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Afghanistan Purges Senior Police Officers

(RFE/RL) June 3, 2006 -- The Afghan government has ordered a shake-up of the top ranks of its police force, just days after antiforeigner riots shook the capital, Kabul.

Interior Ministry officials said today 86 police commanders will be replaced, the largest crackdown since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.


Officials say among those to be dismissed is the Kabul police chief, General Abdul Jamil Jumbesh.


Security forces under General Junbish's command failed to prevent rioters from rampaging through Kabul on May 29 after a U.S. military truck crashed into Afghan vehicles and killed at least five people.



During the protests, rioters looted shops, besieged a television station, burned the offices of a U.S. aid group, and broke windows of a new hotel before reaching the gates of parliament and the U.S. Embassy. At least seven people were killed in the riots.


(compiled from agency reports)

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U.S. Sanctions Former Afghan Speaker Rahmani, Son For Alleged Corruption

Former Afghan parliament speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani (file photo)
Former Afghan parliament speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani (file photo)

The U.S. Treasury on December 11 slapped sanctions on a former Afghan official, his son, and 44 related entities, accusing them of misappropriating millions of dollars of funds provided by U.S. government contracts. The sanctions statement cited former Afghan parliament speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani and his son Ajmal Rahmani. "Through their Afghan companies, the Rahmanis perpetrated a complex procurement corruption scheme resulting in the misappropriation of millions of dollars from U.S. Government-funded contracts that supported Afghan security forces," it said, adding that other family members were also designated.

Afghan Returnees Face Harsh Winter Of Discontent

Trucks transporting Afghan refugees with their belongings are seen along a road toward the Pakistan-Afghanistan Torkham border, following Pakistan's government decision to expel people illegally staying in the country.
Trucks transporting Afghan refugees with their belongings are seen along a road toward the Pakistan-Afghanistan Torkham border, following Pakistan's government decision to expel people illegally staying in the country.

Zabet Qasim's forced return to Afghanistan after five years living in Pakistan is hardly a happy homecoming.

The head of a household of 14, Qasim at the age of 62 must rebuild his family's life in a country whose hardships and insecurity they thought they had left behind.

"Since we arrived, we cannot buy wood or anything else," Qasim told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi on December 7, a few weeks into his unceremonious return to his native village of Khulazai in Afghanistan’s northern Parwan Province. "Winter has arrived. Our children are all sick from the cold."

With Afghanistan suffering from natural disaster after natural disaster, unemployment and poverty at record levels, and the country already in what has been described by aids agencies as a state of "forever emergency," the expected arrival of more than 1 million refugees like Qasim is amplifying the din of human misery and threatening to overwhelm aid efforts.

This week the number of Afghan returnees expelled from Pakistan will exceed 500,000 people, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) told RFE/RL on December 7, and that number is expected to double -- at the least.

In recent weeks, Pakistan has taken steps to expel 1.7 million undocumented Afghans as part of its policy announced in October to repatriate "illegal foreigners" living on its soil. The situation has led to chaotic scenes at the Torkham and Spin Boldak border crossings as returnees are funneled back into Afghanistan, where international aid groups are already struggling to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of people displaced by insecurity and a recent spate of earthquakes and perennial drought.

"This is population movement on a massive scale and the country is simply not in a position to safely manage these returns," NRC advocacy manager in Afghanistan Becky Roby said in written comments. "The humanitarian response is already overwhelmed and underfunded."

Afghan families returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan
Afghan families returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan

The dire humanitarian situation and continued human rights concerns in Afghanistan led the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to issue a joint statement on December 8 calling for Pakistan to maintain a "protection space for Afghans in need of safety."

"People arriving at the border are exhausted and require urgent assistance as well as psychosocial support," the statement said. "Arrivals back to Afghanistan are adding to the worsening humanitarian crisis, as winter temperatures start to dip to minus 4 degrees Celsius in some locations. Many Afghan returnees are vulnerable, including women and children, who could lose their lives in a harsh winter if left without adequate shelter."

Multiple international organizations have answered the IOM's call to deliver critical care to Afghans at the border, many of whom are arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs. But the provision of shelter, health care, essential household items, cash, and transportation and food to prepare them for re-entry into Afghanistan is just the first step.

Once inside Afghanistan, a whole new crop of challenges awaits.

"The hurried nature of their departure from Pakistan has also meant that many of those returning to Afghanistan have extremely high needs and vulnerabilities and few safety nets," the NRC's Roby said. "This means that many families are left living in temporary overcrowded transit shelters with few resources to survive the harsh winter, let alone rebuild their lives."

Many staying at large resettlement camps set up along Afghanistan's long border with Pakistan have said they face formidable hurdles to returning to their home regions, leaving them with no place to go.

Some returnees say they appealed to their extended families for help but were told they were unable to accommodate them. The prospect for some of returning to areas they left due to extreme poverty, insecurity, or the threat of retribution by the Taliban after the extremist group returned to power in August 2021 is also a powerful deterrent.

Oftentimes, "home" is no longer home at all.

"Many of the people returning have not lived in Afghanistan for decades and therefore often have little or no connection with their original homes," Roby said. "In many cases their children were born in Pakistan and don't speak the language. In some cases, they fled the country because their original homes were destroyed in fighting."

Like Qasim, 35-year-old Mirzai made it back to his native Parwan Province. And like Qasim, he has found it difficult to resettle.

"We don't have flour or wood to burn, we don't have anything to live on," Mirzai told Radio Azadi last week. "This house belongs to my brother. I don't have the money to build two rooms for me. There is no work. I’m sitting idle. I borrow money from friends and relatives."

Adding to the complications is that western Afghanistan is still reeling from multiple earthquakes in October that killed around 1,500 people and displaced tens of thousands of others, a situation that had already strained humanitarian aid efforts.

"Our fear for the longer term is that these people returning from Pakistan are going to end up living as internally displaced people across the country," Roby said. "There are already more than 6 million internally displaced people living in squalid temporary settlements through the country and few options available for sustainable solutions to their displacement."

Aid groups like the World Food Program, which is on the ground on both sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, has said that more than $26.3 million in emergency funds is needed to support an expected 1 million new arrivals through the winter.

Afghan refugees sit outside their tents at a makeshift camp upon their arrival from Pakistan near the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border in Nangarhar Province on November 12.
Afghan refugees sit outside their tents at a makeshift camp upon their arrival from Pakistan near the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border in Nangarhar Province on November 12.

"These families arrive at the worst of times and face a bleak future in a country where one-third of people do not know where their next meal will come from," WFP Afghanistan Country Director Hsiao-Wei Lee said on December 1. "Leaving behind their homes and livelihoods, they return to start over in a country that gives them few economic opportunities and where many struggle to survive."

Afghan returnees who spoke to Radio Azadi are already considering their next moves, including to other countries. But with Pakistan -- which for decades has been a refuge for Afghans escaping war, political turmoil, and poverty -- out of the equation, there are no real options.

Some said they were even considering moving to Iran, which like Pakistan is currently embarking on an effort to deport over 2 million undocumented Afghans. Tehran has expelled hundreds of thousands of Afghans in recent months, according to Taliban officials.

The situation currently faced by millions of Afghan migrants has factored into the NRC's calls for the international community to work together "to ensure Afghans are not forced to leave hosting countries until it is safe and sustainable for them to return to Afghanistan."

In its joint statement on December 8, the UNHCR reiterated that its "non-return advisory for Afghanistan" put in place after the Taliban seized power in 2021 is still in effect, "and continues to call for a bar on the forced returns of Afghan nationals to a country still impacted by recurrent conflict, instability, and climate-induced disasters."

Afghans like Qasim who have already been forced into an Afghan homecoming are slowly coming to terms with their new reality, however.

"We have nothing to turn to but God," he told Radio Azadi. "No one has taken care of us yet."

Female-Led Afghan Refugee Families Reluctant To Return To Afghanistan Amid Fresh UN Warning

Afghan refugee women and children sit at a registration center after arriving from Pakistan near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, on November 28.
Afghan refugee women and children sit at a registration center after arriving from Pakistan near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, on November 28.

Afghan widows and divorced women who head their families and live in Pakistan say they are reluctant to return to Afghanistan because of fears of persecution by the country's Taliban rulers, who have enacted a series of measures severely restricting women's rights and freedoms.

The women are among the 1.7 million "undocumented foreigners" Islamabad is trying to expel. Since it first announced the deportations in October, nearly half a million Afghans have crossed into the war-ravaged country.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, Afghan women who are the breadwinners for their families warned that returning to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will endanger their lives.

“We will be eliminated if we return to Afghanistan,” said Mehnaz Hijran, who served as a prison guard at Afghanistan’s notorious Pul-e Charkhi prison.


Hijran says she left Afghanistan because of relentless threats after the collapse of the pro-Western Afghan republic she served.

"We know that death is the only fate that awaits former soldiers in Afghanistan," she told Radio Azadi.

“Most of the former women soldiers who returned to Afghanistan because of the Taliban’s amnesty were either disappeared or killed," she added.

Another woman who requested anonymity says her husband, an airport guard, was killed by the Taliban during its takeover of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on August 15, 2021, as international troops withdrew from the country.

She says her family of four children is under relentless pressure from the Pakistani authorities.

"These days, we try to hide in one house or another because we fear a raid by the Pakistani police," she told Radio Azadi.

A woman who was recently deported to Afghanistan says they are trying to survive in hiding.

"We went into exile to protect our lives. But we have returned to uncertainty back in Afghanistan," she told Radio Azadi.

Compounding fears of what those being expelled by Pakistan face, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warned of the extreme winter conditions and lack of facilities in Afghanistan.

"Many Afghan returnees are vulnerable, including women and children, who could lose their lives in a harsh winter if left without adequate shelter," the UNHCR said in a report released on December 8.

"People arriving at the border are exhausted and require urgent assistance as well as psychosocial support," the report added.

Fleeing Home, Chasing Hope: The Refugee And Migrant Experience

War. Conflict. Climate change. Economics. Persecution. Politics.

The root causes are myriad, but the tens of millions swept up in the international migration wave all share one thing in common: They left their homes, reluctantly, in search of safety or prosperity for themselves and their families.

Upwards of 300 million people are classified by the United Nations as international migrants; one in every eight migrants worldwide is a child.

That’s some 3.6 percent of the global population on the move and chasing hope.

To mark International Migrants Day on December 18, RFE/RL’s language services have come together to focus on the migrant and refugee issues most affecting the 23 countries in our broadcast region.

In 2023, that has meant, among other crises, Ukrainians escaping the ongoing Russian invasion; ethnic Armenians fleeing the Azerbaijani takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh; the more than 6 million Afghans internally displaced due to violence and natural disasters; the regional fallout from the war in Gaza; and Pakistan’s decision to expel by November 1 hundreds of thousands of undocumented Afghans.

“When we talk of 375,000 to 400,000 people moving [out of Pakistan to Afghanistan] within two months, that’s quite incredible,” Itayi Viriri, a spokesperson for the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), tells RFE/RL. “The main concern is what kind of support is on the ground for all these people who are returning.”

As Sardar, an Afghan returnee living in a temporary camp on the border, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi last month, “We have lots of problems. We don’t have money. We don’t have toilets.”

In the special reports below, RFE/RL travels:

  • to Mexico, to document one Kyrgyz family’s arduous journey to build a new life in the United States;
  • to Poland, where some of the 1,500 Afghans airlifted out after the Taliban takeover say they feel disenchanted in their new home;
  • to India, to speak with Afghan Sikhs who have found safety from sectarian attacks but who face daily economic and bureaucratic challenges;
  • to Georgia, where displaced survivors of the 1992-93 Georgia-Abkhaz War see, for the first time, the homes they left behind 30 years ago;
  • to Slovakia, to spend time with spirited Ukrainian children performing in a refugee theater troupe;
  • to Nagorno-Karabakh, recaptured by Azerbaijan in September, where a 17-year-old journalism student tracked the fall of the breakaway region;
  • to Germany, to spend time with Bosnian and Afghan migrants negotiating the long and difficult process of integration;
  • to Israel, where Ukrainians who fled Russian aggression find themselves scrambling to adapt to another war;
  • and to Iran, where many are on the move internally, fleeing environmental catastrophes such as drought.


“We…need the international community to provide the funding and to provide the support to ensure that the people who need help the most get [it],” the IOM’s Viriri told RFE/RL. “Long-term, of course, any humanitarian crisis needs durable solutions.”

The brutal 1992-1993 Georgian-Abkhaz war is estimated to have displaced some 250,000 Georgian civilians. After 30 years, many still dream of returning to the world they fled. Current Time located and filmed the abandoned residences of several displaced families. With travel to the region tightly restricted, the images offer some a rare glance at the homes they left behind in Abkhazia three decades ago.

Braving Bandits And Drowning, Central Asians Make Perilous Trek To U.S. Border
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Braving Bandits And Drowning, Central Asians Make Perilous Trek To U.S. Border

Asan Bagyshov has spent more than a month traveling across Central America with his wife and three children, pursuing his dream of a new life. Bagyshov is from Kyrgyzstan and is one of an increasing number of people from Central Asia taking a convoluted and dangerous route to the United States. By Mehribon Bekieva, Ulanbek Asanaliev, and Ray Furlong

Homeless And Hungry: Afghan Families Face Bleak Winter After Expulsion From Pakistan
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Homeless And Hungry: Afghan Families Face Bleak Winter After Expulsion From Pakistan

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan nationals have returned to their country from Pakistan in recent months. Most of the families are homeless and desperate after being forced to return to a country already dealing with a dire humanitarian crisis. Many left Pakistan ahead of a November 1 government-imposed deadline for an estimated 1.7 million undocumented migrants to leave. Since the deadline expired, Islamabad has deported thousands of Afghans each day. By RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, and Austin Malloy

Displaced By Georgian-Abkhaz War, Survivors Revisit Lives Lost 30 Years Ago
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Displaced By Georgian-Abkhaz War, Survivors Revisit Lives Lost 30 Years Ago

The brutal 1992-1993 Georgian-Abkhaz war is estimated to have displaced some 250,000 Georgian civilians. After 30 years, many still dream of returning to the world they fled. Current Time located and filmed the abandoned residences of several displaced families. With travel to the region tightly restricted, the images offer some a rare glance at the homes they left behind in Abkhazia three decades ago. By Current Time

While Ukrainians Welcomed, Poland's Afghans Say They Face Hardship And Exclusion
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While Ukrainians Welcomed, Poland's Afghans Say They Face Hardship And Exclusion

As many as 1,500 Afghans were airlifted to Poland after the Taliban retook Kabul in August 2021, and many say they face economic hardship in the country and are no longer receiving help from the state. They say Poland has prioritized support for the 1.6 million Ukrainians taken in since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. By Neil Bowdler and Reuters

Migrants In Russia Face Raids, Political Attacks As Pressure To Fight In Ukraine Increases

Russian politicians have been ramping up rhetoric against migrants in recent months with calls for more foreign-born workers to fight in the grueling war against Ukraine topping their list of demands. But as experts have pointed out, Moscow's labor-short economy needs migrants just as much as the military. By Chris Rickleton

Displaced By War, Afghan Sikhs Find Safety But Little Comfort In India
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Displaced By War, Afghan Sikhs Find Safety But Little Comfort In India

Conflict and sectarian attacks have driven almost all of Afghanistan's Sikhs and Hindus from the country. Many have sought refuge in India where they have found safety but face economic hardship and problems acquiring official documentation. RFE/RL met some of the Sikhs and Hindus who have made the journey to India. By RFE/RL's Radio Azadi and Malali Bashir

'We're Tired Of Fleeing From War': Ukrainians, Bucha Survivor Caught Up In Israel-Gaza Strikes
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'We're Tired Of Fleeing From War': Ukrainians, Bucha Survivor Caught Up In Israel-Gaza Strikes

After escaping Russia's full-scale invasion in 2022, some 14,000 Ukrainian nationals who fled to Israel have found themselves under attack again as Hamas -- designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU -- launched an unprecedented attack on the country. A Ukrainian refugee who fled Russia's notorious Bucha occupation told RFE/RL that the attack "was like déjà vu." In the Gaza Strip, a Ukrainian mother and her family have asked for safe passage out of a territory that has been pounded with Israeli air strikes. By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Austin Malloy

Theater Helps Ukrainian Refugee Kids Feel At Home In Slovakia
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Theater Helps Ukrainian Refugee Kids Feel At Home In Slovakia

A forest of hands rose when children at a Ukrainian refugee theater group in Bratislava were asked if anyone would speak to RFE/RL. They perform in Slovak and Ukrainian, and they all wanted to show off their Slovak language skills in the interview. By Ray Furlong

'Like Déjà Vu': After Fleeing Russia's Invasion, Ukrainians In Israel Face A New War

Ukrainians who fled to Israel following Russia's full-scale invasion now find themselves scrambling to adapt to another war. A refugee center in Haifa says it has emphasized enabling Ukrainian refugees to adapt to the reality on the ground since some "have nowhere to return to" back home. By Maria Horban and Maryana Sych

Homeless And Hungry: Afghan Families Face Bleak Winter After Expulsion From Pakistan

Homeless And Hungry: Afghan Families Face Bleak Winter After Expulsion From Pakistan
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Hundreds of thousands of Afghan nationals have returned to their country from Pakistan in recent months. Most of the families are homeless and desperate after being forced to return to a country already dealing with a dire humanitarian crisis. Many left Pakistan ahead of a November 1 government-imposed deadline for an estimated 1.7 million undocumented migrants to leave. Since the deadline expired, Islamabad has deported thousands of Afghans each day.

While Ukrainians Welcomed, Poland's Afghans Say They Face Hardship And Exclusion

While Ukrainians Welcomed, Poland's Afghans Say They Face Hardship And Exclusion
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As many as 1,500 Afghans were airlifted to Poland after the Taliban retook Kabul in August 2021, and many say they face economic hardship in the country and are no longer receiving help from the state. They say Poland has prioritized support for the 1.6 million Ukrainians taken in since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Displaced By War, Afghan Sikhs Find Safety But Little Comfort In India

Displaced By War, Afghan Sikhs Find Safety But Little Comfort In India
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Conflict and sectarian attacks have driven almost all of Afghanistan's Sikhs and Hindus from the country. Many have sought refuge in India where they have found safety but face economic hardship and problems acquiring official documentation. RFE/RL met some of the Sikhs and Hindus who have made the journey to India.

Pakistani Protesters Demand Relaxed Afghan Travel Rules

Pakistani Protesters Demand Relaxed Afghan Travel Rules
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For more than 50 days, a mass sit-in rally has been protesting Pakistan's tightened rules for travel to and from Afghanistan. Unions and political parties launched the protest in the city of Chaman, near the border with Afghanistan, on October 21 after Pakistan introduced visas between the two countries. The protesters demand restoration of the earlier arrangement, when national identity cards were sufficient for crossing the border. On December 9, protest leaders pledged to extend the demonstrations to more places unless their demand is met. Pakistani areas along the border with Afghanistan are largely inhabited by Pashtuns, who also constitute the main ethnic group in Afghanistan.

UN Says Taliban Must Embrace, Uphold Human Rights Obligations In Afghanistan

Taliban fighters ride in the back of a vehicle during a night patrol in Kabul.
Taliban fighters ride in the back of a vehicle during a night patrol in Kabul.

The Taliban must embrace and uphold human rights obligations in Afghanistan, the UN mission in the country said on December 10 on Human Rights Day and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since seizing power in 2021, the Taliban has erased basic rights and freedoms, with women and girls deeply affected. They are excluded from most public spaces and daily life, and the restrictions have sparked global condemnation. The UN mission, highlighting the Taliban's failures in upholding its rights obligations, said it continues to document extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment, corporal punishment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and other violations of detainees' rights.

Taliban's Quest For Self-Sufficiency Faces Challenges

Miners carry bags of ore to search for emeralds near a mine in Afghanistan's northern Panjshir Province.
Miners carry bags of ore to search for emeralds near a mine in Afghanistan's northern Panjshir Province.

Since returning to power in August 2021, Afghanistan's Islamist Taliban rulers have showcased ambitious infrastructure and natural-resource development projects as part of a quest for self-sufficiency.

The Taliban government is now digging one of the largest irrigation canals in Asia, a project that aims to revitalize long-parched plains in northern Afghanistan. It claims to have attracted billions of dollars in mining investments in an effort to finally capitalize on the country's untapped wealth of natural resources. And the Taliban propaganda machine is in overdrive to paint its economic initiatives as a rapid advance toward self-reliance.

But experts see the hard-line Islamist group facing numerous challenges in its attempts to transform one of the world's most aid-dependent countries into a self-reliant state.

Two years into its second stint in power, the Taliban government remains unrecognized globally and continues to be under crippling political and economic sanctions imposed over its dismal human rights record, terrorism connections, and failure to live up to promises to reverse course.

Experts also point to the Taliban's reluctance to share verifiable and transparent data as reason to question its claims that it is on the road to economic independence that would shield it somewhat from international sanctions.

Hameed Hakimi, an Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank, says that self-sufficiency will remain a distant dream even if all the Taliban's infrastructure projects come to fruition. "At best, their income will cover the security costs of maintaining the regime and pay for members who are now working for the Taliban interim government," he said.

Hakimi stressed the need to distinguish between the self-sufficiency the Taliban is seeking for its government and the type of connected economy the isolated country needs. It's impossible to imagine Afghanistan becoming self-reliant "before sanctions are fully removed, the economy is reconnected to the international system, and foreign development aid restarts flowing," he said.

When the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan lost almost all the international aid that accounted for 75 percent of the government's budget. Western and UN sanctions against the group cut Afghanistan off from the global financial system, which prompted fears that Afghan banks and even the state itself might collapse.

Despite the formidable obstacles, the country's economy has somewhat stabilized. The national currency, the afghani, has been boosted by exemptions to certain economic and banking sanctions by the United States that allowed the weekly influx of millions of dollars. This, in turn, has kept the prices of essential commodities stable or even lower than neighbors struggling with high inflation.

Export and government revenues have also recovered due to aggressive taxation, and the Taliban has taken steps to tackle the administrative corruption that plagued the pro-Western government it ousted.

Since the spring of 2022, the Taliban has been digging the 285-kilometer-long Qosh Tepa Irrigation Canal. It aims to boost agricultural output by irrigating 550,000 hectares of desiccated land in three northern Afghan provinces with water from the Amu Darya, which forms parts of Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

In another step touted by the Taliban, a Chinese oil company has boosted production in Afghanistan to about 5,000 barrels a day, part of a broader effort to entice Beijing into helping the country extract its vast hydrocarbon and mineral reserves.

Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group, says that evaluating the success of such projects from afar is difficult. "We don't know exactly how the Taliban are funding these projects, and we have not seen any published evaluations of their progress," he said.

The Taliban has kept all national budgets a closely held secret. "We do not know exactly how much is incoming or outgoing from the treasury," Smith said.

Nevertheless, he says that the Taliban appears to be fully committed to establishing self-sufficiency. "They want freedom from the whims of foreign donors for greater independence and the pursuit of their heterodox vision for Afghan society," he said.

William Byrd, a development economist at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, agrees. He says that the Taliban recognizes that foreign assistance will be much less than in the past. "The realism of this [self-sufficiency] quest can be questioned," he said, but notes that Afghanistan under the Taliban has some scope to be less aid-dependent than it was in the past.

The base of a Chinese consortium in Mes Aynak, in the eastern Afghan province of Logar, is situated at one of the world's largest copper deposits.
The base of a Chinese consortium in Mes Aynak, in the eastern Afghan province of Logar, is situated at one of the world's largest copper deposits.

He says that by focusing on the development of agriculture and hydrocarbon extraction and mining, the Taliban can see positive gains, "both for import substitution and for export growth, thereby reducing the trade deficit."

The landlocked country is still inhibited in its ability to establish export routes, however, according to Hakimi of the Atlantic Council, who says trade will depend heavily on good relations with neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

Kabul's trade with Islamabad has rapidly plummeted in recent months after tensions over the Taliban's support for the Pakistani Taliban boiled over. Both Tehran and Islamabad are now rapidly expelling hundreds of thousands of Afghans, which is placing additional stresses on the Taliban government.

"The humanitarian situation is worsening amid the risks from climate change and potentially millions of forced returnees arriving from Pakistan and Iran," Hakimi said.

The Taliban's pursuit of self-reliance is also clouded by governance failures and continuing Western sanctions, which don't appear to be going anywhere until the Taliban moves to alleviate concerns about its human rights practices.

Since returning to power, the Taliban has recreated an even harsher version of its Islamic emirate from the 1990s. It has imposed severe corporal punishment and banned women from work, education, and public life. Its government has imprisoned, tortured, killed, and exiled critics, journalists, former officials, and soldiers.

By decisively ending its fight against the previous government, the Taliban has also been able to impose security around most of the country that could work to its advantage. "With violent conflict having abated and the regime controlling the entirety of the geography, Afghanistan can well be on its path to self-sufficiency," Hakimi said.

Forming a functional and inclusive Afghan government, would help it get there, he adds.

In the meantime, Smith of the International Crisis Group says, Western pressures like sanctions and banking restrictions will continue to stand in the way. But he does not discount the possibility that the Taliban could meet the challenge.

"It's too early to say whether their campaign for economic self-sufficiency will be successful, but I would not bet against it," he said.

Facing An Uncertain Future, Afghan Girls Finishing Sixth Grade Leave School In Tears

The ultra-fundamentalist Islamist Taliban rulers have since banned girls from attending school from grade seven onward.
The ultra-fundamentalist Islamist Taliban rulers have since banned girls from attending school from grade seven onward.

Hundreds of thousands of sixth-grade girls in Afghanistan attended the last day of the school year, many with tears in their eyes as they face an uncertain future because of Taliban policies that forbid them from further schooling and restrict their basic human rights.

"These last few days of our studies are very stressful and difficult,” Kainat, a sixth-grader in Kabul, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi on December 8, the last day of the current school year before the winter break. "We all cried because none of us will be able to study further. Our teachers tried to console us by saying that school doors might reopen for us some day.”

But for Kainat and the rest of the war-torn country's females, that day may not come for some time.

Despite pledges of a less-authoritarian rule than in their previous time in power, Taliban militants have sharply restricted the rights and freedoms of Afghan girls and women since taking over the government as international troops withdrew following two decades of intervention.

The ultra-fundamentalist Islamist Taliban rulers have since banned girls from attending school from grade seven onward. They have severely curtailed their employment prospects, mobility, and any public role in society, defying international pressure, domestic protests, and efforts to persuade the militants from rescinding their brutal policies.

The ban on education was prompted by the religious views of the Taliban Chief Justice Abdul Hakim Haqqani and endorsed by the group's supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

Fatima Siddiq, a primary school teacher in Kabul, told Radio Azadi that the hopelessness felt by girls as they leave the school is haunting.

“I am also a mother of three daughters who will no longer be able to continue their education,” she said. “How is it possible that the [Taliban] government is unable to fulfill its promise of reopening schools?”

The Taliban's policies are deeply unpopular among most Afghans. Even though dissent is often met with a harsh response by authorities, some people are still willing to criticize the government because the policies are seen as destructive.

In the Muslim nation of some 40 million people, activists and rights advocates accuse the Taliban of implementing "gender apartheid" by denying women education, work, freedom of movement, and deciding how they can appear in public.

But it's not only females who are bearing the brunt of the government's policies.

In a new report released on December 6, the global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that education for boys in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule is at risk, too.

The report, titled Schools Are Failing Boys Too, says curriculum changes, the firing of female teachers, corporal punishment, and other practices risk their education over the longer term as well.

Sahar Fetrat, a women’s rights researcher at HRW and the author of the report, says the Taliban has caused “irreversible damage” to the education of both Afghan boys and girls.

“By harming the whole school system in the country, they risk creating a lost generation deprived of a quality education,” she said.

U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Dozens Of People Over Rights Abuses In Nine Countries

The United States has imposed sanctions on dozens of people in several countries, including in Afghanistan, China, and Iran, cracking down on human rights abuses ahead of Human Rights Day on December 10. The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement on December 8 said it had imposed sanctions on 20 people over human rights abuses in nine countries. The actions include sanctions on members of the Taliban over their links to the repression of women and girls and on two Iranian intelligence officials who allegedly recruited people for operations in the United States.

The Azadi Briefing: Concerns Mount For Women In Taliban Detention  

Afghan women hold a protest to demand their right to education and employment in Mazar-e-Sharif earlier this year.
Afghan women hold a protest to demand their right to education and employment in Mazar-e-Sharif earlier this year.

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

Afghan rights campaigners and the United Nations have expressed concern over the treatment of Afghan women activists incarcerated by Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.

The Taliban currently holds at least five women's rights activists in detention. Neda Parwani, Zholya Parsi, Munizha Siddiqi, Bahare Karimi, and Parisa Azadeh languish in various Taliban prisons and detention centers around the capital, Kabul.

In an audio message, Siddiqi's mother said that her daughter has fallen ill while incarcerated in the infamous Pul-e-Charkhi prison.

"Pul-e-Charkhi is a place for murderers, criminals, and other rights abusers. It is not a place for women who protested for their rights," Golchehra Yeftali, a women's rights activist, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Meanwhile, activists say that Parsi has been returned to a Taliban intelligence detention center after undergoing hospital treatment.

"We were told that her mental and physical condition was not good because of the torture she endured in Taliban detention," said Mina Rafiq, another women's rights activist.

On December 7, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan expressed its concern over the impact of "long-term, arbitrary" detentions of women activists by the Taliban.

It called on the Taliban "to ensure rights to health care, family visits, and legal representation are protected and fulfilled."

Why It's Important: The ongoing persecution of Afghan women rights activists underscores the Taliban's determination to impose an authoritarian political system in which the rights of Afghans can be violated with impunity.

Since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, its government has often violently put down protests by Afghan women. Taliban's security forces and intelligence service have imprisoned hundreds of women after their protests were declared illegal.

The Taliban has also taken the draconian step of banning women and teenage girls from education. It has severely curtailed their employment prospects, mobility, and any public role in society.

What's Next: There is no indication yet that the widespread international and domestic condemnation of the Taliban's abuses are forcing the group to change its behavior and outlook.

There are no signs that the Taliban government is willing to rescind harsh policies that deprive Afghan women of education, work, mobility, and other fundamental rights.

Instead, the group appears to be ready to continue paying a heavy price for its hard-line policies and rights abuses, at the risk of failing to achieve the domestic legitimacy and international recognition it seeks.

What To Keep An Eye On

Iran appears to be gearing up efforts to expel millions of undocumented Afghans. The expulsion coincides with the mass deportation of "undocumented Afghans" from Pakistan.

On December 4, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi reiterated that Tehran would deport all "illegal" migrants in the country, most of whom are Afghan nationals who fled war, persecution, and poverty in their country.

On December 3, an Iranian official confirmed that Tehran had banned undocumented Afghans from residing in, working in, and traveling to 16 of the country's 31 provinces.

Iranian officials seek to expel more than 2.5 million Afghans they say lack documents among the estimated 5 million Afghans currently living in the country.

Why It's Important: A mass expulsion of Afghans from Iran would dramatically worsen the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where the majority of its estimated 40 million population needs humanitarian assistance.

International aid efforts to alleviate a dire situation caused by natural disasters and a crippled economy are already at the brink following the return of more than 450,000 Afghans who have been forced out of Pakistan since October. The returnees lack housing, sanitation, health care, adequate food, and employment, and are only a fraction of the more than 1.7 million undocumented Afghans Islamabad wants to expel.

Now, thousands of Afghans are being forced to leave Iran daily. The promised mass expulsion would inevitably create a crisis on top of a crisis, which Afghanistan's cash-strapped Taliban government and the humanitarian community is currently unprepared to deal with.

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.

Afghan Freestyle Soccer Master Makes His Play In Iran

Afghan Freestyle Soccer Master Makes His Play In Iran
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Whether spinning a dozen soccer balls at once or balancing one on a pole while riding a motorcycle, Jamshid Naimi believes he's bound for stardom. For now, he's an Afghan refugee who shows off his freestyle skills on the streets of Iran. But one day he hopes to become famous.

At-Risk Afghans Who Fled To Pakistan Face Deportation, Despite Being In U.S. Immigration Pipeline

An Afghan national who according to police was undocumented is seen with his hands tied after he was detained and shifted to a holding center in Karachi, Pakistan, on November 1.
An Afghan national who according to police was undocumented is seen with his hands tied after he was detained and shifted to a holding center in Karachi, Pakistan, on November 1.

Pakistan is turning over every stone as it continues its push to deport over 1 million undocumented Afghan migrants, and in the process expelling those who have been flagged for protection.

Several migrants in Pakistan have reported cases to RFE/RL's Radio Azadi in which they or other Afghans who possess referrals by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) documenting their vulnerable situation or are in the U.S. refugee admissions program are nevertheless being harassed or deported.

Some have said that they were in possession of letters from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad identifying them as individuals who are being considered for resettlement in the United States. The letters, given to thousands of Afghans, were intended to shield them from deportation while their priority U.S. visa cases were pending. But they say that Pakistani authorities are refusing to recognize the letters as valid.

The development is an extension of the dire situation that hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees have found themselves in as Islamabad makes good on its promise to rid the country of an estimated 1.7 million undocumented Afghan migrants and refugees.

'Police Arrested Him'

In the case of those possessing the U.S. letters, Afghans have been referred for a priority U.S. immigration program due to the assistance they provided during the nearly 20-year U.S.-led war in Afghanistan that ended in 2021.

Already left in limbo more than two years after the Taliban's return to power due to a lengthy and complicated bureaucratic process for resettlement, they are now exposed to possible retribution should they be forced to return to their homeland.

Sara, who spoke to Radio Azadi on condition that only her first name be used, said she and her husband's temporary visas to live in Pakistan have expired, but that they hold documents showing they have been registered as refugees by the UNHCR and are being considered for immigration to the United States under its Priority-2 program.

Afghan citizens are seen during a protest in Islamabad in February in which they asked the United States of to speed up the processing of their asylum cases.
Afghan citizens are seen during a protest in Islamabad in February in which they asked the United States of to speed up the processing of their asylum cases.

The P-2 program, one of a handful of routes available to Afghans who seek to immigrate to the United States, was set up just before the Taliban takeover to accommodate those of special concern to the U.S. government due to their circumstances and need for resettlement.

Among those eligible for referral to the P-2 program are interpreters and translators for the U.S. military, Afghans who worked for U.S. government-funded or supported projects, and Afghans who worked with U.S.-based media organizations following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Sara's husband, she told Radio Azadi, was arrested in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar as the government made good on its promises to round up undocumented Afghans beginning at the start of November, and she and her husband were told they would be deported.

"He has both a passport and case number [with the UNHCR], only his visa has expired," Sara said. "He was arrested by the police while at work in the Peshawar region and told that this American letter and refugee status were not acceptable."

Ahmad Wali, another Afghan living in Peshawar who said he is in the P-2 program, told Radio Azadi that he fears deportation after seeing his document-holding neighbor arrested and sent back to Afghanistan.

"Our neighbor, whose name is Abdul Hamid, had a P-2 file, a letter from the [U.S.] Embassy with him, and a passport, but since his [Pakistani] visa had expired, the police arrested him," Wali said.

Similar stories have been documented by lawyers representing Afghans in Pakistan and by other U.S.-letter bearing individuals who spoke to Radio Azadi.

Arduous Path To Resettlement

The issue has raised concerns in Washington, which as of November 20 had accepted more than 19,000 Afghan P-2 referrals for processing, a U.S. State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL in written comments.

The spokesperson confirmed that the U.S. government had sent letters to "individuals with an immigration pathway to the United States that they can share with local authorities to help identify them as individuals in a U.S. pipeline."

Among those eligible for referral to the P-2 program are interpreters and translators for the U.S. military, such as this Afghan translator seen during a training program with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in 2010.
Among those eligible for referral to the P-2 program are interpreters and translators for the U.S. military, such as this Afghan translator seen during a training program with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in 2010.

In addition, the spokesperson said, Washington "shared a list with the government of Pakistan of Afghan individuals in U.S. resettlement pipelines."

That list is reportedly a bone of contention in Islamabad, a senior Interior Ministry official told the Dawn newspaper last month, shortly after the authorities in Pakistan began rounding up undocumented Afghans who had not heeded the country's previous warning to leave by November 1.

The official told Dawn that that the two sides had no official agreement or understanding regarding the U.S. Embassy letters, and that the list had no legal value.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry did not respond to queries from RFE/RL asking for official comment on its position regarding the U.S. Embassy letters, or whether local authorities might be going against Islamabad's position by refusing to accept them as valid.

'Temporary' Life In Limbo

After the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021, hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled the country, many out of fear of retribution for their ethnicity, religious beliefs, or work with foreigners. Pakistan, which over decades of war and political upheaval in Afghanistan has become a refuge for millions of Afghans, was an obvious immediate destination.

An estimated 700,000 crossed the border into Pakistan, pushing the number of Afghans living there legally or illegally to some 3.7 million people, according to the United Nations. Pakistan has estimated that number to be as high as 4.4 million.

WATCH: Thousands of Afghans forced to return to Afghanistan after a crackdown in neighboring Pakistan say they now face life in makeshift camps without proper sanitation or water.

Afghan Returnees Describe Dire Conditions In Their Homeland
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Most of the new arrivals saw their stay in Pakistan as a temporary measure as they made their way to their desired third-country destinations. But many were caught in limbo.

The new arrivals often lacked official documents that they had no chance of obtaining, with Afghanistan in chaos and no official representative offices in Pakistan. That, in turn, hindered their ability to navigate the red tape needed to gain official refugee status, obtain visas to live legally in Pakistan, or to apply for resettlement in third countries.

Pakistani officials have said that only about 1.4 million Afghans hold the necessary documentation allowing them to remain in Pakistan legally.

Since Islamabad issued its warning in October that undocumented individuals leave voluntarily by November 1 or face arrest and deportation, more than 400,000 Afghans have returned to Afghanistan, where about 90 percent are now homeless.

While the Pakistani government has said it would not deport Afghans being processed for U.S. visas, Washington has expressed its desire to ensure the safety of individuals in its visa pipeline and has called on Islamabad to ensure its obligations in the treatment of all refugees and asylum seekers.

On December 4, a delegation led by Julieta Valls Noyes, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, arrived in Islamabad to discuss ways of supporting and resettling vulnerable Afghans with senior Pakistani government officials and international organizations.

Following the meetings, a Pakistani official close to the talks told Voice of America on condition of anonymity on December 5 that the Pakistani side expressed concerns over the lengthy resettlement process Washington has adopted, while the U.S. delegation requested that Islamabad slow its roundup and deportation of undocumented migrants during the harsh winter months.

A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said that in the course of the delegation's visit, which ended on December 6, Noyes met directly with Afghan refugees to hear their concerns and in her meetings with Pakistani officials "discussed how both countries can work together to accelerate the processing of Afghan nationals eligible for relocation or resettlement in the United States."

Nobel Laureate Malala Calls Out Taliban For Making 'Girlhood Illegal' In Afghanistan

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai sits onstage after delivering the 21st Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg on December 5.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai sits onstage after delivering the 21st Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg on December 5.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai decried Afghanistan's Taliban rulers in a speech on December 5 and called on the international community to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity.

In a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, Yousafzai told the audience in Johannesburg, South Africa, that since returning to power in August 2021, Taliban militants have made "girlhood illegal," causing many to despair over a lack of freedoms.

"Just two years ago, women in Afghanistan were working, serving in leadership positions, running ministries, traveling freely. Girls of all ages were playing soccer and cricket and learning in schools. Though all was not perfect, there was progress," she said of the almost two decades between Taliban rule, when international forces provided security to allow governments to rule.

But, she added, that since the U.S.-led troops pulled out in August 2021, the Taliban rulers who seized power "quickly began the systematic oppression of girls and women" by enacting more than 80 decrees and edicts restricting women's rights -- including barring girls from pursuing a high-school education -- in the name of their "false visions."

"In effect, the Taliban have made girlhood illegal, and it is taking a toll," Yousafzai said.

Eleven years ago, Yousafzai, then 15, was shot in the head on her school bus by the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) extremist group, which has pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, though the two groups have separate operation and command structures.

The attack on Yousafzai, who had become a target for her campaign for girls' education, sent shock waves across the predominately Muslim country and provoked international outrage.

At 17, she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize when she won the award in 2014 along with Indian children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

In her speech honoring Mandela's legacy, Yousafzai said that while the Taliban's restrictions of the lives of girls and women made global headlines at first, "the world has turned its back" since and it is "imperative to call the regime in Afghanistan what it really is: a gender apartheid."

She said world leaders have an opportunity to make a stand on the issue by including gender apartheid in a new UN crimes against humanity treaty that is currently being debated at the United Nations.

"I call on every government in every country to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity," she said.

Afghans Banned From 16 Provinces In Iran As Forced Exodus Continues

During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time. (file photo)
During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time. (file photo)

Iran has banned millions of Afghan refugees and migrants in the country from living in, traveling to, or seeking employment in just over half of the country's 31 provinces.

On December 3, Hamzeh Soleimani, the director-general of citizenship and foreign nationals affairs of the western Kermanshah Province, confirmed the ban was in place in 16 provinces nationwide.

"Numerous construction projects, greenhouses and livestock farms underwent inspection under the plan. [This led] to the arrest and expulsion of Afghan workers from the province," he said.

Iranian media have identified 15 of the 16 provinces, including Kermanshah, East Azarbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, Kurdistan, Hamedan, Gilan, Mazandaran, Sistan-Baluchistan, Ilam, Lorestan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kahgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, and Hormozgan.

In October, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi reiterated that Tehran would deport all "illegal" migrants, most of whom are Afghan nationals who fled war, persecution, and poverty.

Tehran estimates that more than 5 million Afghans currently live in the country. Iranian officials now want to deport at least half of them because they do not have the documents to remain in the country.

During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time before embarking on a mass expulsion campaign like Pakistan.

Islamabad is currently deporting thousands of impoverished Afghans daily as part of its campaign to expel more than 1.7 million "undocumented foreigners."

In Iran, Afghans say their life is becoming more complicated with each passing day.

"The situation of Afghan refugees across Iran is very worrying," Sharif Mateen, an Afghan refugee, told RFE/RL's Azadi Radio.

"Police are arresting everyone irrespective of whether they have documents or not. They are then taken to repatriation camps," he added.

WATCH: Despite risks to their safety, thousands of Afghans -- often undocumented -- flock into Iran to find work.

Thousands Of Desperate Afghans Make Risky Journeys Into Iran To Find Work
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Iran has hosted millions of Afghans for more than four decades, but Tehran has often complained of the lack of international aid for hosting them.

More than 70 percent of the 3.6 million Afghans who left their country after the Taliban seized back power in August 2021 fled to Iran.

Data show most are educated, middle-class Afghans who served in the fallen pro-Western Afghan republic's security forces or civil bureaucracy.

Afghan Women Hope To Preserve Unique, Ancient Wood-Carving Craft

A group of women in Herat have dedicated themselves to continuing a nearly lost, centuries-old tradition of wood carving that is unique to Afghanistan.

More Than 400 People Punished Under Shari'a Law In Afghanistan, Rights Group Says

The most common punishment was flogging under a category of Shari’a law that includes discretionary punishments not specified in religious texts. (illustrative file photo)
The most common punishment was flogging under a category of Shari’a law that includes discretionary punishments not specified in religious texts. (illustrative file photo)

Afghanistan's Taliban-led government announced punishments handed out to 417 people under Shari’a law during a recent 12-month period, according to a report issued this week by Afghan Witness, an organization that monitors human rights abuses in Afghanistan.

Afghan Witness collected the data by reviewing the announcements of Shari’a punishments posted on the website of the Taliban-led Supreme Court. The announcements, which were also were published on X, formerly Twitter, have been made public since the Taliban’s Supreme Leader Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada announced the return of Shari’a punishments in mid-November 2022.

Akhundzada had previously ordered a return to Islamic retribution and corporal punishments shortly after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021.

Afghan Witness said in a statement on November 29 that it looked at punishments meted out between October 26, 2022 and October 26, 2023, and found 71 announcements handed down to 417 individuals.

It said this included nine “Qisas punishments” during the period, including two that resulted in the execution of alleged murderers, while the remaining seven were pardoned.

Qisas punishments are for offenses seen as violations of the boundaries set by God such as murder, theft, and adultery. Convicts can be executed, flogged, stoned to death, or have limbs amputated.

Afghan Witness said it has yet to record any stonings or amputations, but it said its sources in Afghanistan say there are stoning punishments awaiting approval by Akhundzada.

The most common punishment was flogging under a category of Shari’a law that includes discretionary punishments not specified in religious texts.

The report said the punishments occurred in 22 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces from October 2022 through September 2023. A gender breakdown of the punished indicates that 220 men were punished compared with 57 women.

The organization also noted that while the sentences are often referred to as “public punishments,” their public nature is often limited.

“Although these punishments are carried out with an audience, including Taliban officials and citizens, they are often fulfilled behind closed doors, or under significant publication restrictions,” Afghan Witness said, adding that this leaves little visual evidence of the punishments being carried out.

The Taliban has framed its implementation of Shari’a punishments as “fair, righteous and desired by Afghanistan’s citizens” and claimed that the punishments act as a deterrent, Afghan Witness said.

After seizing power in August 2021 as U.S-led international forces withdrew from the country, the Taliban dismantled Afghanistan’s judicial system, suspended or scrapped all laws, and replaced judges, prosecutors, and lawyers.

Afghan Witness is a project to independently collect, preserve, and verify information on the human rights, security, and political situation in Afghanistan, according to its website.

The organization aims to provide a reliable source of information for international organizations, policymakers, and the media, and to “raise awareness of the reality of everyday life for Afghans living in the country.”

The Azadi Briefing: Many Afghans Forced From Pakistan Are Homeless 

Afghan refugees settle in a camp in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border after being ordered home by Islamabad.
Afghan refugees settle in a camp in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border after being ordered home by Islamabad.

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

A new survey has found that around 90 percent of the more than 400,000 Afghans who have been forced from neighboring Pakistan in recent months are homeless.

The British charity Islamic Relief, which operates in Afghanistan, said in a report released on November 29 that one-third of the returnees face severe food shortages, while more than 60 percent are sick.

Islamabad has been deporting thousands of Afghans each day since the expiry of its November 1 deadline for some 1.7 million undocumented Afghan refugees and migrants to voluntarily leave the South Asian country.

Islamic Relief’s report, based on interviews with 315 returnees, also found that 92 percent lacked access to safe drinking water, while 71 percent had no access to sanitation.

Some 98 percent of returnees were worried about the safety of their family members, while 90 percent were concerned about their children’s access to education.

“Many of these people are returning to Afghanistan with nothing, just as a freezing winter approaches,” said Manzoor Ahmed, Islamic Relief’s acting country director in Afghanistan. “They don’t have a place to stay, they don’t have food or health care, they are sick and impoverished.”

Why It's Important: Afghans are returning to a country grappling with the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

The hundreds of thousands of new returnees are adding to the more than 29 million Afghans -- out of a total population of around 40 million -- who need humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations.

The cash-strapped Taliban government, which remains unrecognized and sanctioned by the international community, appears unable to absorb the returning refugees or address the humanitarian needs of Afghans.

Aid agencies operating in Afghanistan have called for more international funding to address the needs of the returnees, who lack shelter, warm clothes, and food.

“They are forced to return to Afghanistan at the worst possible time,” said Hsiao-Wei Lee, the country director for the World Food Program, on November 26. “We need to help them not only get through this winter but also help them rebuild their lives here.”

What's Next: Many of the new Afghan returnees face a grim future.

The Taliban has established temporary camps for the returnees near the border with Pakistan, and promised to assist them. But many returnees complain of a lack of tents, food, water, and sanitation.

"Everyone I know doesn't have housing and is facing many other problems,” Abdullah, who recently returned to the southern Afghan province of Zabul from Pakistan, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. "It is impossible to live in tents because of the winter.”

What To Keep An Eye On

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai is under fire for suggesting that the international community should not seek to forcibly remove the Taliban from power.

"We don't want a collapse of the regime or split of the regime. We have had enough of that in Afghanistan,” the 65-year-old told Kyodo News, a Japanese news agency, in an interview published on November 28.

Karzai, who lives in Kabul, suggested that dialogue with the extremist group could bring about changes to its controversial policies, including its severe restrictions on women’s rights.

But some rights activists criticized Karzai’s call for engagement with a group that has shown few signs of reversing its draconian policies.

"Since the Taliban returned to power, being a woman has become a crime,” Azita Nazimi, a women’s rights activist, told Radio Azadi. "All of what we have is the result of Karzai's past support for the Taliban.”

When in power from 2001 to 2014, Karzai called for a negotiated end to the war between the Western-backed Afghan government and the Taliban.

Why It's Important: Reconciliation among Afghans has long been touted as the best solution to end the more than four decades of war in Afghanistan.

But the Taliban has refused to share power with other Afghans and used force to impose its fundamentalist version of Islam on the population.

During intra-Afghan negotiations prior to the Taliban’s forcible takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, the extremist group rejected a power-sharing agreement with rival Afghans.

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.

Iran Still Top Terror Sponsor; IS Still A Threat In Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan, U.S. Says

Iran continued to back Hizballah (above), designated a terrorist group by Washington in 1997, and also provided weapons systems to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups.
Iran continued to back Hizballah (above), designated a terrorist group by Washington in 1997, and also provided weapons systems to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups.

Iran remained the leading state sponsor of global terrorism last year, involved in backing terrorist recruitment, financing, and plotting across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, the U.S. State Department said in its 2022 Country Reports On Terrorism released on December 1.

In the Middle East, Iran continued to back Hizballah, designated a terrorist group by Washington in 1997, the report said, adding that it also provided weapons systems to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

"These groups were behind numerous deadly attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank," the report said.

Tehran also provided support to extremist groups in Bahrain, Iraq, and Syria, through its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to provide support to terrorist organizations with the aim to create instability in the region, the report said.

Iran increasingly encouraged and plotted attacks against the United States, including against former U.S. officials, in retaliation for the death of Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced in 2022 that it had disrupted an IRGC-QF-led plot to assassinate former national-security adviser John Bolton and arrested an Iranian accused of planning the killing.

In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, the report says that members of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group, and regional terrorist groups remained active in 2022, despite the Taliban committing to prevent extremists from using the country to conduct attacks against the United States and its allies after the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in August 2021.

The Taliban's capacity to stop elements from Al-Qaeda, Islamic State-Khorasan -- an IS splinter -- or Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from mounting external operations from the Afghan territory "remained unclear," the report said.

Islamic State-Khorasan in 2022 continued to conduct terrorist attacks against the Taliban and Afghan civilians, in particular against members of the Shi'ite community as well as cross-border attacks in Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The report mentions that "the United States has not yet decided whether to recognize the Taliban or any other entity as the government of Afghanistan," and says the Taliban hosted and sheltered Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Kabul before his death in a U.S. air strike in July last year.

Afghan Activist And Daughters Who Fled To Pakistan Fear Return To Life Under The Taliban

Afghan Activist And Daughters Who Fled To Pakistan Fear Return To Life Under The Taliban
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Spesali Zazai is a women's rights activist who moved to Pakistan with her three daughters after the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan. RFE/RL visited Zazai and her two younger daughters, who say they don't want to return home because the Taliban has banned girls from secondary education and barred women from most jobs.

Afghan Women Activists Seek Taliban ICC Trial Over Rights Abuses

The letter argues that the treatment of Afghan women under the Taliban constitutes a gender apartheid because "they are systematically deprived of basic freedoms and human and citizenship rights."
The letter argues that the treatment of Afghan women under the Taliban constitutes a gender apartheid because "they are systematically deprived of basic freedoms and human and citizenship rights."

Afghan women's rights activists are demanding the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecute Afghanistan's Taliban rulers for systemic violations of human rights.

In an open letter sent to the ICC on November 27, they accused the Taliban, who seized power in August 2021 as international troops withdrew from the country, of consistently violating the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

"They must be prosecuted," said one activist who requested anonymity because of security fears.

"The Taliban has imposed a gender apartheid in Afghanistan by excluding women from the society through employment and education bans while also persecuting rights activists," she added.

She is one of dozens of signatories to the letter.

The letter argues that the treatment of Afghan women under the Taliban constitutes a gender apartheid because "they are systematically deprived of basic freedoms and human and citizenship rights."

The letter also highlights the persecution of Afghan women's rights activists.

Since the Taliban returned to power, the Taliban has put down, often violently, protests by Afghan women over their lack of rights. Hundreds of women have been imprisoned after their protests were declared illegal.

"Such letters can help the international community to fulfill its obligation toward the Afghan women," Maryam Maarouf Arvin, an Afghan women's rights activist, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Five women's rights activists -- Neda Parwani, Zholya Parsi, Manijeh Sediqi, Bahare Karimi, and Parisa Azadeh -- are currently in Taliban custody.

Since returning to power, the hard-line Islamist Taliban has banned women and teenage girls from education in Afghanistan. It has also banned them from employment in most sectors and discouraged them from leaving their homes.

On November 26, global rights watchdog Amnesty International launched an online petition saying the Taliban has started "a new era of human rights abuse and violations" that has put the country "at the brink of irreversible ruin."

"Not only [have] the Taliban de-facto authorities...broken their promise of protecting Afghan people's rights, especially women's rights, they have resumed the cycle of violence and committed a litany of human rights abuses and violations with full impunity," the petition says.

"Human rights are under attack on all fronts. It must be stopped," it added.

'Collision Course': Will The Afghan Taliban Choose Pakistan Or The Pakistani Taliban?

The Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi (center) walks with other officials after arriving in Islamabad for talks with Pakistani officials in May.
The Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi (center) walks with other officials after arriving in Islamabad for talks with Pakistani officials in May.

Pakistan has issued an ultimatum to the Afghan Taliban: Expel the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) extremist group from Afghanistan or face the consequences.

Pakistan’s special representative for Afghanistan, Asif Durrani, repeated the warning on November 11, saying that the Afghan extremist group must “choose Pakistan or the TTP.”

The Afghan Taliban denies sheltering the TTP, with which it has close ideological and organizational ties. The TTP has intensified its deadly insurgency against Pakistan since the Afghan militants seized power in Afghanistan in 2021.

By refusing to rein in the TTP, Pakistan believes the Afghan Taliban has made its choice. Islamabad has sought to strongarm the Afghan militants by expelling hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees from Pakistan, shutting key border crossings, and temporarily blocking Afghan transit goods in recent months.

Experts said the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban, which have been close allies for decades, has reached a crisis point. They warn that further escalation could have major security and economic ramifications for both countries.

“Pakistan and the Taliban are on a collision course,” said Asfandyar Mir, a senior analyst at the United States Institute of Peace.

“Pakistan's pressure campaign has the potential to be very painful for the Taliban and the Taliban's retaliatory measures, like letting the TTP undertake even more attacks, can impose serious costs on Pakistan as well,” Mir added.

Pressure Tactics

The Afghan Taliban has accused Pakistan of using pressure tactics to make the group bow to Islamabad’s demands.

Last month, Islamabad ordered 1.7 million undocumented Afghan refugees and migrants to leave the South Asian country or face arrest and forced deportation after November 1.

Over 400,000 Afghans have returned to their homeland since then, in a move that has further aggravated the devastating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the world’s largest.

Afghan Returnees Describe Dire Conditions In Their Homeland
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Pakistan said its decision was in direct response to the Taliban's alleged refusal to expel the TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban.

"After noncooperation by the Afghan interim government, Pakistan has decided to take matters into its own hands, and Pakistan's recent actions are neither unexpected or surprising," Pakistani caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul-Haq Kakar said on November 8.

Kakar claimed that terrorist attacks inside his country have increased by around 60 percent since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan in August 2021. Since then, he said, some 2,300 Pakistanis have been killed in those attacks.

Pakistan also temporarily blocked the transit of thousands of containers filled with imports bound for Afghanistan that were stranded at Pakistan’s port city of Karachi for months.

To open alternative international trade routes for landlocked Afghanistan, the Taliban has sought access to Iran's strategic Chabahar Port, located in the country’s southeast.

Pakistan has also sporadically closed the border with Afghanistan, stranding thousands of mostly Afghan civilians and halting hundreds of vehicles carrying goods between the two countries.

Pledge Of Allegiance

Some experts said Pakistan’s tactics are unlikely to change the Afghan Taliban’s calculations.

Sami Yousafzai, a veteran Afghan journalist and commentator who tracks the Taliban, said it was unlikely that the Afghan Taliban would expel the TTP.

In 2001, the Taliban refused to hand over the Al-Qaeda leaders that Washington held responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In response, the United States invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban regime from power.

“Today, the TTP is a much closer ally,” said Yousafzai.

Successive TTP chiefs have sworn allegiance to the Taliban’s spiritual leader. Like the Afghan Taliban, many TTP fighters are from the Pashtun ethnic group. The TTP also hosted and fought alongside the Afghan Taliban during its nearly 19-year insurgency against the Western-backed Afghan government and international troops in Afghanistan.

“The TTP made many sacrifices to enable the Taliban to return to power,” Yousafzai said. “How can the Taliban abandon them now?”

Yousafzai said the Afghan Taliban’s confrontation with Pakistan has also allowed it to shed its image as a Pakistani proxy. Islamabad has been the Afghan Taliban’s key foreign sponsor since the mid-1990s, when the extremist group first emerged.

“The current tensions give the Taliban a golden opportunity to undo those accusations,” he said.

Military Option

Islamabad could resort to military force to compel the Afghan Taliban to change its behavior, according to some experts.

The Afghan Taliban has tried to appease Pakistan. In June, the Afghan Taliban relocated TTP fighters and their families away from the border with Pakistan to other areas of Afghanistan, a move intended to placate Islamabad.

Last year, the Afghan Taliban brokered yearlong peace talks between the TTP and Islamabad that broke down.

The Afghan Taliban's acting deputy prime minister, Mullah Baradar (right), meets a Pakistani delegation led by then-Defense Minister Khwaja Asif (left) in Kabul in February.
The Afghan Taliban's acting deputy prime minister, Mullah Baradar (right), meets a Pakistani delegation led by then-Defense Minister Khwaja Asif (left) in Kabul in February.


Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, an Islamabad-based director at Khorasan Diary, a website tracking militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that senior Pakistani officials feel they have exhausted all diplomatic and political options.

“Here, the current mindset is that the TTP can only be contained through force,” he said. “One possible option being considered here now is to begin cross-border strikes on suspected TTP bases and hideouts inside Afghanistan.”

In April 2022, Pakistan carried out unprecedented air strikes in eastern Afghanistan, killing dozens of people. Pakistan said it was targeting the TTP. The air strikes provoked harsh exchanges, with the Taliban issuing threats against Islamabad.

There have been reports of other Pakistani cross-border attacks that have targeted the TTP over the past year. Some of those incidents have led to the TTP launching retaliatory attacks against Pakistani forces, Mehsud said.

Pakistani attacks inside Afghanistan have raised fears of a direct conflict between Islamabad and the Afghan Taliban.

But experts said they expect the sides to reach a compromise that would prevent a worst-case scenario.

Mir of the United States Institute of Peace said that the Afghan Taliban is unlikely to rein in the TTP unless Pakistan offers concessions to the Pakistani militants.

During the failed peace negotiations with Pakistan, the TTP demanded that Islamabad withdraw a large portion of the tens of thousands of Pakistani troops stationed in northwestern Pakistan, the extremist group’s former stronghold.

The TTP’s other demands included the implementation of Islamic Shari'a law in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the reversal of democratic reforms in the same province.

“Pakistan may settle for less than a Taliban crackdown or expulsion of the TTP,” said Mir. “But, at a bare minimum, it will want an end to the TTP violence.”

Pakistani Army Claims Suicide Attack A Day Earlier Carried Out By Afghan National

People who were injured in a blast receive medical treatment at a hospital in Bannu, Pakistan, on November 26.
People who were injured in a blast receive medical treatment at a hospital in Bannu, Pakistan, on November 26.

Pakistan's military said on November 27 that an Afghan national carried out a suicide attack a day earlier on a security forces convoy that killed two civilians and injured several others.

The military said in a statement that "a motorcycle-borne suicide bomber, affiliated with Hafiz Gul Bahadur and later identified as an Afghan national," carried out the attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in northwestern Pakistan. It added that seven civilians and three soldiers were injured in the attack.

It gave no further details.

Pakistani officials have not provided any other information, and there has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur is the leader of a Pakistani Taliban faction based in North Waziristan.

The security situation in the province in recent months has worsened despite the promises of the government and security authorities. There were multiple deadly incidents last week, including the killing of an employee of the Forestry Department in North Waziristan on November 23.

Two days ago, two soldiers were killed in a landmine explosion and a policeman was killed in an attack on a checkpoint in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while in South Waziristan on November 22, three civilians, including a local leader, were killed and four were injured in a bomb blast in Azam Worsk. No one has claimed responsibility for those attacks.

The bombing in Azam Worsk occurred after two soldiers were killed in an armed attack on a post in Sar Rogha in South Waziristan. The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for that attack.

The Pakistani government and army say they have continued their operations against the militants.

The army said on November 21 that it had killed three suspected militants in an encounter in North Waziristan. The army added that one of its soldiers was also killed in the clash.

Earlier, the army had claimed the killing of 11 suspected militants in clashes during operations in Peshawar and Tank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on November 16.

Pakistan's caretaker prime minister, Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, on November 20 said terrorist attacks inside his country have increased 60 percent since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021. Some 2,300 people have been killed in these attacks.

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