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Afghanistan: President Karzai Discusses Worsening Security

President Karzai speaking to RFE/RL today (RFE/RL) KABUL, November 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with the director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Akbar Ayazi, for a wide-ranging interview in Kabul on November 9.


RFE/RL: Mr. President, the people of Afghanistan have different concerns. So far as we know and read in the reports, security is the top concern of the Afghan people. In the past 18 months, the security situation in the southern and eastern provinces -- even in the Tagau and Nejrab areas close to Kabul -- has deteriorated. From your point of view, why has the security situation become so bad? Why are the opponents of the central government attacking and committing suicide bombings?

"Our wishes did not materialize the way we expected -- that the removal of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda would bring an end to terrorism...our hope was for absolute peace in Afghanistan. We hoped that the mothers and sisters of Afghanistan would be free from bombs and attrocities and war."

Hamid Karzai: In the name of God the all merciful and forgiving, without doubt the security situation in Afghanistan in the past 1 1/2 to two years has deteriorated. And there are different reasons for this. This situation also is a cause of concern for us. One reason is that our security forces in different areas and districts -- and particularly in those areas where we are facing attacks -- are very weak. Two or 2 1/2 years ago, the people of Kandahar informed me, and the people of Helmand informed me, that the police forces in the districts are very weak. Their numbers are limited and they are not well-equipped.


I started talking with the international community about it and tried to get more support for our police forces. At first, it was decided that the number of police in the [Afghan National Police] force would be 62,000. We told the foreigners that the material and financial support that they are offering is limited and should be increased. We told them that the amount of support is not enough to train so many police. These discussions continued for a long time. Finally, six months ago, the international community was convinced that our security forces in the districts are, indeed, very limited -- and that they would give us more support in this regard.


Afghan police being trained in Kandahar in February (epa)

And so it was decided that we hire local people in the districts and train them to be police because this is our tradition -- that people take care of their own security. In this way, the number of police was increased from 62,000 to 82,000 people. Furthermore, it was decided that the income of these people would be increased and that they would be given better equipment. This means we have increased the size of our police force by 20,000. This means it was our own weakness -- the weakness of our system and the weakness of our government. We did not have enough police and our police were not trained.


RFE/RL: And all these efforts caused new problems and people began complaining that you have created new militia forces. Is that correct?


Karzai: Yes. While we were talking with the foreigners I told them that if you don't agree very quickly, we will be exposed to attacks. People are crossing our borders. They burn our schools. They kill our children. They destroy our houses and assassinate our clerics and our tribal leaders. So [I told the international community] if you don't agree with me soon to raise the number of our police and give them better training and equipment, then I will be forced to use local measures. Local measures means that I invite the local elders and ask them for their help -- to send their young people to defend the country. The foreigners had the impression that we were going to create local militia forces. The fact is that the Afghan people don't like militia forces at all. But the foreigners didn't realize this. They couldn't differentiate between the local people and the militia forces. This was the first reason.


The second reason is that Afghanistan over the past 30 years was always faced with foreign interference -- the meddling of the neighboring countries. Little by little, Afghanistan lost its sovereignty. Every neighboring country had its own interests and their own people in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan itself had no voice. It appeared that Afghanistan was an independent country. But in reality, it wasn't independent at all.


When the new government was established, when the international community entered Afghanistan, and when Afghanistan stood again on its own feet in the international arena as an independent and respected country, those elements who were supported by foreign [neighboring] countries -- and were governing this country and were abusing this country -- it was hard for them to accept the new realities. [It was hard for them] to tolerate a new and independent Afghanistan with its own identity and flag and whose leaders would appear as the equals of other leaders in the world and delivering speeches like the leaders of the rest of the world.


U.S. soldiers train Afghan border guards near Herat in April (epa)

So in order to weaken this development and progress, to end the improvements that were introduced to the life of this country and change Afghanistan back to a country that they could govern again, they started sabotage acts in our country. So they sent their bombs, their destructive weapons, and most of all, they used our own sons -- those who were uneducated and poor. With lots of tricks and hypocrisy, they deceived our sons and sent them back to Afghanistan to fight against us. They started broad propaganda. For example, in neighboring Pakistan they are creating propaganda that there is no Islam in Afghanistan -- that there is no call to prayer in Afghanistan. And, God forbid, they are saying that there are only infidels in Afghanistan and that Afghanistan is not moving toward progress and prosperity. [They say] that the Afghan people are becoming hungry and facing calamity.


From the other side, our own publicity was very weak. So, to make it short, I can tell you that the first reason was foreign meddling, terrorism, and the creation of fear in Afghanistan. This means the foreigners were training extremists and terrorists against us and making negative propaganda against us. The other reason was our own internal weakness.


RFE/RL: Mr President, you mentioned that foreign countries -- especially Pakistan -- are meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and that they are using Afghan youth to carry out terrorist attacks against Afghanistan. Recently, you said that you invited [former Taliban leader] Mullah Mohammad Omar and [former Prime Minister and head of the Hizb-e Islami] Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for talks. You said that if they are ready for talks, that you would open a dialogue with them. This happened at a time when the chief of Afghanistan's Peace and Reconcilliation Commission, Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, called Hekmatyar a murderer. And the international forces call these people terrorists. The people of Afghanistan are asking how this can happen. What is your comment on this?


Karzai: Mr. Mujaddedi said that these people can come and talk. And we are ready to talk about peace with them. But the government of Afghanistan and the Peace and Reconcilliation Commission cannot take responsibility for their past or for what they have committed. Rather, the people of Afghanistan and the parliament should make the decision about what they have done in the past. So it is up to the people and the parliament to decide whether to forgive them or not.


RFE/RL: Some of your opponents claim that the agreement between the government and the tribal elders of the Musaqala District of Helmand Province is a compromise with the Taliban. What is your reaction to this?


Karzai: This is really an important issue. There are some suspicions in society about this. And these suspicions should be removed. Two or three months ago, the governor of Helmand Province approached me and said that the British forces want to leave this area. [He said] the elders of this district told the [provincial] government that they have problems with air strikes and military operations -- which were really going on there. These people suggested that they will ask the Taliban to stop their operations in this district. The elders said that the Afghan government should also do something so that the Taliban would not have any reason to carry out attacks in this district. These elders had drafted an agreement. [The governor of Helmand said that] he, himself, had read that agreement. And then [the governor] added that some tribal leaders and elders want to see me.


Tribal elders discussing security issues in Kandahar in May (epa)

So they came [to Kabul] at the beginning of the month of Ramazan. And I talked with them. Afghanistan is fundamentally a democratic country. Our life is based on jirgas [councils] and talking with tribal elders. In every part of our country where the elders, the tribal leaders, and the religious leaders who guide society all cooperate, there is peace and the government will function. If they do not cooperate, then nothing will work. It is like this in every democratic society in the world. So I am deeply convinced that the people could organize their lives better and advance their situation and bring peace to society. If they want this, they can achieve it. That is the reason that I accepted the advice of these tribal elders.


So I agreed with them and I told them: 'Fine. Do your preparations. But the schools must remain open. There should be peace and the local police will be trained and sent to your districts.' The elders [of the Musaqala district] promised me that there will not be any saboteurs allowed in this district. They said they would return to Musaqala and see how things work. They said that if things are not working, they would let me know. Later, they sent me a video from there. The video showed that they had convened a big meeting there. It was a big jirga. And the elders and the tribal leaders spoke at this jirga and they said in their speeches that they want peace. They don't want destruction. And they said they will not let those who destroy Afghanistan enter their district. These elders asked the government for more help in reconstruction. They asked for the reconstruction of their mosque. And we accepted all of that.


This means that I trust everything these elders say. I trust them and I accept them. They are the true sons of this country and they are more faithful than anyone else in this country. But I have received two reports recently. One report says that a very respected religious leader named Nurul Haq Akhundzada has been threatened by people who seem to be Taliban, or are Taliban. They have not only threatened him, but also humiliated him. I talked about this with the governor [of Helmand]. And now, I am going to talk about this with the elders who have come to Kabul again. Another tribal leader has disappeared. These two incidents need to be investigated. If it is proven that the Taliban entered this district and have committed these crimes, in that case, there will be lots of suspicion about this agreement. And the elders of this district should answer to me about why this has happened. There should be peace in that district and the rule of law should be practiced. There should be governmental institutions and the constitution of Afghanistan should be implemented. If that is not the case, then there will be doubts about this agreement. In that case, the government will be forced to intervene and get rid of these destructive elements.


RFE/RL: Now that we are talking about the security problems in the southern part of Afghanistan, I'm sure that in your private discussions with NATO that you have asked them to bring some changes to their strategies to avoid the killing of innocent local people. However, this has not been done. Rather, the number of civilian deaths have increased. Even recently, many innocent people were killed in Helmand Province. How can this be avoided?


Karzai: Yes. Unfortunately, in this war against terrorism, ordinary Afghans have suffered a lot. They were sacrificed and they tolerated a lot of suffering. After the tragedy of September 11[, 2001] in New York, when the international forces entered Afghanistan and started the war against terrorism, we began to say that this war is in our interest because the people of Afghanistan wanted to free themselves from the visible and invisible foreign occupation, from the the calamity of terrorism, and from foreign interference. This was the reason that we have joined hands with the international community.


The terrorists not only occupied us -- they killed our people, martyred our sons, burned our vineyards, destroyed our villages and towns, and tried to create hostility among the people of our country. They also were humiliating our history and our cultural identity. So it was very important for us that a force enter this country and help to save us. This was the reason that the Afghan nation decided to join hands with the international community and that we cooperated with them. This was also the reason that we accepted a very high number of sacrifices. Many parts of our country were bombarded. In different operations of the war against terrorism, many houses were destroyed. But the people accepted all this.


President Karzai visiting Konar Province in May (RFE/RL)

Now, the more progress we make and the more our system is established, the degree of our tolerance toward terrorist activity is decreasing. This means that we expect such terrorist activities will decrease. And that is the reason that we, for the past 3 1/2 years -- if not every day then certainly on a weekly basis -- discuss the issues of terrorism with the international community. And to find out how we can lower the threats of terrorism in this country. It is normal that in antiterrorism operations there are casualties. But we are trying very much, by developing and using new mechanisms, to avoid casualties. Many things have decreased. For example, the number of searches of Afghan houses [by coalition forces] has gone down. And many other problems are being reduced. But it is true still that air strikes are killing people. We have asked [NATO and the United States] to avoid such casualties.They are also trying very hard. We all try our best to reduce casualties as much as possible. Especially through air strikes. But this can only happen if, instead of looking for terrorists on Afghan soil, we look to the real sources of terrorism -- which is outside of Afghanistan -- and get rid of them. Afghanistan proposed this long ago -- that we should look for the real sources of terrorism outside of the country. We once again propose that we should go to the real sources, to the places where the terrorists get their financing, to the places where they are getting their training. There are no terrorists in Afghanistan. There are no extremists or destructive people in this country. Yes, there are thieves. It is true that there are insecurities because of criminal activities there. But we don't have terrorists in Afghanistan. And we hope that the international community will focus on the real sources of terrorism.


RFE/RL: It is good that you mentioned the real source of terrorism. Many people think that it is Pakistan. But in recent days, and particularly on November 8, there was a big suicide attack against recruits at a military training center in Pakistan. There was also an explosion in Quetta, Pakistan. Is this a result of the actions and reactions of terrorist groups?



"The interests of Afghanistan lie in a progressive, stable Pakistan. And the interests of Pakistan are in a stable and progressive Afghanistan."


Karzai: I am not saying that. The Afghan government does not say that the source of terrorism is in Pakistan. No matter where the source of terrorism is, the Afghan government says that the world should [support us]. A lot has been done in this regard. And we have reached agreements. Wherever the source of terrorism is, wherever the terrorists are financed, we should stand against them. If these centers are in Afghanistan, the world should come and tell us. You see that [NATO and coalition forces] go out every day in Afghanistan in search of terrorists. But if these centers are in Pakistan or in another country, then we should approach those areas and take measures to stop them. I am very sorry about the events [of November 8] in Pakistan that caused the deaths of 42 Pakistani soldiers in a suicide attack. This must show us very clearly that this campaign, this jihad against terrorism, is the duty for all of us. And we should fight this jihad together.


I have told the government of Pakistan -- my brother, the president of Pakistan, Mr. [Pervez] Musharraf -- that Afghanistan is a brother of his country. Afghanistan is his friend and his partner. And the interests of Afghanistan lie in a progressive, stable Pakistan. And the interests of Pakistan are in a stable and progressive Afghanistan. So let us join hands and save Afghanistan and Pakistan from this evil. I am hopeful that the jirga I have proposed -- which will be convening between the people of both countries -- will investigate the roots of all the evil and get rid of terrorism. So we are hoping the jirga will reach this conclusion. Afghanistan is looking for a solution and knows that there is no other way than to destroy the roots of terrorism. Superficial measures today or tomorrow cannot rid us of this problem. We should go to the root cause of extremism that brings about terrorism and get rid of it.


RFE/RL: You mentioned an interesting point -- the jirga between the tribal elders on both sides of the so-called Durand Line. The majority of people in Afghanistan do not know exactly what this proposed jirga is about. Can you please explain it to the people of Afghanistan what its purpose is and what you want to achieve?


Karzai: The purpose of convening this jirga is quite clear. It is to bring peace to the region. To bring peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result of that, peace will be established in the whole region and terrorism will disappear. The purpose is that no explosions take place in Afghanistan which cut our young boys into pieces. Why did I propose this jirga?


RFE/RL: So it was your proposal for this jirga?


Karzai: Yes. I proposed this jirga in Washington during a formal dinner party that was organized by President [George W.] Bush for myself and President Musharraf. I made the proposal there to convene such a jirga.


Why did I propose it? Five years ago, when the foundations of the new Afghanistan were laid down, life returned. Hope returned to the people of Afghanistan. But at the same time, there were also problems. What we wished was to be able to live in peace inside our country and in peace with our neighbors. But our wishes did not materialize the way we expected -- that the removal of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda would bring an end to terrorism. In defeating these elements, our hope was for absolute peace in Afghanistan. We hoped that the mothers and sisters of Afghanistan would be free from bombs and attrocities and war.


But unfortunately, it did not happen that way. There was peace all over Afghanistan. But in areas that lie close to the border of Pakistan, those provinces faced dangers again after one or two years. Again, they were faced with war. So we started talking about this with the world community, with the neighboring countries, and particularly, with our brotherly country Pakistan. I have visited Pakistan five or six times and there, during my first meeting with the president, he said at a press conference that Pakistan apologizes for any mistakes it may have made. And I told him in response that the Afghan nation thanked the nation of Pakistan -- that Pakistan had taken us in its arms and allowed us to live for 30 years in the country as refugees. We did live there for many years under good circumstances. The nation of Pakistan honored us and treated us like their brothers. They opened the door of their soil to us. They opened the doors of their houses where we lived. We started our jihad [against Soviet occupation] from Pakistani soil and they cooperated with us. So we thank Pakistan for all of that. We want to improve our lives and live with each other in a peaceful and brotherly atmosphere.


Unfortunately, that peace and prosperity that we wished for did not materialize. In less than two or three years, at least 2,000 of our people have been martyred. My government and I, in order to avoid such casualties, worked very hard. I talked with America. I talked with the United Nations, with European countries, with NATO, and with our neighboring countries. I went to every country [that I could]. I talked to China, to Islamic countries, to Arab countries, and to Pakistan. There have been five or six rounds of negotiations. Different delegations have been sent at different levels. But the result that the Afghan people wanted has not been achieved so far.


Musharraf (left), Bush (center), and Karzai at the White House in September epa)

So, at the meeting of the president of the United States with myself and the president of Pakistan, I decided to present specific proposals. And one of these important, specific proposals was the convening of a jirga. And this was a demand of the Afghan people. Three months before that, I met with the representatives of all the provinces of Afghanistan. At that meeting, it was [first] proposed that we should convene such a jirga in order to find a way to bring an end to the war and to the destruction -- a war that is going on but which we do not know where it is coming from. To bring this out into the political scene and expose it and talk openly about it. Who is complaining about Afghanistan? Who is scared of Afghanistan? If they have complaints, why do they have complaints? And what Afghanistan wants is that the two nations have a formal dialogue about all of these things. We hope to resolve these problems through dialogue. That is why I have made this proposal for this jirga. To fight terrorism in a better way and in a clearer way so that we are able to get rid of terrorism in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and in the region.

"The purpose [of this jirga] is that no explosions take place in Afghanistan which cut our young boys into pieces."

RFE/RL: Some Afghans fear that Pakistan will try to put the Durand Line issue on the table during this jirga. Is Afghanistan ready to discuss the issue of the Durand Line at such a jirga? Is this possible? Or is the agenda of these discussions already prepared in advance?


Karzai: The agenda is prepared ahead of time. The agenda of the discussion is about peace and the removal of terrorism. There is no place for any other issue in it and there will be no talks on any other issue. This jirga does not have the authority to discuss the Durand Line or to make decisions about it. This is a question that goes higher than the authority of such jirgas. This issue cannot be decided on the basis of my signature or the government's approval. This is a question for the people of the two nations. It is beyond the authority of a jirga that is convened for the purpose of peace. So there is no place [there] for discussions on this issue.


RFE/RL: Another main concern of the people of Afghanistan is the issue of corruption. So far, we are watching the situation and reading the reports. After security, people are complaining about the high rate of corruption. You have announced a campaign against corruption several times. The prosecutor-general has even declared a jihad against corruption. But no results have been achieved. We all hope that this issue will be resolved very soon. So, do you still hope for results and positive conclusions soon?


Karzai: This is a very good question. From the very beginning of the establishment of this government, we started different efforts. We discussed the reasons for the increase in corruption -- why and how it has happened. But getting rid of corruption in the Afghan administration is an absolute necessity. This is not only necessary for the survival of Afghanistan as a nation that is hopeful for progress and development and for an accountable system that Afghanistan is going to create. It is also very important for the reputation of Afghanistan within the international community. It is also important to ensure the continuation of aid that Afghanistan is getting.


Women shopping for shoes in Kabul (epa file photo)

If we don't get rid of corruption in Afghanistan, the progress and development that we hope to achieve -- the prosperity that we wish for our people -- will not be achieved in Afghanistan. So, in order to improve our lives from the conditions that we have today, it is necessary for our administration to become healthier. This means that corruption must be removed from all national, provincial, and local administrations. Honesty and transparency must be established. We have made different efforts in this regard. There were some results, but not what we had hoped for. So our prosecutor-general has launched a very good campaign. It is a broad campaign. And I absolutely support his efforts. We should take steps in accordance with the laws of Afghanistan and remove corruption from the Afghan administration. This effort is continuing. The prosecutor-general has made these efforts and there are some good results, too. In many cases, these measures will be even broader and stricter.


RFE/RL: Sometimes it is alleged that Afghan officials themselves are blocking the efforts of the prosecutor-general to root out corruption in Afghanistan. The recent reaction of the governor of Balkh Province in Mazar-e Sharif -- accusing the prosecutor-general of having a political agenda and trying to settle personnal vendettas -- is one example of this.


Karzai: Yes. It should be clear, perfectly clear, that I have given the prosecutor-general the authority to act according to Afghan law -- to work with full authority and all the possibilities available to root out corruption. And I am standing absolutely behind him. I have made that absolutely clear.


RFE/RL: Another important issue in the news recently is that Pakistan wants to mine the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- or even build a fence there. This has captured the attention of the Afghan people and is a very important issue to them. What is your position on Pakistan's proposal to build a fence and mine the border region?


Karzai: This issue was raised once before in the past. The position of Afghanistan is very clear about this. That is, that barbed wire or [land] mines cannot get rid of terrorism. Barbed wire and mines can only separate people. In this matter, we can say that one brother would be living on one side and another brother would be on the other side. One cousin would be living on this side and another on the other side. One of our girls would be married on this side and another would be married on the other side. So people come and go to both sides. This is one people living in this area. So raising barbed wire there would only separate families and tribes. It would only be a physical separation and it would not prevent terrorism. We have told [Islamabad] this very clearly.


In order to get rid of terrorism, we should address the root causes of it and find the real source of these evils. And I'm very hopeful that we will work even more together on this. We are in touch with the Pakistani regime and government.


The recent measures that [Pakistan] has taken show that they are going to act seriously. They are also sacrificing their people in this campaign and we are very sorry about that. So we share this grief with them. We should look at this question in a different way. We should see whom terrorism affects, who has been hurt by terrorism, who is grieving as a result of terrorism, and who has been destroyed by terrorism. It is the Afghans and the Pashtuns who are the victims.


It has been 30 years now that the Afghans have been burning in this fire. It is the wars, the interferences -- and in the last 10 to 12 years, terrorism -- that have harmed every household in Afghanistan.


It has been 30 years now that the Afghans have been burning in this fire. It is the wars, the interferences -- and in the last 10 to 12 years, terrorism -- that have harmed every household in Afghanistan. Kandahar is suffering from these pains. Jalalabad is suffering from these pains. Badakhshan, Bamiyan, Mazar-e-Shariff, Fariyab, Herat, Paktia -- every household in Afghanistan has been burned by this fire. Their children have been killed by terrorists. Their houses have been destroyed by terrorists -- particularly, in the last four to five years. And particularly, in those provinces of Afghanistan that are neighboring Pakistan. Their children are deprived of going to school. Almost 200,000 children in Helmand, Farah, Kandahar, Nimroz, and Zabul, Oruzgan, Paktika, Paktia, and Konar -- they cannot go to school. In Tagab [a district northeast of Kabul] and other areas as well. It is the same in Pakistan. There, the Pashtuns are hunted by terrorists. They are killed by the hands of terrorists. And also, they are being accused by the terrorists. This is a conspiracy. This is cruelty being imposed upon Afghans and the Pashtuns. And we should prevent that.


A rocket attack on a school in Konar in April (epa)

So these people are suffering a lot. We must protect these people from such cruelty. This is not only the duty of these tribes. It is also the duty of this region. And it is the duty of the international community to pay attention to this issue -- so that the historical people of this area are not wrongly accused. They are suffering from terrorism and are also accused by terrorists. I am paying very close attention to this issue.


And that is the reason that I have sent letters to the people and to the government of Pakistan, as well as to Esfandiar Wali Khan [the chief of the National Awami Party in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan] and to Mahmud Khan Aczkzai [a Pashtun leader in Balochistan Province]. I have also sent a letter to Maulana Fazoolu Rahman, [leader of the coalition of Islamic parties in Pakistan] asking him to join hands and save Afghans and Pashtuns from this suffering and these calamities. If you look, the Afghan clerics are being killed. In Kabul, innocent people are being martyred. They are killed in suicide bombings. In Kandahar, the religious leaders are being assassinated. In Konar Province, the elders are being martyred. And in Paktia, teachers are being martyred. And in the same way, the same things are happening to the Pashtuns in Pakistan -- especially in North Waziristan. The tribal elders and religious scholars are being martyred. Their heads are being cut off. Recently, they took a religious scholar out of a madrasah and they cut off his head -- saying he was a spy of the United States. Nearly 200 tribal elders and religious scholars have been martyred in this part of Waziristan.


Who is doing that? Why are such atrocities being committed against these people? Is the purpose to suppress these people? To make them become poor and desperate? What are the reasons for this and who is doing it? It is quiet clear that serious measures should be taken to save the Afghans in Afghanistan and the Pashtuns in that area.


RFE/RL: What will be the effects on Afghanistan as a result of the resignation of the U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the success of the Democratic Party in the U.S. legislative elections? And particularly, what effect could this have on your foreign policy?


Karzai: The results of the U.S. election in which the Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives is an internal affair for the United States. It shows the freedom and democracy of America. It should be a matter of pride for the American people. We consider this an internal matter of the United States.


Fortunately, Afghanistan enjoys the support of the whole U.S. nation. Both big political parties in the United States -- the Democrats and the Republicans -- are supporting Afghanistan. And we thank them both for their help. President George W. Bush gave me the assurance that any change occurring in the peoples' institutions of the United States will not have an effect on Afghanistan. Rather, they are all supporters of Afghanistan. The resignation of Mr. Rumsfeld is their decision and we respect their decision. However, Mr. Rumsfeld is a friend of Afghanistan -- a good ally and supporter in the war against terrorism. I have great respect for him. He is a very knowledgeable man, a very smart person, and a very resolute person. And I am proud to have his friendship.


RFE/RL: When you started your term as president of Afghanistan, you were one of the most popular presidents in the world. Some critics believe now that you are not as popular with your own people as you were before. Do you agree with this? And what are your thoughts about this as the country faces increased corruption and insecurity?


Karzai: I am very happy that I was so popular among the Afghan people. God should bless the Afghan people for voting for me. They liked me. But it is true that there are difficulties in the country. There also will be difficulties in the country in the future.


President Karzai meeting with the victims of coalition air strikes in Kandahar Province in May (epa)

There is no doubt that people are angry. When a family is hit by a bomb and I am the president here with the responsibility -- when a suicide bomb takes places and murders the people of this nation -- I am the president of this country and it is my responsibility to bring peace to these people. The people know that such tragedies make me very, very sad. Very, very sad. It is certain that the people expect me, and ask me as the president, to bring protect them against the bombs and suicide attacks and against the corruption. They want protection against abusive officials. I am making an effort every day to do what I can. I do everything within my physical and legal powers. But if the nation does not stand behind me the way it was before, and if there is discontent among the people, I know they are right. We must accept that and try to implement all the promises that we have made to the people -- to improve their security and to improve their lives. This means that the nation is always right and the government is always to be blamed.


RFE/RL: Imagine that your term as the president was over. Can you describe how you imagine it will be?


Karzai: If our jirga with our brother country Pakistan is successful and we agree on security in our fight against terrorism, life will be prosperous. Every country has some internal problems. We will also have them. We will not worry too much about it. We will manage that. There will be an end to corruption. There will be an end to the problems of drugs. There will be reforms within our administrations. We will have more schools and education. It all will happen. But what is important is that the relations in the region improve. Between ourselves and Pakistan, there is this one problem; there is a problem of terrorism and extremism in which our Afghanistan has been damaged a lot. So if we get closer with Pakistan, and if we fight terrorism in the right way so that terrorism is finally removed from this area, things in Afghanistan will change dramatically -- no matter who is governing the country, myself or somebody else. They will have an easy job and the country will be progressing.


Afghanistan And Pakistan

Afghanistan And Pakistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad in October 2005 (epa)

ACROSS A DIFFICULT BORDER. The contested border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is some 2,500 kilometers long and runs through some of the most rugged, inhospitable territory on Earth. Controlling that border and preventing Taliban militants from using Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan is an essential part of the U.S.-led international coalition's strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan. Officials in Kabul have been pointing their fingers at Pakistan for some time, accusing Islamabad or intelligence services of turning a blind eye to cross-border terrorism targeting the Afghan central government. Many observers remain convinced that much of the former Taliban regime's leadership -- along with leaders of Al-Qaeda -- are operating in the lawless Afghan-Pakistani border region.... (more)


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A Taliban fighter and onlookers witness the execution of three men in Afghanistan's Ghazni Province in 2015.
A Taliban fighter and onlookers witness the execution of three men in Afghanistan's Ghazni Province in 2015.

A spokesman for the Taliban government said a man was publicly executed on February 26 at a stadium in Shibirghan, in Afghanistan's northern Jawzjan Province, the fifth public execution since the radical group returned to power in August 2021. Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban's Supreme Court had sentenced the man to death for murder. The man was shot five times with a rifle by the victim's brother, according to an anonymous witness. Last week, two people were publicly executed for murder in the southern city of Ghazni. The UN and rights groups have criticized the practice, calling for its abolition. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.

Polio Inoculation Campaign Kicks Off In 21 Afghan Provinces

Afghan health workers administer polio vaccination drops to a child during an inoculation campaign in Jalalabad. (file photo)
Afghan health workers administer polio vaccination drops to a child during an inoculation campaign in Jalalabad. (file photo)

An extensive polio vaccination campaign started on February 26 in 21 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, the country's Health Ministry said. The Taliban-controlled ministry's spokesman, Sharaf Zaman, said the four-day-long campaign aims to inoculate 7.6 million children under the age of five. Zaman asked local religious leaders to cooperate with the inoculation teams. Some parents in the northwest refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated against polio, an infectious disease that can cause paralysis and lead to death. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio has not been completely eradicated. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.

Taliban Releases 84-Year-Old Austrian Man Detained In Afghanistan Last Year

Austrian Herbert Fritz had been held in a Kabul prison since being arrested last year. (file photo)
Austrian Herbert Fritz had been held in a Kabul prison since being arrested last year. (file photo)

An Austrian man, 84, who had been arrested in Afghanistan has been released by the Taliban, the Austrian government said on February 25. The Austrian Foreign Ministry said Herbert Fritz arrived in Doha, Qatar, from Afghanistan. A spokeswoman said the man had been held in a Kabul prison. An Austrian newspaper last year reported that an Austrian man had been arrested in Afghanistan and that he was a far-right extremist and co-founder of a minor far-right party that was banned in 1988. It said he was arrested after a far-right magazine published an article he wrote titled Vacation With The Taliban in which he gave a positive view of life under Taliban rule.

Afghan Girls Banned From Contacting Media In Eastern Province

The Taliban police in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost Province has banned local radio and television channels from accepting phone calls from girls, citing immorality. (file photo)
The Taliban police in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost Province has banned local radio and television channels from accepting phone calls from girls, citing immorality. (file photo)

The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) has reported that Taliban police authorities in the eastern Khost Province have banned girls from contacting local radio and television channels and warned local media outlets not to accept phone calls from girls.

Regional security head Abdul Rashid Omari cited the potential for spreading immorality as the reason for giving the order in a letter he sent to the Taliban's provincial Information and Culture department.

In the letter, published by the media watchdog AFJC's website on February 25, Omari alleged that some private media outlets were spreading corruption by way of "illegitimate contacts" with girls through their social and educational programs.

The letter alleged that such contacts led to "inappropriate behavior" that was in violation of the hard-line Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law.

It said that local media, some of which allegedly lacked the required permission to broadcast educational content, had been warned they could be summoned and prosecuted for violating the order.

Representatives of two media outlets in the province confirmed to RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that they had received warnings but declined to reveal their identities or to have the names of their outlets published out of fear of retribution by the Taliban.

Taliban officials in Khost Province did not respond to requests by Radio Azadi for comment.

Educational and social programs have emerged as a crucial outlet following the Taliban's banishment of education for girls past sixth grade.

AFJC communications head Samia Walizadeh told Radio Azadi that the order was in clear violation of media laws and the right for citizens to have free access to information and said the nongovernmental watchdog was demanding the order be rescinded so that "freedom of expression can be saved."

One woman from Khost Province who spoke to Radio Azadi on condition that her voice be altered for her protection said prohibiting girls from contacting the media shows that "women are slowly being removed from society as a whole."

According to the AFJC, which operates independently across Afghanistan under the country's mass media law, 15 private radio stations and three private television outlets are broadcasting in Khost Province, along with National Radio and Television under the control of the Taliban.

In August, women's voices were banned from being broadcast by media in the southern Helmand Province. That order warned that media outlets would face punishment and possibly be shut down if any women's voices were broadcast on air, including advertisements.

The Taliban has used its interpretation of Shari'a law to justify its consistent degradation of women's rights, including barring women from public spaces and education, and jailing women's rights activists who dare protest.

Despite promises to allow press freedom after returning to power, the Taliban has also shut down independent radio stations, television studios, and newspapers. Some media outlets have closed after losing funding.

The Taliban-led government has banned some international broadcasters while some foreign correspondents have been denied visas.

Families Demand Release Of 39 Afghans Detained In Turkey

Turkey hosts one of the largest refugee communities worldwide, with some 3.6 million Syrians and more than 300,000 people from other countries, the majority of whom are Afghan. (file photo)
Turkey hosts one of the largest refugee communities worldwide, with some 3.6 million Syrians and more than 300,000 people from other countries, the majority of whom are Afghan. (file photo)

The families of 39 Afghan citizens detained in Turkey after they reportedly tried to reach Europe on a migrant route have called for the release and the safe return of their relatives.

The Afghan migrants were hiding inside a truck carrying boxes of tissue when they were arrested in the Çilimli district of the northwestern Duzce Province, Turkey's state-run news agency reported on February 22.

All 39 Afghans were taken to the Immigration Department, and the truck driver was also arrested on charges of human trafficking, Anadolu reported.

Their relatives said they were attempting to reach Europe via Turkey to seek better opportunities.

The father of one of the Afghans detained in Turkey told Radio Azadi that he told his son he didn't have money for the journey, but he left anyway and reached Turkey after staying in Iran for a month.

The man, who identified himself as Sediqullah, a resident of Nangarhar, said he now has sent his 18-year-old son money so he can return to Afghanistan.

His son is among a wave of migrants who are fleeing Taliban persecution and a country that is reeling from one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.

Some Afghans who have been detained by the Turkish police in the past claim that they were tortured by the security forces during their detention.

“They electrocuted, tortured, and brutalized the Afghans,” said 23-year-old Rahman Heydari, an Afghan who was recently deported from Turkey.

Earlier this month, Abdul Rahman Rashid, the Taliban's deputy minister of refugees, said some 1,600 Afghans currently languish in Turkish prisons. He said that Ankara has released more than 600 Afghans, who returned to their country.

Last year the number of Afghans deported by Turkey was in the thousands. In November alone the number was 4,000. The number of Afghans expelled by Turkey was even higher in 2022 when Ankara deported 50,000 back to their country.

According to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, Turkey hosts one of the largest refugee communities worldwide, with some 3.6 million Syrians and more than 300,000 people from other countries, the majority of whom are Afghan.

In a 2022 report, global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch criticized Ankara for routinely pushing tens of thousands of Afghans -- many of whom are undocumented -- back to its border with Iran or deporting them directly to Afghanistan “with little or no examination of their claims for international protection.”

Neighboring Iran and Pakistan forced more than 1 million Afghans to return to their country in the past year.

The Azadi Briefing: Public Executions On The Rise Under Taliban Rule 

The Taliban held two public executions last week and it is likely to hold more as it seeks to create a "pure" Islamic system in Afghanistan. (file photo)
The Taliban held two public executions last week and it is likely to hold more as it seeks to create a "pure" Islamic system in Afghanistan. (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

The Taliban held the public execution of two men accused of murder in southeastern Afghanistan on February 22.

The two men -- Syed Jamaluddin and Gul Khan -- were killed by gunfire by the relatives of the victims in a soccer stadium in Ghazni Province.

The Taliban said the men were executed according to the Islamic concept of qisas, or retributive justice, under which a convicted murderer can be publicly killed at the request of the murder victim’s relatives.

Several thousand people witnessed the executions in Ghazni, but were banned from recording the incident.

“One was shot eight times while the other received six bullets,” an eyewitness who requested anonymity told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

Why It’s Important: The killings were the third and fourth known executions to have been carried out by the Taliban since it seized power in 2021. Three people have been executed in the last seven months, suggesting an uptick.

The Taliban’s use of corporal and capital punishments and retributive justice underscores its commitment to imposing strict Islamic Shari'a law.

In November 2022, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, ordered the use of 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.

These punishments have provoked strong criticism from human rights watchdogs and Afghans. Meanwhile, Islamic scholars have questioned whether the Taliban has met the stringent conditions required by Islamic law in implementing such harsh punishments.

Livia Saccardi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for South Asia, said in a statement on February 23 that the executions were “a gross affront to human dignity as well as a violation of international laws.”

What's Next: Despite international criticism, the Taliban appears set to continue to impose capital punishments and retributive justice.

With the Taliban bent on creating a “pure” Islamic system in Afghanistan, the group is likely to increase its use of harsh Islamic punishments.

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

What To Keep An Eye On

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has described the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan as one of the world’s “most challenging” crises.

The organization said this week that the political upheaval following the Taliban takeover has plunged the country of around 40 million people into turmoil.

“Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis,” IOM said. “Two-thirds of the population require humanitarian assistance.”

The IOM said the humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by the deadly earthquakes that devastated western Afghanistan last year and the deportation of around 1 million Afghan refugees from neighboring Pakistan and Iran in recent months.

"It's raining, it's winter, we don't have shelter even as we are sick,” Abdul Qadir, an Afghan refugee who recently returned from Pakistan told Radio Azadi. “We can’t buy medicine for our children. There's no work.”

Why It's Important: The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, already the world’s largest, is likely to worsen as international aid recedes.

Aid agencies operating in Afghanistan have urgently called for more international funding amid fears of a widespread famine. Millions of Afghans are on the verge of starvation.

The Taliban government, which remains unrecognized and has been hit by sanctions from the international community, appears unable to address the humanitarian needs of 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. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org

Taliban Publicly Executes Two People For Murder

A Taliban fighter and onlookers witness the execution of three men in Ghazni Province in 2015.
A Taliban fighter and onlookers witness the execution of three men in Ghazni Province in 2015.

Taliban officials say two people were publicly executed on February 22 for murder at a soccer stadium in the southeastern Afghan city of Ghazni. The Taliban’s Supreme Court said in a statement that the execution of the two, whose names were withheld, was ordered by three courts and the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. Witnesses were ordered not to record the executions. The first confirmed public execution after the Taliban's return to power in August 2021 was carried out in December 2022 in Farah Province. In June 2023, the Taliban publicly executed a person for murdering five people in Laghman Province. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.

With Sights On Taliban, UN Experts Call For Declaring Gender Apartheid A Crime Against Humanity

Afghan women wait to receive food from foreign aid in Kandahar. Since seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban has reinstated one of the most rigid gender discrimination policies in the world.
Afghan women wait to receive food from foreign aid in Kandahar. Since seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban has reinstated one of the most rigid gender discrimination policies in the world.

United Nations experts on discrimination against women and girls have called on the international community to formally recognize "gender apartheid" as a crime against humanity.

Emphasizing the grave situation of women and girls under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the five-member panel of experts from Mexico, the United States, China, Serbia, and Uganda said the step is long overdue.

"The Taliban's rule makes codifying gender apartheid in international law particularly urgent," a UN press statement said.

"It would allow the international community to better identify and address the regime’s attacks on Afghan women and girls," the statement added.

Since seizing power in August 2021 as international troops left the country, the Taliban has reinstated one of the most rigid gender discrimination policies in the world.

Its government has banned women and teenage girls from education and employment in most sectors. The Taliban's growing restrictions against women are aimed at controlling their appearance and their public interactions.

Afghan women are also banned from leisure activities and visiting bathhouses. Women are barred from or discouraged from running or visiting beauty salons and restaurants.

“State laws, policies, and practices that relegate women to conditions of extreme inequality and oppression, with the intent of effectively extinguishing their human rights, reflect the very core of apartheid systems,” the UN statement said.

The UN experts recommended including gender apartheid as a crime against humanity under Article 2 of the draft articles on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity. The UN General Assembly’s Sixth Committee is currently considering the draft legislation.

"Women are detained and tortured under various pretexts," a woman resident of the capital, Kabul, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. “I hope that gender apartheid will be recognized in Afghanistan."

Another woman in he capital told Radio Azadi that gender discrimination needs to end soon.

"Don't perpetuate this crisis,” she said.

For more than a year, Afghan women's rights activists have been campaigning to declare the Taliban's treatment of Afghan women and girls as gender apartheid.

Taliban's Boycott Of Key UN Meeting A Blow To Hopes Of Increased Engagement

The foreign minister of Afghanistan's Taliban-led government, Amir Khan Muttaqi. The Taliban’s refusal to attend a UN conference is a blow to the hopes of the international community to improve dialogue with the extremist group. (file photo)
The foreign minister of Afghanistan's Taliban-led government, Amir Khan Muttaqi. The Taliban’s refusal to attend a UN conference is a blow to the hopes of the international community to improve dialogue with the extremist group. (file photo)

The Taliban boycotted a United Nations-sponsored conference on Afghanistan, the first time the extremist group was invited to participate in a major international event since it seized power in 2021.

The group's refusal to attend the February 18-19 conference in Qatar is seen as a blow to the hopes of the international community to improve dialogue with the Taliban government, which remains unrecognized and is under sanctions.

The two-day event brought together representatives of member states, special envoys to Afghanistan, and Afghan civil society members, including women.

The conference came amid a standoff between the Taliban and the international community. Since regaining power, the hard-line Islamists have monopolized power, committed gross human rights abuses, and severely curtailed the freedoms of Afghan women.

The international community has called on the Taliban to reverse its repressive policies and create an inclusive government, which the extremist group has refused.

"One of our main objectives is to overcome this deadlock," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on February 19, adding that "the concerns of the international community” and “the concerns of the de facto authorities of Afghanistan” both need to be taken into account.

While the world body has left the door open for the Taliban to participate in future UN-sponsored meetings, observers said it is unclear if the Taliban and the international community can increase engagement and bridge their differences.

'Unacceptable'

The Taliban set conditions for its participation in the Doha conference, including that it be the sole representative of Afghanistan at the meeting. The UN chief said the group’s demands were “unacceptable” and amounted to recognizing the Taliban as the country’s legitimate government.

The Taliban has also opposed the appointment of a UN special envoy to Afghanistan, one of the key issues discussed at the Doha meeting. One of the envoy’s main tasks would be to promote intra-Afghan dialogue.

The Taliban’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement issued ahead of the meeting, accused the international community of "unilateral impositions, accusations, and pressurization."

"One of our main objectives is to overcome this deadlock," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on February 19, adding that "the concerns of the international community” and “the concerns of the de facto authorities of Afghanistan” both need to be taken into account.
"One of our main objectives is to overcome this deadlock," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on February 19, adding that "the concerns of the international community” and “the concerns of the de facto authorities of Afghanistan” both need to be taken into account.

Javid Ahmad, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, said the group wants to engage with the international community on “Taliban-owned terms without having to entertain negotiations that could challenge their grip on power.”

Ahmad said the Taliban was keen to avoid being “pigeonholed by the engagement community into unwanted conference outcomes without prior discussions, which would undermine their authority as rulers.”

That, experts said, would explain the Taliban’s opposition to the appointment of a UN special envoy for Afghanistan, an international interlocutor who would be tasked with promoting dialogue between the extremist group and exiled opposition political figures.

Since seizing power, the Taliban has sidelined many ethnic and political groups as well as women. The Taliban's theocratic government appears to have little support among Afghans.

“Problems will persist as long as these issues are not addressed,” Ali Ahmed Jalali, a distinguished professor at the National Defense University in Washington, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “The appointment of the UN special envoy will mean that the Taliban government is downgraded from a government to a group.”

'Categorical Answer'

Most of the international community’s dialogue with the Taliban has been through its ministers in Kabul and its diplomats in Qatar, where the group maintains a political office.

But experts said the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, and his key confidants, all of whom are senior clerics, have the real decision-making authority in the group.

The Taliban sees itself as only answerable to Allah and not the people of Afghanistan and even less to the international community."
-- Anders Fange, Swedish aid worker

The reclusive Akhundzada, a hard-line cleric who rarely leaves the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, has the ultimate say on all important matters under the Taliban’s clerical system.

“The Taliban diplomats will keep the door open,” said Anders Fange, a Swedish aid worker who worked for the UN in Afghanistan. “But the people down in Kandahar will give you a more categorical answer.”

Fange said international pressure on the Taliban is unlikely to work given the fundamentalist views of its leadership.

“The Taliban sees itself as only answerable to Allah and not the people of Afghanistan and even less to the international community,” he added.

International Divisions

One of the key aims of the Doha conference was to reach a consensus among member states on how to deal with the Taliban. But that has been complicated by Afghanistan’s neighbors, as well as Russia and China, who have forged ties with the Taliban.

At the Taliban's request, the Russian delegation that participated in the Doha meeting refused to meet the Afghan civil society representatives.

China’s special envoy to Afghanistan, who was in Doha, meanwhile called on Washington to unfreeze some $7 billion in Afghan central bank reserves held in the United States, a move that Beijing has said will allow the Taliban to address the devastating humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan.

If the West does not engage with the Taliban, it risks “being entirely without influence" in Afghanistan, said Fange.

Landslide In Afghanistan Kills At Least 5, Leaves 22 Trapped, Missing

An avalanche has killed at least five people and left 22 more trapped or missing amid heavy rainfall in a mountainous region of an eastern Afghan province, locals and a Taliban official said on February 19. The landslide in the Nurgram district of Nuristan Province destroyed as many as six homes, according to Gohar Rahman, a deputy district governor for Afghanistan's Taliban-led government. Afghanistan has been hit by heavy rainfall following an extended drought that worsened the humanitarian crisis in a country already hard-hit by decades of war. To read the original story by Radio Azadi, click here.

Updated

At Afghanistan Meeting, UN's Guterres Pledges Work To Appoint Envoy

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held closed-door sessions with the representatives of several nations and organizations on the first day in Doha. (file photo)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held closed-door sessions with the representatives of several nations and organizations on the first day in Doha. (file photo)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on February 19 told a press conference at a two-day UN-sponsored meeting of more than two dozen nations but not including Taliban representatives in the Qatari capital to discuss the "evolving situation" in Afghanistan that he is starting consultations toward appointing a UN envoy to coordinate engagement between Kabul and the international community.

The Doha gathering is also aimed at discussing possible international engagement since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-2021.

Guterres held closed-door sessions with the representatives of several nations and organizations on the meeting's first day.

Mahbouba Seraj, a civil-society and women's rights representative who is in Doha along with a number of other Afghan participants not affiliated with the Taliban-led government, told Radio Azadi that priority topics on day two would include the plight of women and girls under the Taliban.

She expressed hope that hers and other women's voices will "finally be heard, that this issue will be followed up on, and indeed someone" will take up the cause of Afghan women, who are routinely discriminated against and isolated under the hard-line fundamentalist Taliban.

Girls above the sixth grade have been barred from attending school, universities are closed to women, and work in the nongovernmental sector and among most government bodies has been banned for women, in addition to other restrictions.

The Taliban leadership declined the invitation from the UN Department of Political Affairs and Peacebuilding (DPPA) to attend the gathering.

Guterres said the Taliban set unacceptable conditions for attending the meeting, including the barring of Afghan civil society members and de facto recognition of the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers.

“I received a letter with a set of conditions to be present in this meeting that were not acceptable,” Guterres told a news conference. “These conditions denied us the right to talk to other representatives of Afghan society and demanded a treatment that, to a large extent, would be similar to recognition.”

Russia also said via its embassy in Afghanistan that it wouldn't send a delegation to the Qatari meeting.

Moscow said it was acting "at the request of the Afghan authorities" and would not join "so-called Afghan civil activists, whose selection, by the way, was conducted nontransparently behind Kabul's back."

Organizers said participants from 25 nations and groups would include those from "Afghanistan, the wider region, and beyond.”

“Other regional organizations working actively on Afghanistan such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the European Union, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization” were also expected to be there.

The Taliban-led government remains overwhelmingly unrecognized internationally since taking over following the withdrawal in mid-2021 of the U.S.-led international coalition that spent two decades in Afghanistan after the events of 9/11.

The Taliban’s Foreign Ministry on February 17 said that due to the nonacceptance of its demands, it did not consider participation in the Doha meeting to be fruitful, expressing anger over the planned appearance of non-Taliban Afghan representatives at the sessions. The Taliban has long had a representative office in Qatar.

The DPPA said the current session would “take place in the context of Security Council resolution 2721 (2023), which encourages member states to consider increasing international engagement in the country, with the objective of a ‘clear end state of an Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbors, fully reintegrated into the international community, and meeting international obligations.’”

The gathering is the second such meeting organized by the UN in the past year following a session in May 2023.

With reporting by AP

Afghan Province Orders Officials Not To Photograph Living Things

Afghan nomads carry firewood on donkeys in Kandahar Province.
Afghan nomads carry firewood on donkeys in Kandahar Province.

Authorities in the Afghan province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, ordered officials on February 18 not to take pictures or videos of "living things." In a letter addressed to civilian and military officials, the provincial department of the interior directed them "to refrain from taking pictures of living things in your formal and informal gatherings, because it causes more harm than good." It said text or audio content on officials' activities was allowed. Images of humans and animals are generally avoided in Islamic art, extending for some Muslims to an aversion to any images of living things.

Former Envoy Gives Pessimistic Assessment Of Taliban As Crucial UN Meeting Opens

"A lot will depend on whether the Taliban attend the meeting in Doha," Nicholas Kay said. (file photo)
"A lot will depend on whether the Taliban attend the meeting in Doha," Nicholas Kay said. (file photo)

A former British diplomat and NATO representative in Afghanistan says he is not optimistic about the situation in the war-torn country as its Taliban leaders continue to restrict rights and freedoms, especially for women.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, Nicholas Kay, NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan between 2018 and 2020, said he saw little potential for change in Afghanistan in the near future with the Taliban holding a tight grip on society.

"I think it's tough days ahead for Afghans, unfortunately," he said ahead of a major UN meeting on Afghanistan that began in Doha on February 18. "I wish I could be more optimistic."

Since the Taliban's return to power in August 2021, the extremist Islamist group has banned education and work for women in most sectors. Afghans have lost most fundamental rights and many face Taliban retribution and oppression.

The country's aid-dependent economy has shrunk dramatically as natural disasters, climate change, and forced returns of Afghan refugees from neighboring countries have worsened the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

Kay says that reforming or diluting the Taliban's hard-line policies will be "a long, hard process," because the group is committed to its ideology and way of governing.

"I don't see any immediate openings in terms of granting more human rights, civil and political rights to Afghans," he said.

Kay, however, said he didn't expect the international community to abandon the country, with continued aid likely to flow to alleviate the suffering of Afghans.

"It is nobody's interest to see the Afghan state collapse and its institutions collapse," he said. "So, a degree of cooperation and support will continue."

International diplomacy concerning Afghanistan is intensifying.

The United Nations has invited the Taliban to the two-day international conference on Afghanistan that began in the Qatari capital on February 18.

Hosted by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, special envoys of member states and regional organizations will discuss international engagement with the Taliban and the potential appointment of a UN special envoy tasked with promoting reconciliation among Afghans.

Kay said that if the meeting achieves consensus over appointing a UN special envoy, it will be "good progress."

However, the Taliban government is staunchly opposed to the appointment of a high-profile UN envoy.

It argues that the UN presence under Roza Otunbaeva, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, who heads the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), is enough.

"A lot will depend on whether the Taliban attend the meeting in Doha," Kay said.

The Taliban claims that its internationally unrecognized government has restored peace by establishing a central authority, and thus there's no need for an inclusive government.

Meanwhile, Kay said he saw the Taliban as being "an awful long way" from accepting that its government is not inclusive and that its treatment of girls and women "is a crime against humanity" and "a form of gender apartheid."

"As long as that persists, then I fail to see that there will be a normalization of relations between the international community and the Taliban."

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by Mustafa Sarwar

5.0-Magnitude Earthquake Jolts Northern Afghanistan

A family picture can be seen on a wall of a damaged house after an earthquake in Afghanistan's Herat Province in October 2023.
A family picture can be seen on a wall of a damaged house after an earthquake in Afghanistan's Herat Province in October 2023.

A relatively strong earthquake hit Afghanistan's northern province of Balkh on February 18. The 5.0-magnitude quake occurred at a depth of 10 kilometers, according to the United States Geological Survey. Haji Zaid, the Balkh governor's spokesman, said on social media that there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. In October, a series of quakes with magnitudes of up to 6.3 rocked Afghanistan's western province of Herat. According to the United Nations, the quakes killed around 1,500 people and injured nearly 2,000.

International Envoys Discuss Afghan Engagement In Doha; Taliban Rejects Invite

Since the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the international community has wrestled with its approach to the country's new rulers. (file photo)
Since the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the international community has wrestled with its approach to the country's new rulers. (file photo)

Special envoys from more than two dozen countries gathered in the Qatari capital to discuss the "evolving situation" in Afghanistan and possible international engagement since the Taliban's takeover of the country in mid-2021, organizers of the UN-led event said on February 18.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held closed-door sessions with the representatives of several nations and organizations on the first day of the two-day meetings in Doha sponsored by the UN's Department of Political Affairs and Peacebuilding (DPPA). No details of the meetings were immediately released.

Organizers said participants from 25 countries and groups would include those from "Afghanistan, the wider region, and beyond.”

“Other regional organizations working actively on Afghanistan such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the European Union, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization” would be there, a statement said.

The DPPA said the “de facto authorities” from Afghanistan had been invited, but the Taliban’s Foreign Ministry on February 17 said that due to the nonacceptance of its demands, it did not consider participation in the Doha meeting to be fruitful, expressing anger over the planned appearance of non-Taliban Afghan representatives at the sessions.

The Taliban has long had a representative office in Qatar.

Reports in the Afghan media said Lotfollah Najafizadeh on behalf of civil activists and Mahbubeh Siraj, Mitra Mehran, and Shah Gul Rezaee representing Afghan women's rights groups were participating.

The DPPA said the current session would “take place in the context of Security Council resolution 2721 (2023), which encourages member states to consider increasing international engagement in the country, with the objective of a ‘clear end state of an Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbors, fully reintegrated into the international community, and meeting international obligations.’”

In an interview with RFE/RL, Nicholas Kay, a former British diplomat and NATO representative in Afghanistan, said he is not optimistic about the situation in the war-torn country as its Taliban leaders continue to restrict rights and freedoms, especially for females.

Kay, NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan in 2018-20, said he sees little potential for change in Afghanistan in the near future with the Taliban holding a tight grip on society.

“I think it's tough days ahead for Afghans, unfortunately,” he told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi ahead the Doha sessions.

“I wish I could be more optimistic,” he said.

The gathering is the second such meeting organized by the UN in the past year following a session in May 2023.

Afghan Women Fear Going Out Alone Due To Taliban Decrees On Clothing, Male Guardians, UN Says

A Taliban fighter stands guard as women wait to receive food rations distributed by a humanitarian aid group in Kabul.
A Taliban fighter stands guard as women wait to receive food rations distributed by a humanitarian aid group in Kabul.

Afghan women feel scared or unsafe leaving their home alone because of Taliban decrees and enforcement campaigns on clothing and male guardians, according to a report from the UN Mission in Afghanistan. The report was issued days before a UN-convened meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, where member states and special envoys to Afghanistan are expected to discuss engagement with the Taliban. The Taliban have barred women from most areas of public life and stopped girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade as part of harsh measures they imposed after taking power in 2021.

The Azadi Briefing: Why Does The Taliban Oppose Appointment Of A UN Special Envoy To Afghanistan?

Members of a Taliban delegation arrive for a meeting with foreign diplomats in Qatar's capital Doha, in October 2021.
Members of a Taliban delegation arrive for a meeting with foreign diplomats in Qatar's capital Doha, in October 2021.

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 United Nations is convening a major international meeting on Afghanistan in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar on February 18-19.

The possible appointment of a special UN envoy to Afghanistan will be one of the key issues discussed at the meeting, which will bring together the special representatives for Afghanistan from various countries.

But the Taliban has opposed the appointment of an envoy, an international interlocutor who would be tasked with promoting dialogue between the extremist group and exiled opposition political figures.

After seizing power in 2021, the Taliban has monopolized power and sidelined many ethnic and political groups as well as women. The Taliban's theocratic government remains unrecognized internationally and appears to have little support among Afghans.

Why It's Important: An intra-Afghan process that would lead to a power-sharing agreement among rival Afghan groups is seen as the best way to reach a lasting peace in the war-torn country.

The Taliban's failure to agree to the appointment of a UN special envoy could undermine reconciliation efforts.

"The Taliban thinks that it is not necessary to have a political dialogue with people who have left the country," Tariq Farhadi, an Afghan political analyst based in Europe, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Many of the leaders of the former internationally recognized Afghan government went into exile after the Taliban takeover.

The Taliban has said the appointment of a UN envoy is unnecessary because the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which primarily coordinates humanitarian and development efforts, is already present in the country.

"I don't think that's correct," former British diplomat Sir Nicholas Kay told Radio Azadi, adding that the task of a special envoy will be to promote dialogue among Afghans and "dedicate themselves to that diplomatic international task."

What's Next: Given the Taliban's opposition to a political dialogue and its insistence on imposing its harsh rule through brute force, most of the international community is likely to support the appointment of a special envoy.

But such a move could prompt the Taliban to stop engaging with the United Nations and the international community, which would likely entrench Afghanistan's international pariah status under Taliban rule.

What To Keep An Eye On

Iran has said it is building a 74-kilometer-long "physical barrier" along its long border with Afghanistan.

Kiumars Heydari, head of Iran's regular army ground forces, said on February 10 that the aim was to "block a strip of the border with Afghanistan with physical barriers to limit traffic" on the porous frontier.

He said the project was "one of the most important" undertaken by the Iranian government and will be carried out in four phases.

The launch of the project comes after explosions claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group killed more than 90 people in the southern city of Kerman on January 3, the deadliest attack in Iran in decades.

Tehran has not recognized the Taliban government. But it enjoys relatively good relations with the group, despite clashes over issues like cross-border water resources.

Senior Iranian officials have expressed concerns over security threats emanating from Afghanistan, where IS militants are active. The Taliban claims that the extremist group does not exist in Afghanistan.

Why It's Important: Iran is the second country -- after Pakistan -- that is attempting to build a barrier on the border with Afghanistan.

Iran's project is likely aimed at curbing the thousands of illegal Afghan migrants who cross into the Islamic republic every week. Many are fleeing their homeland to escape Taliban repression and the humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan.

On February 14, Taliban officials said that more than 25,000 Afghans had been forcefully expelled from Iran this month.

Tehran has vowed to expel the estimated 5 million Afghans it says are living "illegally" in Iran.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

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. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org.

Azerbaijani Envoy Hands Letter To Taliban On Opening Embassy In Kabul

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

Afghanistan's Taliban-led government says Azerbaijan has officially reopened its embassy in Kabul, following through on a pledge made last year.

A spokesman for the Taliban-led government's Foreign Ministry, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on February 15 that Azerbaijani Ambassador to Afghanistan Ilham Mammadov arrived in the Afghan capital and handed an official letter on opening the oil-rich South Caucasus state's embassy in Kabul to Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.

"This meeting discussed the beginning of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Azerbaijan, economic cooperation and many other issues," Balkhi wrote, adding that Muttaqi called the opening of the embassy and the sending of ambassador-level diplomats "an important development in bilateral relations."

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed a law on opening an embassy in Kabul in January 2021. In July the same year, Mammadov was appointed the ambassador to Kabul.

In December, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov said Azerbaijan would open its embassy in Kabul in 2024.

Azerbaijani armed forces took part in the international anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. They left the country along with the U.S.-led international forces in August 2021, after which the Taliban, which is internationally recognized as a terrorist organization, returned to power.

Mammadov's trip to Kabul comes three days before UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to host an international meeting in Doha, Qatar, to discuss joint efforts to assist the people of Afghanistan.

The Taliban confirmed earlier this month that it had received an invitation to the meeting and was considering "meaningful participation" in it.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan drove millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight.

Sanctions against the Taliban rulers, a halt on bank transfers, and frozen billions in Afghanistan's currency reserves have cut off access to global institutions and the outside money that supported the aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

UN, EU Diplomats Discuss Afghanistan With Central Asian Officials Ahead Of International Conference

UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Roza Otunbaeva (fourth from left) held talks in Bishkek on February 14 with two EU officials as well as officials from the five Central Asian states.
UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Roza Otunbaeva (fourth from left) held talks in Bishkek on February 14 with two EU officials as well as officials from the five Central Asian states.

BISHKEK -- The UN secretary-general’s envoy for Afghanistan met on February 14 in Bishkek with EU and Central Asian officials to discuss joint efforts to assist people in Taliban-led Afghanistan ahead of a more formal international meeting scheduled to take place on February 18-19 in Doha, Qatar.

UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Roza Otunbaeva held talks with two European Union officials -- Special Representative for Central Asia Teri Hakala and Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas Niklasson -- as well as officials from the five Central Asian states.

It was their fifth meeting to discuss relief efforts for Afghanistan, which has experienced a sharp drop in foreign aid since the Taliban regained power in 2021.

The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry said in a statement that participants discussed current developments in the South Asian country and the UN-led process ahead of the Doha meeting that Taliban representatives have been invited to attend.

“An online exchange of views also took place with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the diplomatic missions of Central Asian countries based in Kabul,” the ministry’s statement said.

Niklasson told RFE/RL that the meeting was "rather informal," mostly to exchange opinions and analyses on the situation in Afghanistan to check "how we see development, challenges, and opportunities" there.

"This meeting came just a few days ahead of a meeting [on Afghanistan] in Doha [Qatar.] The purpose of this meeting was to compare notes and see that we have a lot in common," Niklasson said.

"We see a need to continue to engage Afghanistan, we see a need to continue to support the people of Afghanistan. At the same time, we see a number of challenges that makes it difficult to move beyond where we currently are," Niklasson added, citing security concerns, economic problems, and a poor human rights situation in Afghanistan under what he called "de facto" leadership.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will host the meeting in Doha, which is starting on February 18. Earlier this month, the Taliban confirmed that it had received an invitation to the meeting and was considering “meaningful participation” in it.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 drove millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight. Sanctions against the Taliban rulers, a halt on bank transfers, and frozen billions in Afghanistan’s currency reserves have cut off access to global institutions and the outside money that supported the aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

Human Rights Watch said in a report published on February 12 that the drop in foreign aid has heavily impacted that country's public health-care system, exacerbating "malnutrition and illnesses resulting from inadequate medical care."

EU Special Representatives Arrive In Bishkek To Participate In Afghanistan Talks

The two EU representatives will also meet with representatives of Kyrgyzstan's government agencies and civil society. (file photo)
The two EU representatives will also meet with representatives of Kyrgyzstan's government agencies and civil society. (file photo)

Two European Union officials -- Special Representative for Central Asia Teri Hakala and Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas Niklasson -- arrived on February 13 in Bishkek, where they will participate in special talks with Central Asian officials on joint efforts to assist people in Afghanistan. The two EU representatives will also meet with representatives of Kyrgyzstan's government agencies and civil society. The visit takes place amid criticism by Western nations and rights groups of Kyrgyz authorities over an ongoing crackdown on independent media and democratic institutions. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Afghan Health Care Hit By Drop In Foreign Aid, Taliban Rule, Says Rights Watchdog

A woman gives milk to her 2-year-old son as he undergoes treatment in the malnutrition ward of a hospital in Kabul.
A woman gives milk to her 2-year-old son as he undergoes treatment in the malnutrition ward of a hospital in Kabul.

A sharp drop in foreign aid to Afghanistan has heavily impacted that country's public health-care system, exacerbating "malnutrition and illnesses resulting from inadequate medical care," Human Rights Watch said in a new report published on February 12. HRW also said Taliban restrictions on women and girls have impeded access to health care, jeopardizing the right of millions of Afghans to medical services. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 drove millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight. Sanctions against the Taliban rulers, a halt on bank transfers, and frozen billions in Afghanistan’s currency reserves have cut off access to global institutions and the outside money that supported the aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

Two Afghans Detained At Guantanamo Bay For 14 Years Released By Oman, Taliban Says

Two Afghan prisoners who were held in U.S. custody for at least 14 years at the Guantanamo Bay detention center after 2002 were released from house arrest in Oman, a Taliban spokesman said on February 11. Abdul Zahir Saber and Abdul Karim were released as a result of the efforts made by Afghanistan, a Taliban Interior Ministry spokesman said. An official welcome ceremony is being organized in the capital, Kabul, for their return on February 12, the Taliban said. The two were held in Guantanamo until 2017, when they were transferred to Oman, where they spent the next seven years under house arrest, forbidden to travel.

Iranian Envoy To Kabul Sees Afghanistan As Part Of Tehran's 'Axis Of Resistance'

A file photo of Iran's special envoy to Afghanistan Hassan Kazemi Qomi
A file photo of Iran's special envoy to Afghanistan Hassan Kazemi Qomi

Iran's special envoy to Afghanistan and the head of its embassy in Kabul says Tehran includes the war-torn country as part of is "axis of resistance" -- a loose-knit network of Iranian-backed proxies and militant groups that aid it in opposing the West, Arab foes, and primarily Israel.

Active in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, the network allows Iran to create chaos in enemy territory while maintaining a position of plausible deniability that it is directly involved.

Speaking on Tehran's Ofogh television network on February 6, Hassan Kazemi Qomi said that under the right conditions, more than one brigade of "martyrdom-seeking" forces could go to Gaza from Afghanistan to support Hamas, another member of the axis which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union.

Amid intense fighting between Hamas and Israel, Iran has been increasingly vocal about the prospect of additional firepower entering the fray to score a victory for the so-called "axis of resistance" against Israel.

"In what we see in Afghanistan today, it is apparent that Afghanistan is part of the 'axis of resistance.' If there is a situation and a necessity, more than one brigade of 'martyrdom-seeking' forces can go to Gaza in support of Gaza," Qomi said during the interview.

RFE/RL sought comments from officials of the Taliban-led government, but spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid did not respond to the inquiries.

"Martyrdom-seeking" forces often refer to those who carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan and other countries. The Taliban, which used such forces in its nearly two-decade-long war against NATO-led forces and the security forces of the former republic, is known for this tactic.

Mujahid told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi in January 2021 that a "martyrdom-seeking" battalion would be incorporated into the special forces of the Defense Ministry run by the Taliban.

Aziz Maarij, a former Afghan diplomat in Iran, said Qomi's statement may be an attempt by Iran to drag Afghanistan into its sphere by involving it in the Gaza conflict.

"The innocent Muslims being killed by Israeli oppression in Gaza is a tragedy, but this war is political, competitive, and proxy, in which Iran is involved. It seeks revenge against America and to challenge its rivals by dragging Afghanistan into these issues," Maarij told Radio Azadi.

While Qomi did not specify who or which group could send a "martyrdom-seeking" brigade to Gaza, Iran has been previously accused of sending Afghans to fight in its proxy wars.

Recently, some Iranian media reported the death of Seyed Hamzah Alavi, born in Afghanistan's Parwan Province and a veteran fighter of the Fatemiyoun Division in Syria.

The Fatemiyoun Division is considered a branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Quds Force, which has recruited thousands of Afghan citizens to fight in Syria.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a yearslong shadow war. Tensions have been exacerbated by the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Dari by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Amnesty International Demands Release Of Afghan Educational Activists Held By Taliban

Amnesty International called on Afghanistan’s de facto Taliban rulers to free two activists working for the Fekre Behtar educational organization, who the rights group said were “arbitrarily arrested” in October 2023 in Kabul. Amnesty said that “Ahmad Fahim Azimi and Seddiqullah Afghan’s arrest and arbitrary detention are against international human rights law. They must be immediately and unconditionally released.” Amnesty said the men were falsely accused of assisting girls from the national robotic team to leave the country, inciting women protesters, and organizing protests. They have denied the allegations. After taking power in August 2021, the Taliban severely restricted the rights of women and girls, especially in educational matters.


The Azadi Briefing: China Upgrades Diplomatic Ties With The Taliban

China’s president on January 30 became the first head of state to formally accept the credentials of a Taliban-appointed ambassador.
China’s president on January 30 became the first head of state to formally accept the credentials of a Taliban-appointed ambassador.

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

Chinese President Xi Jinping on January 30 formally accepted the credentials of the Taliban-appointed ambassador, becoming the first head of state to do so.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin clarified that the move did not mean Beijing officially recognized the Taliban government.

“Diplomatic recognition of the Afghan government will come naturally as the concerns of various parties are effectively addressed,” he said.

The Taliban, however, celebrated the move as a major diplomatic victory.

"China understands what the rest of the world needs to understand," chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, urging other countries to expand bilateral relations with his government.

Why It's Important: China’s move is a boost to the Taliban-led government, which has not been recognized by any country since the extremist group seized power in 2021.

Beijing’s expanding diplomatic ties with the Taliban government could prompt other countries in the region, including Iran and Russia, to follow suit.

Ibraheem Bahiss, an Afghanistan expert at the International Crisis Group, said Beijing’s decision suggested that the Taliban was making headway in its strategy to gain official recognition from regional countries.

Countries in the region are growing “more and more skeptical about the Western consensus that the Taliban should stay confined to pariah status on the world stage,” he wrote.

Najib Azad, an exiled former Afghan government official, said that without full diplomatic recognition from all five permanent United Nations Security Council members, Beijing’s move was meaningless.

“Until that time, it is only a PR opportunity for the Taliban to claim success,” he told Radio Azadi.

What's Next: A planned UN conference on Afghanistan later this month is expected to debate the question of Taliban recognition and engagement with the group.

The hard-line Islamist group faces major hurdles in gaining international recognition and legitimacy.

Many nations have tied recognition to the Taliban establishing an inclusive government, ensuring women’s rights, and breaking ties with extremist groups.

But the Taliban has refused to share power, severely eroded women's freedoms, and maintained links with extremist groups, according to experts.

What To Keep An Eye On

Afghanistan dropped 12 places in Transparency International’s global corruption rankings.

Afghanistan was ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2023 Corruption Perception Index. Last year, the same index ranked it 150th. In 2021, under the Western-backed Afghan government, the country ranked 176th.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, attempted to downplay Afghanistan’s significant drop in the rankings.

“The drop in ranking doesn’t mean that corruption has increased in Afghanistan,” he said. “But it is possible that other countries have become more transparent.”

Why It's Important: The ranking is a blow for the Taliban government, which has touted its fight against corruption as one of its major achievements.

But Afghanistan’s declining score suggests that corruption, which was endemic under the previous government, remains pervasive.

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. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org.

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