

The authorities in Iran have been criticized for maintaining relations with the Taliban after it took control in Afghanistan. The Islamic republic has kept its embassy in Kabul open and handed over the Afghan Embassy in Tehran to the Taliban.

Nevertheless, Iran has not formally recognized the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan and has called for the formation of an inclusive government.

Since the extremist group seized power in Kabul, Iran and the Taliban have had disputes over water rights and engaged in sporadic border clashes.

Kazakhstan Takes Taliban Off Of Its Terrorist List

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqayev (file photo)
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqayev (file photo)

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said on June 3 that his country has taken the Taliban off of its terrorist list. Addressing a session of the parliament speakers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Almaty, Toqaev stressed the move was made to develop trade and economic ties with Taliban-led Afghanistan. Toqaev also called on the parliament speakers of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to support Kazakhstan’s proposal to establish a UN regional center for the stable development of Central Asia and Afghanistan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

German Police Officer Dies After Attack At Anti-Islam Rally By Afghan-Born Man

German police officers take off their caps in Mannheim after learning that an officer who was stabbed had died on June 2.
German police officers take off their caps in Mannheim after learning that an officer who was stabbed had died on June 2.

A 29-year-old police officer died on June 2 after being repeatedly stabbed during an attack at an anti-Islam rally in Germany. A knife-wielding man attacked and wounded several people on May 31 on the market square in the city of Mannheim in southwest Germany. Five people taking part in a rally organized by Pax Europa, a campaign group against radical Islam, were wounded in the attack. The motive of the 25-year-old perpetrator, who was born in Afghanistan, remains unclear. He underwent surgery after sustaining gunshot wounds during his capture, police said. The movement's treasurer, Stefanie Kizina, said the attack was aimed at Pax Europa board member Michael Stuerzenberger, who sustained serious injuries.

Afghan Held After Knife Attack At German Event Against 'Political Islam'

Police officers work at the scene where several people were injured in a knife attack on May 31 in Mannheim, Germany.
Police officers work at the scene where several people were injured in a knife attack on May 31 in Mannheim, Germany.

A German court on June 1 ordered a 25-year-old man born in Afghanistan held on suspicion of attempted murder in connection with a knife attack at an event organized by a group opposing "political Islam" that left six people injured. The victims included a police officer who remained hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. Officials offered no information regarding the motive for the attack on May 31 in the city of Mannheim. Officials said that the suspect, who was shot and wounded by police, was hospitalized and not in a condition to be questioned. They said he had lived in Germany since 2014 and had no police record.

Updated

As Many As 20 Die In Afghanistan After Overloaded Boat Sinks Crossing River

Rescuers search for survivors of a sunken boat in the Mohmand Dara district of Nangarhar Province on June 1.
Rescuers search for survivors of a sunken boat in the Mohmand Dara district of Nangarhar Province on June 1.

A boat carrying 25 people sank while crossing a river in eastern Afghanistan on June 1, officials of the country's Taliban-led government said.

Quraishi Badlon, director of the Information and Culture Department in Nangarhar Province, said the boat sank on a river in the Mohmand Dara district, killing 20 people, including women and children.

He later revised the number of dead downward to eight.

Moulvi Mohammad Ajmal Shagwal, the district governor of the Taliban-led government in Mohmand Dara, told RFE/RL that nine bodies had been removed from the river with help from local residents.

He said that there were 25 people on board the boat, which sank at 7:30 a.m. local time. Ten people survived, all of them with injuries, he said.

Badlon also said the boat was carrying 25 people, and initially said only five survived.

When he revised the number of deaths downward to eight, he said two people were missing. He added in a post on X that 16 people had been rescued by civilians and authorities. At least 10 were injured and several were taken to a hospital, he said.

Shagwal said there were women and children on the boat, but he did not give details. According to the province's Public Health Department, the bodies recovered thus far include those of a man, a woman, two boys, and a girl.

Sherzad Ahmad Khel, one of the survivors, said that the boat sank because too many people were on board.

The government's Bakhtar news agency published a video message in which an official said many people got into the boat, and when it reached the middle of the river, its motor overheated and burst into flames. The boat then flooded and sank, leaving its passengers to fend for themselves.

District resident Abdul Majeed told RFE/RL that people had used the same boat to cross the river almost every day to get to work and shop in the district market. He stressed that a bridge should be built.

"It is very important to build a bridge here. We asked the previous government, but it was not built. We are still demanding that the government build a bridge for us. If the bridge is not built, similar incidents will happen."

People of Mohmand Dara and other districts of Nangarhar use small boats to cross the river due to the lack of bridges.
A few years ago, a number of people died in a similar boat sinking incident in district.

With reporting by AP and AFP

The Azadi Briefing: Taliban's New Pick For Health Minister Triggers Criticism

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.

Which Countries Have Relations With The Taliban's Unrecognized Government?

Zamir Kabulov, Russia's presidential envoy to Afghanistan (center left), meets with Amir Khan Muttaqi (center right), the Taliban foreign minister, in Kabul on April 23.
Zamir Kabulov, Russia's presidential envoy to Afghanistan (center left), meets with Amir Khan Muttaqi (center right), the Taliban foreign minister, in Kabul on April 23.

No country in the world formally recognizes the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan, where the extremist group seized power in 2021.

But some countries operate embassies in Kabul and have accepted diplomats appointed by the Taliban, which controls Afghan missions in some 14 nations in the region.

Russia is the latest country that is set to expand diplomatic ties with the militants. Moscow appears poised to delist the Taliban from its list of terrorist groups.

"This could be a step toward the Taliban gaining regional legitimacy," said Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Many countries have tied recognition to the Taliban establishing an inclusive government, ensuring women's rights, and breaking ties with extremist groups -- issues that the militants have refused to budge on.

But Afghanistan's neighbors, concerned about security, trade, migration, and drug trafficking, have been more open to establishing ties with the Taliban, said Smith.

The militants face major hurdles in gaining international legitimacy, and many Afghan missions around the world are still run by diplomats appointed by the former internationally recognized Afghan government.

But the hard-line Islamist group appears to be making headway in its strategy to gain recognition from countries in Afghanistan's backyard.

Russia

Russia is one of the few countries that has maintained its embassy in Kabul. In April 2022, Russia handed over the Afghan Embassy in Moscow to the militants, becoming the latest country to accredit Taliban-appointed diplomats without officially recognizing the Taliban-led government. Commenting on removing the Taliban from Russia's list of terrorist organizations, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 28 that Moscow should "build relations" with the group.

China

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping formally accepted the credentials of a Taliban-appointed ambassador, becoming the first head of state to do so. The Chinese Foreign Ministry clarified the move did not mean Beijing officially recognized the Taliban-led government. But the militants celebrated the move as a major diplomatic victory.

Pakistan

The Taliban gained control of the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad in October 2021. It was one of the first Afghan missions the group took over after regaining power. Pakistan is a longtime ally of the Taliban, although the sides have fallen out recently over the militants' alleged support for the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan extremist group.

Iran

Tehran also kept its embassy in Kabul open after the Taliban seized control of the capital. Iran formally handed over the Afghan Embassy to the Taliban in February 2023. Former foes, Iran and the Taliban have forged close ties despite sporadic border clashes.

India

New Delhi reopened its embassy in Kabul last year. But Afghan diplomatic missions in India are in limbo as diplomats appointed by the former Afghan government have tried to stave off Taliban attempts to take over the embassy and two consulates.

Kazakhstan

In December, Astana removed the Taliban from its list of terrorist groups. That came months after Kazakhstan accepted a new Afghan ambassador appointed by the Taliban.

Uzbekistan

Tashkent engaged the Taliban soon after the militants returned to power. In February, the Taliban appointed a diplomat to take charge of the Afghan Embassy in the Uzbek capital.

Turkmenistan

Ashgabat accepted a Taliban ambassador in March 2022. The sides have worked closely on regional energy and transport projects. But there have been sporadic tensions and border clashes.

Tajikistan

The Taliban controls the Afghan consulate in the eastern Tajik city of Khorog. But the embassy is run by the ambassador appointed by the ex-Afghan government. Tajikistan is the only neighboring country to publicly oppose the Taliban's return to power, and Dushanbe has hosted some of the leaders of the National Resistance Front, an anti-Taliban resistance group.

Azerbaijan

Baku officially reopened its embassy in Kabul in March, following through on a pledge made last year. But it is not clear if there are any Taliban diplomats present in Azerbaijan.

Turkey

The Afghan Embassy in Ankara is controlled by the ambassador appointed by the ex-Afghan government. But the consulate in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, is run by the Taliban. Several exiled Afghan political leaders are believed to reside in Turkey, including former Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Qatar

Doha has hosted a Taliban political office since 2013. The Qatari capital was the scene of negotiations between Taliban and U.S. officials that paved the way for the complete withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2021. Qatar has engaged with the Taliban at the highest level and remains a key international interlocutor for its government, which controls the Afghan Embassy in Doha.

Saudi Arabia

Riyadh maintains an embassy in Kabul and continues to offer consular services for Afghans, thousands of whom work in the kingdom as laborers. After the Taliban takeover, Riyadh helped establish an Organization of Islamic Countries mission in Kabul. It is unclear if the Taliban controls all Afghan diplomatic missions in the oil-rich country.

United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi also maintains an embassy in Kabul. The Taliban has appointed diplomats to the Afghan Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai.

Distrustful Of The Taliban, A Growing Number Of Afghans Ditch Banks

A customer counts his money after making a withdrawal at a branch of Aa bank in Kabul. (file photo)
A customer counts his money after making a withdrawal at a branch of Aa bank in Kabul. (file photo)

An increasing number of Afghans are taking out their money from banks and closing their accounts, a trend spurred by mistrust in the unrecognized Taliban government and concerns about the country’s bleak economic outlook.

The Taliban takeover in 2021 triggered a cash and banking crisis. The militants were hit with international sanctions, and the country cut off from the global financial system and crucial foreign aid. Billions in the central bank’s foreign reserves were frozen.

The economic meltdown forced some of the 12 state-owned and commercial banks to close, while others worked at limited capacity. Caps were placed on how much people were allowed to withdrawal from banks.

While the economy has somewhat recovered, Afghanistan is still in the grips of a devastating humanitarian crisis, mass unemployment, and rising poverty. And trust in the formal banking system has collapsed.

Experts say Afghans closing their bank accounts has helped further constrain the money supply in the country and placed further stress on the economy.

Cut off from the international banking system, more Afghans are also turning to hawala, an informal system of lenders.

'Concerning Trend'

Afghan banks lost around 11 percent of their customers from December 2022 to December 2023, according to the World Bank.

A policeman stands guard outside the main branch of Azizi Bank in Kabul. (file photo)
A policeman stands guard outside the main branch of Azizi Bank in Kabul. (file photo)

Among them was Ahmad, a resident of the western city of Herat. He said he closed his bank account after repeatedly trying and failing to transfer money inside the country.

“This indicates that the banks have failed,” Ahmad, who only goes by one name, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “They have become untrustworthy.”

Baseer, a resident of Kabul, also recently closed his bank accounts. He said he lost confidence in the banks after they enforced limits on how much of his own money he could withdraw.

“Bank employees used to harass and abuse us when we asked for our own money,” he told Radio Azadi.

The Taliban initially set a weekly withdrawal limit of $200 for individual bank accounts. In December, the Taliban-run central bank increased the cap to $1,000.

A commercial bank employee in Kabul, who requested anonymity, said that strict controls over how much money account holders can withdraw has damaged banks' reputations.

The employee told Radio Azadi that banks' inability to return depositors' money made them “worthless” in customers’ eyes.

An Afghan currency dealer sorts Afghani bills at a currency market in Kabul. (file photo)
An Afghan currency dealer sorts Afghani bills at a currency market in Kabul. (file photo)

According to the World Bank’s 2017 Global Findex database, only 15 percent of Afghan adults had an account at any financial institution, a figure that has plummeted since the Taliban takeover.

The World Bank said in a report published in April that the banking sector since 2020 has lost around 25 percent of its total asset base, which it said signaled a “concerning trend for an already small industry."

“The banking sector is experiencing considerable strain from dwindling assets and deposits,” the report said, adding that this has “spurred a greater dependence on cash and non-traditional payment methods, further tightening the money supply and aggravating economic downturn and deflation.”

Azarakhsh Hafizi, an economist and former head of the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce, said that a modern economy is “incomplete without a banking system.”

“Countries where banks can channel their customers' deposits to economic investments, such as building businesses and industry, are better off,” he added. “When you do not have enough deposits in the banks, you cannot give loans to people [and businesses] that need them.”

Sanctions And Islamic Banking

The strain on banks has been compounded by international sanctions.

Afghan banks have been cut off from the world’s dominant financial transaction network, SWIFT, greatly inhibiting the Taliban government’s ability to conduct trade.

It has also made it difficult for individuals and businesses in Afghanistan to transfer money and make payments.

Without access to SWIFT, Afghans are increasingly turning to the informal transfer system known as hawala, which uses individual brokers rather than banks. The system is difficult to trace and has been used by armed groups.

The Taliban’s shift to Islamic banking has also hampered the banking sector, experts said.

Islamic banking, first developed in the 1970s in the Gulf states, prohibits the practice of lending money with interest. Like conventional banks, Islamic banks make their profits by loaning money to customers. But whereas a bank loans with interest, Islamic banks do so through buy-and-sell transactions.

In March, the Taliban appointed a committee to review laws for Afghanistan's central bank and the commercial banking sector.

The Taliban has said that Islamic banking prohibits “earning income through interest on investments, loans, or deposits.”

In its recent report, the World Bank said the “banking sector's role as a financial intermediary is significantly hampered by the mandatory transition to Islamic Finance.”

Flooding Kills 10 Members Of Same Family In Northeast Afghanistan

Afghans search through a building destroyed by heavy flooding earlier this month. Afghanistan has suffered a series of disastrous inundations this year
Afghans search through a building destroyed by heavy flooding earlier this month. Afghanistan has suffered a series of disastrous inundations this year

Flooding from heavy rainfall swept through a remote village in northeast Afghanistan, killing 10 members of a single family. Local Taliban officials in Badakhshan Province told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that four bodies had been recovered, and rescuers were searching for more after the May 26 flooding overnight. Mohammad Akram Akbari, the head of the provincial Anti-Disaster Department said a number of villages were hit by the flooding. In Baghlan, about 300 kilometers north of Kabul, Taliban officials said that 40 houses had been destroyed by flooding. The impoverished country has suffered a series of catastrophic floods this year. To see the original article by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.

The Azadi Briefing: Deadly Floods Worsen Hunger Crisis In Afghanistan

An Afghan woman holds her child as her husband salvages their belongings outside their flooded house in northern Afghanistan.
An Afghan woman holds her child as her husband salvages their belongings outside their flooded house in northern Afghanistan.

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

Flash floods that have ravaged Afghanistan in recent weeks have exacerbated the hunger crisis in the country, aid agencies said.

Hundreds of people have been killed, thousands of homes destroyed, and thousands of hectares of farmland wiped out by the floods in northern Afghanistan since May 10.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) has warned that flooding is likely to intensify in the months ahead, with a major impact on food security.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, said flood-affected areas are "hunger hot spots, most of which are already in crisis levels of food insecurity.”

Why It's Important: Survivors of the floods have said they urgently need help.

"We need shelter and water,” Tora Khan, a resident of Baghlan, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “Drinking water is very scarce because many wells were destroyed.”

Relief organizations have struggled to deliver aid to at least 80,000 people affected by the floods, most of them in the provinces of Baghlan and Ghor.

Without help, there are fears that some Afghans are likely to succumb to disease or starvation.

“We are in dire need of water,” said Mohammad Yaser, a resident of Baghlan, who added that some local charities had sent them some food and clean water.

“But we don’t know how long until we run out,” Yaser told Radio Azadi. “Maybe today or tomorrow.”

The UN estimates that nearly 24 million Afghans out of a total population of 40 million need humanitarian assistance this year. The WFP said almost 16 million Afghans are acutely food insecure.

What's Next: Afghanistan is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. Experts say extreme weather events, including floods and droughts, are spurred by climate change and likely to increase.

The Taliban’s unrecognized government is internationally isolated and international humanitarian funding for Afghanistan has been declining.

That is likely to make the country ill-equipped to prepare for and react to major natural disasters.

What To Keep An Eye On

Turkish Airlines has resumed flights to Afghanistan. The airline suspended air travel to the country in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover in 2021.

Turkish Airlines said on May 21 that it will operate four flights from Istanbul to Kabul each week.

"I am jubilant," said Muska, a Kabul resident whose extended family lives in Turkey. "Now I can visit them, and they can visit us.”

Last year, Fly Dubai became the first major airline to resume flights to Afghanistan. Air Arabia, another low-cost airline in the United Arab Emirates, also restarted flights soon after.

Why It's Important: Turkish Airlines flights will make it easier for members of the Afghan diaspora, which numbers around 6 million, to visit their homeland.

The flights will also help the isolated country connect with the rest of the world. Istanbul is a major international aviation hub.

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.

Islamic State Claims Attack In Afghanistan That Killed 3 Spaniards

Bamiyan statues (file photo)
Bamiyan statues (file photo)

The Islamic State militant group on May 19 claimed responsibility for an attack by gunmen on tourists in Afghanistan's central Bamiyan Province. Three Spanish tourists were killed and at least one other was injured in the May 17 attack, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said. Abdul Matin Qane, spokesman for the Taliban-led government’s Interior Ministry, said four people had been arrested over the attack. In addition to the three foreign tourists, one Afghan citizen was killed, and four foreigners and three Afghans were injured, according to Qane. Bamiyan is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the remains of two giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban during its previous rule in 2001.

'We Are Scared': Afghan Community, Foreign Students Warned To Stay Off Bishkek Streets

'We Are Scared': Afghan Community, Foreign Students Warned To Stay Off Bishkek Streets
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An Afghan refugee in Bishkek says he fears for his safety after violent mobs attacked foreigners in the Kyrgyz capital. The assault was allegedly directed at international students and migrants. Victims have said Pakistani and Indian students were targeted.

50 Dead In Heavy Rain, Floods In Central Afghanistan

Rain and floods have ravaged Ghor Province over the past week.
Rain and floods have ravaged Ghor Province over the past week.

At least 50 people are dead following a fresh bout of heavy rain and flooding in central Afghanistan, an official said on May 18. Mawlawi Abdul Hai Zaeem, head of the information department for the central Ghor Province, told Reuters there was no information about how many people were injured in the rain spell that began a day earlier, which had also cut off many key roads to the area. Zaeem added that 2,000 houses were completely destroyed, 4,000 partially damaged, and more than 2,000 shops were under water in the province's capital, Feroz-Koh.

Updated

At Least 4 Killed In Attack On Foreign Tourists In Afghanistan

Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan (file photo)
Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan (file photo)

At least four people were killed in an armed attack on a group of foreign tourists at a market in Bamiyan Province in central Afghanistan on May 17, according to government and security sources.

Taliban-led Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Matin Qane was quoted by AFP as saying that 11 people were shot and that four of them, including three foreigners, died. Among the other seven victims were four foreigners and three Afghans, he added.

But a Taliban security source told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that the attack left eight people dead.

The source, who asked not to be named, told RFE/RL that five Afghan civilians and three foreigners were shot dead. The governor of Bamiyan did not respond to RFE/RL’s requests for additional information about the shooting.

Qane said the foreigners were tourists but did not provide their nationalities.

Hospital sources quoted by AFP said preliminary information indicated that three Spanish nationals were killed, and that the wounded were from Norway, Australia, Lithuania, and Spain.

A spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed to Reuters that Spanish nationals were among the victims in the attack. The spokesman said the total number of victims had yet to be confirmed.

Security forces have arrested four people in connection with the attack, Qane said.

The Taliban government "strongly condemns this crime, expresses its deep feelings to the families of the victims, and assures that all the criminals will be found and punished," Qane said in a statement.

Afghanistan has been attracting more and more tourists since improvements in security following the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan in 2021 after the withdrawal of international forces.

The Bamiyan region is home to many members of the mainly Shi'ite Hazara ethnic minority. The historically persecuted religious minority has been repeatedly targeted by the Islamic State extremist group, which considers them heretics.

In 2001, the Taliban blew up the giant, centuries-old Buddha statues that were carved into cliffs at Bamiyan. The statues once stood alongside caves, monasteries, and shrines that are among the tourist attractions in the province.

Before blowing up the statues, the hard-line Islamist group declared them "false idols.” Their destruction has been called the "cultural crime of the century.”

With reporting by AFP

Intense Border Clashes Between Taliban, Pakistan Cause Deaths, Destruction

The border gate in Kurram tribal district's Kharlachi between Afghanistan and Pakistan (file photo)
The border gate in Kurram tribal district's Kharlachi between Afghanistan and Pakistan (file photo)

At least one Taliban border guard and one Pakistani soldier have been killed and several more injured in the latest border clashes between them.

The clashes continued into the early hours of May 17 after they first erupted five days ago. Pakistani and Taliban forces targeted each other in several places along the eastern Afghan provinces of Paktia and Khost, which borders Pakistan's western Kurram district.

Most of the casualties occurred on May 15 when one Pakistani soldier was killed and six more injured after a Taliban rocket hit their post, according to official sources in the country. The Taliban also acknowledged the death of one of its fighters.

"Intense shooting is spreading a wave of fear among locals,” Imran Ali, a Pashtun tribal leader in Kurram, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal on May 17.

Sameer Khan, a resident of the Teri Mangal area straddling the border, said that locals are moving to safer regions after mortar shells landed in civilian homes.

Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, a Taliban official in eastern Afghanistan, said they are collecting information on the human and material losses in the fighting.

The clashes erupted on May 13 after Pakistani forces began repairing the barbed-wire fence it first erected in 2017 to demarcate the Durand Line border, which no government in Afghanistan has formally recognized after it was first drawn by the British Empire in India in 1893.

Relations between Afghanistan's Islamist rulers and Pakistan have been tense since the Taliban returned to power in 2021. Islamabad blames the Taliban for sheltering the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TPP), a longtime ideological and organizational ally of the Taliban.

The recent tensions were partly flamed by an alleged Pakistani air strike in the southeastern Paktika Province, reportedly targeted by the Pakistani Taliban.

On May 12, at least seven Pakistani soldiers were killed and two more injured in two separate militant attacks in Pakistan’s North Waziristan district, which borders Paktika.

Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, director of news at the Khorasan Diary, a website tracking militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, says the Taliban blames Islamabad's border fence for the tensions. At the same time, Pakistani authorities allege that the TTP is exploiting the border to infiltrate Pakistan with the help of the Taliban.

“Unlike previous Afghan regimes led by Karzai and Ghani, which largely relied on verbal criticisms over border issues, the Taliban has resorted to force,” he said, referring to former Afghan presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani.

He said that the clashes have severely disrupted trade between the two countries, wreaking havoc among the Pashtun border communities in the two countries.

“Border tensions not only disrupt trade but also undermine trust,” he said. “This underscores the pressing need for a peaceful resolution to this long-standing dispute.”

But both the Taliban and Islamabad have been silent over the clashes, which experts say might indicate a complete breakdown in their relations.

The Azadi Briefing: New Leaks Reveal The Luxury Dubai Properties Of Ex-Afghan Officials

Dubai's lax regulations make it an attractive market for investments by alleged criminals, struggling politicians, and sanctioned individuals. (file photo)
Dubai's lax regulations make it an attractive market for investments by alleged criminals, struggling politicians, and sanctioned individuals. (file photo)

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

Leaked data has revealed that some officials of the former Western-backed Afghan government own luxury properties in Dubai.

The Dubai Unlocked project, a joint investigation by more than 70 media outlets, named 10 ex-officials or their relatives as holders of multimillion-dollar apartments, houses, or villas in Dubai.

They include former parliament speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani and his son, Ajmal Rahmani. The pair own more than $15 million in real estate in Dubai, according to the documents.

Others named in the leaks include ex-intelligence chief Asadullah Khalid, who owns a villa worth around $5.4 million, and the brother and son of Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the late former defense minister and vice president, who own luxury properties worth more than $4.6 million.

Former ministers Amirzai Sangin, Atiqullah Baryalai, Ratib Popal, a cousin of ex-President Hamid Karzai, and former Ambassador Ahmad Wali Masud also own expensive Dubai properties, according to the leaks.

Why It's Important: After the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the first Taliban regime, Washington allocated billions of dollars for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Many ex-Afghan officials and U.S. contractors, some of them members of the new Afghan political elite, were accused of skimming some of those funds.

The Dubai Unlocked project has revealed that at least some of them purchased luxury properties in the United Arab Emirates.

The leaks have put the spotlight on the widespread corruption that was endemic under former Afghan administrations.

“Corruption was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the republic,” Khan Zaman Amarkhel, an Afghan anti-corruption expert, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

What's Next: It is unclear if all the former U.S. contractors and Afghan officials named in the leaks and accused of corruption will be held accountable.

In December, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Rahmanis for "misappropriation of millions of dollars.”

In January, the Rahmanis filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C. But in April, a court rejected their efforts to lift the Treasury sanctions until the case was settled.

The lawsuit revealed that the Rahmanis continue to hold Cypriot passports and own more than $212 million worth of real estate in Germany.

What To Keep An Eye On

The emergency situation in areas of Afghanistan hit by flash floods that have killed hundreds of people remains dire, according to rescuers and aid organizations.

Relief efforts have been hampered by the floods, which have made many roads inaccessible to trucks transporting food, medicine, and tents.

Twenty-five of the country’s 34 provinces have been affected by the recent floods, which were triggered by heavy rains on May 10. The northern province of Baghlan, where more than 300 people have died, remains the worst-affected region.

Some of the flood victims in Baghlan said they have received little help.

They include the family of Mohammad Alam, a resident of Baghlan. “The flood didn’t last long, but it came over me like a mountain,” he told Radio Azadi. “It took my son and wife. We have lost a total of six people.”

Why It's Important: Thousands of people continue to be displaced and urgently need food, shelter, and medicine.

International groups and Taliban officials have warned that the death toll could rise significantly. Hundreds of people are missing and feared dead.

The flash floods have exacerbated the devastating humanitarian crisis in the country, making thousands of people homeless and robbing many in agricultural areas of their livelihoods.

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.

Taliban's Drug Ban, Heavy-Handed Tactics Fuel Deadly Protests In Northern Afghanistan

An Afghan farmer harvests opium sap from a poppy field in Badakhshan Province (file photo)
An Afghan farmer harvests opium sap from a poppy field in Badakhshan Province (file photo)

Afghanistan’s northern province of Badakhshan has been the scene of violent protests against the Taliban in recent weeks.

The rare demonstrations have been fueled by the militant group’s forceful enforcement of its ban on illicit drugs, a lifeline for tens of thousands of impoverished farmers.

The Taliban has violently clamped down on the rallies, shooting and killing several protesters and rounding up dozens of locals.

The anti-Taliban rallies, observers say, reveal the anger at the hard-line Islamist group’s unpopular policies and its use of heavy-handed tactics to crush dissent.

“This is an alarm bell for the ruling Taliban,” said Nazifa Haqpal, a British-based Afghan researcher. “The Taliban’s despotic governance based on brute force is not working."

Nearly three years after the Taliban seized power, the group has shown little interest in “understanding [Afghans’] issues or adopting appropriate policies” to address them, said Haqpal.

'Anger And Protests'

Protests broke out on May 3-4 in Badakhshan’s Darayim and Argo districts after Taliban forces tasked with clearing poppy crops clashed with farmers. Locals said the Taliban opened fire and killed two people.

The Taliban sent a delegation to negotiate with the farmers and later said calm had been restored.

But on May 13, protests again erupted in the Argo district. The Taliban responded with brute force, killing two people and wounding more than a dozen others, locals said.

Residents of Badakhshan protest against Taliban brutality on May 3.
Residents of Badakhshan protest against Taliban brutality on May 3.

“People did not want their crops to be destroyed,” Shamsuddin Mubarez, a resident of the Argo district, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

When locals protested, Mubarez said, the Taliban responded by using force. That created “more troubles,” he said.

Kalimullah Humsukhan, a resident of the Darayim district, told Radio Azadi that the Taliban’s forced eradication of poppy fields triggered “anger and protests” in the district earlier in May. He said locals resented the militants’ violent tactics.

'Little Or Nothing'

Since regaining power in 2021, the Taliban has imposed severe restrictions on women, waged a brutal crackdown on dissent, and monopolized power.

The group’s extremist policies have angered Afghans and made its unrecognized government an international pariah.

The Taliban’s 2022 drug ban has significantly reduced the production of opium. But the group has failed to provide farmers with alternative livelihoods and crops, pushing many deeper into poverty amid a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis.

Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the Taliban’s ban on narcotics has hit farmers in mountainous areas such as Badakhshan particularly hard, because they have smaller and less productive farms.

“Farmers do not have large stockpiles and little or nothing in reserve to sell,” he said.

A farmer in Badakhshan. (file photo)
A farmer in Badakhshan. (file photo)

Smith said “the only answer [for farmers] now will be nonfarm employment” because alternative crops cannot replace opium, whose price has skyrocketed in recent years.

'Afghan Spring'

The deadly protests in Badakhshan are not isolated.

On May 9, the Taliban killed at least four people after a rally in the eastern province of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.

The militants ordered locals to vacate their homes to make way for the construction of a customs clearing facility. Locals resisted the demolition and blocked a major highway. The Taliban responded by firing on the crowd.

Smith said it was not a coincidence that there has been unrest in Nangarhar and Badakhshan, which contributed significantly to the ranks of the armed forces of the former Western-backed Afghan government.

“Now the survivors from those defeated forces are suffering high levels of unemployment,” he said.

Badakhshan is also a predominately ethnic Tajik region and was once a bastion of resistance to the Taliban in the 1990s. The Taliban is mostly made up of Pashtuns.

Haqpal said the protests are evidence of the “political and legal consciousness” that was formed in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban’s first regime.

The Taliban could face an “Afghan Spring” if such “protests get organized and spread,” she said.

'It Took All My Family': Afghan Survivors Recount Fierce Flash Flood

'It Took All My Family': Afghan Survivors Recount Fierce Flash Flood
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Victims of flash floods in northern Afghanistan say they have lost family and homes since heavy rains first struck the region on May 10. Thousands have been made homeless and hundreds are dead with just as many still missing, according to authorities. Many survivors are still awaiting tents, food aid, and medical care.

'There's Nothing Left': Victims Of Devastating Afghan Floods Struggling For Survival

Afghan men clear debris and mud from a damaged house after a flash flood caused by heavy rainfall in Laqiha village of Baghlan-e Markazi district in the northern Baghlan Province on May 11.
Afghan men clear debris and mud from a damaged house after a flash flood caused by heavy rainfall in Laqiha village of Baghlan-e Markazi district in the northern Baghlan Province on May 11.

Sabzinah survived the devastating flash floods that have ripped through northern Afghanistan and left hundreds dead and missing.

But the mother of three is now struggling to keep her family alive as international aid groups battle to deliver medicines, blankets, and food to affected communities, most of them in Baghlan Province.

"We don't have anything," Sabzinah, whose home in Baghlan's Barka district was washed away in the floods, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. "We're hungry and thirsty."

"We haven't received a tent yet," she added. "My leg was injured, but the doctor could only give me a tablet for the pain."

Sabzinah is among the tens of thousands of people affected by the flash floods triggered by heavy rains on May 10. Deadly floods have also been reported in the provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar, Ghor, and Faryab in recent days.

Deadly Flash Floods Hit Northern Afghanistan
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At least 315 people have been killed in Baghlan alone, according to the United Nations, which added that around 1,600 people were injured and hundreds more were still missing as of May 12. Nearly 3,000 homes were washed away, the world body said.

Rescuers and aid organizations are in a fight against time to reach affected communities.

The World Health Organization said on May 12 that it had delivered 7 tons of medicines and emergency kits to stricken areas. But relief efforts have been hampered by the floods, which have made most of Baghlan inaccessible to trucks.

Some flood victims say they have received little help.

"Some people were able to pull themselves from the floods," Khoda Dad, a resident of Barka district, told Radio Azadi. "But now, everyone is homeless. We need food and also blankets to survive the nights."

Shamsullah, a volunteer in Baghlan's Nahrin district who only goes by one name, said the flash floods were unprecedented.

"There's nothing left after these floods," he told Radio Azadi. "If you look around, you will think that no one lived here."

As rescuers and locals search for the hundreds of people missing, aid organizations have warned that the death toll from the floods in Baghlan could rise sharply.

The floods have worsened the devastating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, already the world’s largest, where millions of people are on the verge of starvation.

Residents stand next to a river covered with mud after flash floods in the village of Logariha in the Nahrin district of Baghlan Province on May 10.
Residents stand next to a river covered with mud after flash floods in the village of Logariha in the Nahrin district of Baghlan Province on May 10.

In March and April, heavy rains and floods killed over 100 people and injured scores in central and eastern Afghanistan.

Hayatullah Rasooli, head of the World Food Program office in northeastern Afghanistan, said on May 13 that the floods in Baghlan had ravaged a region where most people "already faced emergency levels of hunger" and deprived them of their main livelihoods -- agriculture.

"The damage is enormous," said Din Mohammad, a farmer in Baghlan's Dana-e Ghoari district, adding that the floods had destroyed vegetable crops on more than 1,000 acres of farmland.

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by Faiza Ibrahimi of RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

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