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Pakistan: Crackdown Could Pose Threat To Central Asia

Pakistan's army has little influence in Waziristan (file photo) (epa) March 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- While reports say that more than 150 people have been killed this month in Waziristan in fighting between Uzbek militants and local tribesmen, it is difficult to obtain precise information on events in an area where the Pakistani government has almost no presence and exerts little influence.

The Pakistani government is calling the
fierce fighting in its South Waziristan tribal area between local
tribesmen and foreign militants a successful example of Islamabad's
controversial policies there.

But not everyone is convinced the Pakistani government's version of events in Waziristan is the whole story. And in Afghanistan and the neighboring Central Asian countries, the fighting in Waziristan is of great concern as it could soon affect the security situations in those countries.

Government Agreement Backfires

"The government has very little control [in Waziristan] now," Pakistani journalist Haroun Rashid explains. "For two or three years, the Pakistani military has been staging operations in that area against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, but they did not succeed so they then resorted to [an] agreement -- and they have reached two agreements in [South Waziristan] with the main two tribes. After that the Pakistani government just withdrew...and [wherever] the vacuum was the militants came in and they took control."

Those agreements made tribal leaders responsible for expelling foreign fighters, who include supporters of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). It is the IMU that is causing problems now. Latif Afridi, a Pashtun tribal leader and former member of parliament from Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, tells RFE/RL that an unlikely mediator, the Taliban, is trying to end the hostilities.

"I have heard that [Taliban] are all trying to make peace between these two rival groups," he says. "But in my opinion, as long as these Uzbeks do not stop attacking the honor of these people -- their rules and their traditions -- there will be no peace."

Reports from Waziristan say violence started because the Uzbeks killed some local leaders suspected of spying for the Pakistani or U.S. governments, and also some of the Uzbeks have become involved with local women. Local leaders then reportedly called on the Uzbeks to surrender their weapons. That offer was rejected.

Central Asian Militants

The IMU first appeared in 1999 when some 1,000 militants appeared in southern Kyrgyzstan. The group's stated goal was to overthrow Uzbekistan's government.

Kyrgyz forces kept the IMU in the mountains along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border, but the next summer they returned to southern Kyrgyzstan and eastern Uzbekistan. Their attacks were repelled and, by the summer of 2001, the IMU was fighting in Afghanistan alongside Taliban forces. They fought mainly in northern provinces not far from their homes in Central Asia.

U.S. bombings in November 2001 damaged the IMU. But apparently the survivors found a place to hide and regroup in Pakistan, in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. That is the same place where many believe Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri have found refuge.

Fighting With Taliban

The Pakistani government says its policy of relying on local leaders in Waziristan to rid the region of foreign fighters is paying off. Ahmed Rashid, author of the book "The Taliban," says that is not entirely accurate.

"I think the situation is more complicated than the way the Pakistan government is presenting it," he says. "The fact is that the local militants who are attacking the Uzbeks are also Taliban and are also linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban leadership and this is an internal fight I think between the extremists."

Rashid had also heard the Taliban are involved in negotiating a settlement. "There are already reports that Jalaladdin Haqani, the former Taliban minister, is negotiating a cease-fire between them, and perhaps Mullah Dadullah will be coming up from [Afghanistan's] Helmand [Province] to also help negotiate a cease-fire between them and it's possible that the Uzbeks may be removed from south Waziristan and taken south into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban as a way of lessening the tensions in south Waziristan," he says.

An article in the Pakistani daily "Dawn" on March 25 said some 10,000 armed Uzbeks will move to Helmand Province to help fight NATO-led troops and Afghan government forces.

Rashid said the number is lower but noted that the Uzbeks' situation is now desperate, as there is no longer an option to disarm and live among the people of Waziristan.

"There is no way that [the Uzbeks] will be disarmed," Rashid says. "The fact is that they are a very powerful group. There are perhaps as many as 1,500 to 2,000 Uzbeks there. They know that if they are disarmed they will be wiped out by the locals, by the Pakistani Army, or by the Americans."

Frying Pan Or Fire?

Some say there are less than 1,000 armed Uzbeks in Waziristan. However many there are, the Uzbeks' choices now seem to be to stay in Waziristan and be killed, or to leave. But will they really go to Afghanistan to help the Taliban fight NATO-led forces?

Tom Collins, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said NATO is aware of the Taliban claims but rejected their accuracy.

"I would say that it's probably part of the Taliban's propaganda effort," Collins says. "We see very few foreign fighters in this country and I'm not going to speculate on what their latest claim of sending 10,000 foreign fighters into Afghanistan might mean."

Pashtun leader Afridi says that going to Afghanistan would be difficult for the Uzbeks and maybe worse than staying in Waziristan.

"If they leave Pakistan and enter Afghanistan, they will not have any friends there. First of all, they will face NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. And they will be decimated. They cannot survive. And if they go to Afghanistan, they will not receive help like they got in Pakistan. Nobody will protect them there as they were protected in Pakistan," Afridi says.

"It means they will face great dangers in Afghanistan," he adds. "And that is the reason why they say they don't want to go to Afghanistan -- the reason they insist that they will make 'jihad' only in Uzbekistan."

Ready To Go Home?

Uzbekistan, or at least Central Asia, may be the only place for these Uzbeks to run and, as RFE/RL Afghan analyst Amin Tarzi says, there is a known path back to that region.

"If the Uzbeks want to travel from South Waziristan north to Tajikistan they have a fairly straight way along the FATA, the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, where the Pakistani government does not have much control constitutionally and it's a very mountainous region. That's where basically Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and other people are still there, so [the Uzbeks] have ways to go through those places," Tarzi says.

"Then they hit one area that is in Swat and Chitral, which have some of the highest mountains in Pakistan. That connects them to the Pamir area, which is the panhandle of Afghanistan. Crossing that you are right in the Pamir region of Tajikistan, which is the most inaccessible region of Tajikistan where [the Uzbeks] can regroup," he concludes.

The IMU is still active in Central Asia -- a fact shown by the number of its members still being arrested in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- and the number of IMU members there may increase if the Uzbek militants in Waziristan decide to stop fighting in Pakistan and return home.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this article.)

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Pakistan Reopens Key Border Point With Afghanistan Following Complaints

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

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

Homes Of Afghan Migrants Reportedly Attacked After Killing Of Iranian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan Summons Diplomat Of Taliban-Led Government Over Bannu Attack 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AP

Health Fears Over Leprosy Fuel Anti-Afghan Sentiment In Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does The Data Say?

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

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

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

Rising Anti-Afghan Sentiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death Toll After Afghan Floods Rises To At Least 45

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistani Court Ensures Dual Citizenship For Women Married To Afghans

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

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

The Push To Recognize 'Gender Apartheid' As A Crime

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

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

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

What Do They Want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Do They Want It?

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

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

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

Tough Going

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

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

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

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

Imprisonment And Death In Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iranian Film Casts Real Refugees To Show Plight Of Displaced Afghans

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

UN Refugee Chief Welcomes Pakistan Suspending Expulsions Of Undocumented Afghans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taliban Authorities Slash Government Salaries Of Afghan Women

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

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

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

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

UNHCR Chief Meets With Afghan Refugees In Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

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

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


Afghan Talks Kick Off In Doha Amid Anger Over Taliban’s Exclusion Of Women

Afghan activists staged a recent protest in Pakistan over the terms of the Doha meeting, including the apparent exclusion of women's issues.
Afghan activists staged a recent protest in Pakistan over the terms of the Doha meeting, including the apparent exclusion of women's issues.

Two days of UN-organized talks on international relations with Taliban-led Afghanistan were getting under way in the Qatari capital, Doha, on June 30, with the Taliban present for the first time -- but rights groups expressed anger over the hard-line fundamentalist regime’s exclusion of women and its refusal to discuss women's rights at the forum.

"The Taliban had a major role in creating the agenda of this meeting and who should be in this meeting,” Shahrazad Akbar, the former head of the Independent Human Rights Commission and currently executive director of the Rawadari rights organization, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, speaking from Britain.

“This in itself is a big problem and is giving power and legitimacy to the Taliban," she said.

Habiba Sarabi, a prominent women’s rights activist and former member of the negotiating team of the deposed Afghan government, echoed those remarks, saying, “Afghan women are half of Afghan society.”

“How can we say that women are not present in important decision-making meetings. When it is specifically related to Afghanistan, women should be present and women should also participate in those decisions,” she told Radio Azadi.

This is the third such UN-sponsored meeting on Afghanistan in Doha, but the first in which the Taliban has been involved. Along with UN officials, delegations from some two dozen nations, including the United States, are expected to attend.

The Taliban was not invited to the first Doha conference and set conditions that were rejected for its participation in the second gathering in February, including that it be the sole representative of Afghanistan at the meeting.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said the group’s demands were “unacceptable” and amounted to recognizing the Taliban as the country’s legitimate government, something the international community has refused to do.

Afghan women’s rights groups and supporters have held protests inside Afghanistan and in Europe over the Taliban’s participation and its exclusion of women at the gathering.

Zahid Mustafa, who has organized a protest in Amsterdam, told Radio Azadi that "our goal by these protests is that the United Nations has invited the Taliban to this meeting on behalf of Afghans. But we are protesting this and calling for a boycott of the Doha meeting."

Shukriya Barakzai, a women's rights activist and Afghanistan's former ambassador to Norway -- who was invited to the previous meeting -- expressed frustration with the UN organizers of the summit.

"The United Nations’ looking down upon Afghan women and representatives of civil society shows that, despite the fact that this meeting was organized by the United Nations, they are acting against their own procedures and values," she told Radio Azadi from London.

She did not say if she was invited to the current gathering in Doha.

Roza Otunbaeva, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), has defended the failure to include Afghan women at the meeting, saying that women’s rights are certain to be raised with the Taliban. She said the group's inclusion in the talks does not represent a legitimization of its government.

The Taliban government, which took over after the U.S.-led international coalition left the country in mid-2020, is not recognized internationally, although Beijing has accepted credentials from a Taliban ambassador.

The United Nations has accused the Taliban of waging "gender apartheid" on women and girls since returning to power nearly three years ago, closing girls' schools and forcing women out of the workplace and out of public spaces.

Women's rights groups and civil society activists are expected to meet with international diplomats and UN officials on July 2, after the close of the official two-day talks.

But Sima Samar, the former head of Afghanistan’s human rights commission of the deposed Afghan government, said that was not sufficient action by the international community.

“They [the UN] have said they will meet the [Afghan] women on the sidelines after the end of the meeting on July 2,” she told Radio Azadi.

“If they care about women, why don't they meet with women before that, or why aren't women directly at the table, because the Taliban's desire is to erase women from all social and political issues in Afghanistan.”

The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Continues To Stamp Out Religious Freedoms

Sikh Afghans perform a religious celebration in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
Sikh Afghans perform a religious celebration in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

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

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

The Key Issue

A new report by the U.S. State Department says religious freedoms continue to deteriorate under harsh Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Published on July 26, the report details the dwindling religious freedoms for both Muslim and non-Muslim religious minorities in the country of 40 million.

"Fear of violence, persecution, and societal discrimination had prompted members of religious minorities to refrain from publicly expressing their faith," the report said.

Shi'ite Muslims, the country's largest religious minority, accuse the Sunni Taliban of abuses including "killing, torture, and forced displacement." Most Shi'a in Afghanistan are members of the historically persecuted Hazara ethnic minority.

Taliban's jihadist rival, the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), has targeted Shi'ite communities in devastating terrorist attacks.

The Taliban, meanwhile, has brutalized Afghanistan's tiny Salafist community for alleged links to IS-K.

Other religious minorities, including "Christians, Ahmadis, Baha'is, Hindus, and Sikhs," have left or are seeking to leave the country out of fear of persecution, according to the report. Those who remain are withdrawing from public expressions of their faith, "with most in hiding or opting to leave the country."

While most Afghans are Sunni Muslims who follow the Hanafi school, an estimated 15 percent of its population are Shi'a. Small communities of Hindus, Sikhs, and other non-Muslim religions continue to live in the country.

Why It's Important: The Taliban's avowed aim to impose its interpretation of Sunni Hanafi jurisprudence has marginalized religious minorities.

In the absence of a constitution and comprehensive legal framework, decrees by Taliban leaders are vulnerable to individual interpretation, opening new avenues for abuse and denial of rights.

In practice, this translates into severe and growing restrictions on the practice of any beliefs the Taliban disapproves of.

Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said the Taliban's policies are "violating freedom of religion or belief for all Afghans holding a different interpretation of Islam and for members of religious minority groups."

The watchdog recommended extending "protections for freedom of religion or belief into all potential dialogue with the Taliban."

It argued in favor of targeted sanctions on Taliban leaders responsible for "severe violations of religious freedom."

What's Next: Last December, the State Department redesignated the Taliban as an "entity of particular concern" owing to grave violations of religious freedoms.

The hard-line Taliban government is unlikely to shed the designation, as it shows no signs of changing its policies in response to international pressure.

What To Keep An Eye On

Afghanistan's historic run in the ongoing T20 Cricket World Cup ended with a defeat to South Africa in the semifinal.

However, the thrashing the national side suffered on June 27 did not prevent Afghans from celebrating a remarkable sporting achievement.

"We are proud that our team made it to the semifinals," Hashmat Ahmadzai, a resident of the southeastern Khost Province, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. "Our team demonstrated that they could defeat anyone."

In the northern province of Parwan, another fan, Ahmad Zahid, said their team gained more support for the sensational sport after defeating leading teams such as Australia and New Zealand.

Afghans adopted cricket while living in exile in neighboring Pakistan. Over the past two decades the Afghan national side made remarkable progress, rising from underdogs to one of the most talented sides in cricket today.

Why It's Important: The Taliban has so far tolerated cricket as its government stays away from micromanaging the team, which plays under the banner of the fallen republic.

The game has offered passion, entertainment, and united Afghans at a time when the Taliban's extremist policies deny them fundamental freedoms and rights.

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

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.


Biden Criticized For Debate Performance, With Russia-Ukraine War A Hot Topic

U.S. President Joe Biden (right) and former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections at CNN's studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27.
U.S. President Joe Biden (right) and former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections at CNN's studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his Republican rival, Donald Trump, clashed over foreign policy and Russia’s war against Ukraine in a televised debate between the two oldest candidates ever to seek the U.S. presidency.

After taking the debate stage on June 27 without shaking hands and with no audience in the hall, the current president and his predecessor laid out starkly differing views on Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.

But it was Biden’s performance, his words delivered with a raspy voice and often haltingly, that overshadowed the topics being discussed and raised concerns over the 81-year-old's ability to lead the country for another four years.

Trump, who in the past has called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tactics in the 2022 invasion of Ukraine "genius" and "very savvy," attacked Biden saying that if the United States had a "real president," Putin would not have attacked Ukraine.

"He knew not to play games with me," Trump said referring to Putin.

Biden, 81, countered by calling Putin a "war criminal" and warning that if Russia is allowed to succeed in its war, Putin would not stop at Kyiv.

"He's killed thousands and thousands of people," said Biden, who several times appeared to lose his train of thought while delivering responses.

Biden, Trump Debate U.S. Future In NATO
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Since the beginning of the war, the Biden administration has staunchly backed Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The United States has been the largest single contributor of military and financial aid to Kyiv during the conflict, though the most recently approved package of aid totaling $61 billion was delayed for some six months as Republican lawmakers held up the process demanding deep changes to border policy in exchange for their support.

The aid package was eventually approved though no deal on the border was reached.

Biden noted in the debate -- which was dominated by domestic policy issues such as the economy, immigration, and abortion -- that while Washington has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine, he has rallied leaders from more than 50 countries around the world in a coalition to help Ukraine repel Russian troops.

What Happens With NATO And Ukraine If Trump Is Reelected In November?
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"This is a guy who wants to pull out of NATO," Biden, who at times appeared halting and unfocused in his responses, said of Trump.

Earlier this month, Putin said Russia would end the war in Ukraine only if Kyiv met conditions including renouncing its NATO ambitions and ceding four partially occupied regions that Russia claims in their entirety, as well as Crimea. Ukraine dismissed the conditions as absurd and said they amounted to capitulation.

When asked about Putin’s remarks, Trump, 78, said the conditions laid out by the Russian leader “are not acceptable.”

Biden, Trump Clash Over Afghanistan, Russia's War In Ukraine In TV Debate
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But Trump, who voiced a litany of falsehoods during the 90-minute debate, also called Zelenskiy the "greatest salesman ever" for the Ukrainian leader’s military aid requests.

"Look, this is a war that never should have started if we had a leader," Trump said, claiming again he would be able to "settle" the war if re-elected in November.

He gave no details of how he would achieve such a result.

The Kremlin said it had no comment on the debate or the comments made during it.

“I don’t think you expect the president of Russia might set an alarm clock, wake up before morning, and watch the debates in the United States of America?" Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow when asked if Putin, who has said previously he has no preference for either candidate, had watched the debate.

Concerns Over Age

Biden’s at times stumbling performance in the debate underscored concerns about his age and whether, at 81, he is too old to serve another four-year term, and prompted questions among some Democrats over whether he should step aside as their party’s nominee.

At one point, Biden seemed to confuse Trump with Putin; at another point, in a section on immigration and border security, he gave a meandering answer, prompting Trump to counter: "I really don't know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don't think he knows what he said."

Biden "did get stronger as the debate went on but by that time, I think the panic had set in," David Axelrod, an adviser to former President Barack Obama, said on CNN. "There are going to be discussions about whether he should continue."

Speaking to supporters afterward, Biden appeared much more energetic as he kept up his attacks on Trump.

"I can't think of one thing he said out there that was true," said Biden, whose advisers said was suffering from a cold.

Elsewhere in the debate, Trump also slammed Biden for failing to gain the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been in Russian detention for more than a year on espionage charges that he, his employer, and the U.S. government have rejected as politically motivated.

The former president said Biden should have had Gershkovich, whose trial began on June 26 and is being held behind closed doors, "out a long time ago" and that Putin is "probably asking for billions and billions of dollars" for the reporter’s release.

Trump Asked If He Will Accept U.S. Election Results
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Trump didn’t elaborate or substantiate his assertion, but it appeared to be a reference to a 2023 deal that saw the release of five detained Americans in Iran in exchange for the transfer of billions of dollars worth of frozen Iranian assets from banks in South Korea to Qatar.

Washington has said several times the funds are being held in special accounts with restricted access that allow for them to be used by Iran solely for humanitarian goods, such as medicine and food.

Trump also accused Biden of being responsible for the "most embarrassing moment in the history of our country" for the U.S.-led withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in August 2021.

While Trump himself had agreed to the withdrawal of international troops with the Taliban leadership a year before he left office, he did not finalize the plan and it fell to Biden to oversee the operation several years later.

Biden said that when Trump left office after losing the November 2020 election, "things were in chaos."

Trump is scheduled to speak in Virginia later on June 28, while Biden has remained in Atlanta, where the debate took place, and will speak at a campaign event.

With reporting by Reuters

Afghan Women Head To Olympics On Equal Footing

Afghan athletes, seen here at the last Olympics in Tokyo, will be competing under the same flag despite the Taliban's seizure of power.
Afghan athletes, seen here at the last Olympics in Tokyo, will be competing under the same flag despite the Taliban's seizure of power.

Afghan athletes face formidable hurdles under Taliban rule, particularly women, who are denied the chance to compete or even enter a gym. But when the Olympics open in Paris next month, Afghanistan will be represented by a team that epitomizes equality and global resistance to the Taliban's disregard for women's rights.

Afghanistan will field a six-member Olympic team that will consist of three women and three men, all chosen by the exiled Afghan National Olympic Committee (NOC). The team has the full support of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which believes a gender-balanced team will serve as a positive example to the world.

The Taliban, which remains internationally isolated and whose unrecognized rule of Afghanistan has been marked by human rights abuses, has no stake in the team or the selection process.

Representatives of the Taliban and its authoritative bodies were denied accreditation for the Olympics and will not be represented in any way during the games that open on July 26.

The hard-line Islamist group's ban on women's sports is part of its raft of infamous restrictions that deprive Afghan women and girls of the opportunity to pursue education, employment, mobility, and deny them any prominent role in government or society.

In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, women must be accompanied by a male chaperone even to travel outside their homes, and are barred from competitions or even working out in public gyms.

But in Paris, the athletes representing Afghanistan will be breaking taboos and restrictions. The team was selected with the goal of showcasing gender equality, and features the same number of women and men.

Kimia Yousefi, Afghanistan's fastest woman and soon to be a three-time Olympian, will be looking to best the Afghan national record of 13.29 seconds she set in the 100 meters in Tokyo. She served as the flag-bearer for Afghanistan nearly three years ago in those COVID-delayed games, which wrapped up just days before the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021.

Yousefi will be joined by the Hashemi sisters, Fariba and her older sibling Yulduz, road cyclists who are on track to be the first-ever -- male or female -- to represent Afghanistan in cycling at the Olympics.

Afghanistan's fastest runner, Shah Mahmud Noorzai (center), hopes to be a record-setter in Paris.
Afghanistan's fastest runner, Shah Mahmud Noorzai (center), hopes to be a record-setter in Paris.

Swimmer Fahim Anwari is among those who will be competing for Afghanistan under the anthem as well as the black, red, and green flag of the former Afghan republic ousted by the Taliban.

The tumultuous political changes in the Olympian's homeland since he represented Afghanistan in Tokyo have upturned his life and those of his compatriots.

Limited Resources

After the Taliban’s seizure of power, Anwari fled to Germany, where he has trained with limited resources and continues to represent Afghanistan in international swimming competitions.

“Problems and challenges in exile severely disrupted my practice,” he told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “But I am doing my best to pursue my goals.”

Afghanistan's fastest man, sprinter Shah Mahmud Noorzai, will be competing in the 100 meters.

“I have trained well for the Paris games,” Noorzai, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Noorzai fled to neighboring Iran after the Taliban rolled into Kabul. With the help of the IOC, he trained with Iranian athletes.

Noorzai said he is looking forward to beating the national record he set in Tokyo in the 100 meters, which he ran in 10.23 seconds.

“I am proud to be the fastest man in Afghanistan,” he said. “To be the fastest man in Afghanistan’s history.”

Afghanistan's national team duirng the opening ceremony at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Afghanistan's national team duirng the opening ceremony at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Yunas Popalzai, the exiled secretary-general of the Afghan NOC, told Radio Azadi that in addition to Noorzai and Anwari, the judoka Mohmmad Samim will represent Afghanistan.

Akhtari said five of the Team Afghanistan athletes were based outside their home country.

“As all women’s sports are suspended in Afghanistan, [the female athletes] who were put forward were not introduced from inside the country,” he told the AFP news agency this month.

Only Samim is believed to be based in Afghanistan itself.

The objective from the beginning was to choose a balanced team of men and women to represent Afghanistan.

“We made it clear we wanted a gender-equal team,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said earlier this month. “That was the demand, and that is what we achieved.”

“The clear idea is we want to get Afghan athletes and a gender-based team in Paris,” he said. “Because of the demonstration that it gives to the world, at home in Afghanistan, and also to the rest of the world.”

The IOC provides material and financial support for the Afghan athletes competing in the biggest global sports competition.

Adams stressed that the IOC is not allowing Taliban officials to participate in the Olympics and only recognizes the NOC's right to represent Afghan athletes.

"There will be no place for Afghan authorities, the Taliban," Adams said. "No representative of the de facto authorities, the Taliban government, will be accredited."

At least three Afghan men and two women will also compete for the IOC's Refugee Olympic Team, which represents 100 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

Manizha Talash, a breakdancer who was born in Kabul, discovered the sport on social media, and now lives in Spain, is among those who will compete with the 36-member team.

The Refugee Olympic Team will be led in Paris by Masomah Ali Zada, an Afghan road cyclist who competed for the Refugee Olympic Team in Tokyo in 2021.

Nigara Shaheen, a judoka in the 70-kilogram category, grew up as an Afghan refugee in Pakistan and practiced martial arts as a family tradition. She has lived and trained in Canada since 2022 and was also named on the Refugee Olympic Team.

Three male Afghans will be on the Refugee Olympic Team-- Amir Ansari in road cycling, Arab Sibghatullah in judo, and Farzad Mansouri in taekwondo.

Afghanistan first participated in the Olympics in 1936, but has only won two medals.

Rohullah Nikpah won men’s taekwondo medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and in the 2012 games in London.

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by Radio Azadi correspondent Faiza Ibrahimi.

'Our Only Joy': Afghan Cricket Fans Celebrate T20 Glory

'Our Only Joy': Afghan Cricket Fans Celebrate T20 Glory
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Celebrations of Afghanistan's historic progress to the T20 cricket World Cup semifinals took place across the country, although residents in Taliban-stronghold Kandahar said they were prevented from joining in. One happy fan in Badakhshan Province told RFE/RL that amid the economic and social problems of Taliban rule, the cricket victory over Bangladesh was "our only joy."

Cholera Outbreak Hits Afghanistan Amid Natural Disasters, Crumbling Health Care

An Afghan woman holds her child as a man salvages his belongings from floodwaters outside their house in Maymana, the capital of northern Faryab Province, in May.
An Afghan woman holds her child as a man salvages his belongings from floodwaters outside their house in Maymana, the capital of northern Faryab Province, in May.

Shahabuddin had a brush with death when floods ripped through his community and washed away his home in northern Afghanistan.

Having survived one near-death experience, Shahabuddin soon encountered another foe: disease.

“Within 24 hours, I was so weak that I could barely walk,” the father of four, who lives in the province of Baghlan, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Shahabuddin is among the nearly 47,000 Afghans who have contracted cholera so far this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A highly infectious bacterial disease, cholera spreads through contaminated food and water and results in acute diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. If untreated, it can lead to death.

Relatives offer prayers during a burial ceremony near the graves of victims who lost their lives following flash floods after heavy rainfall in northern Baghlan Province in May.
Relatives offer prayers during a burial ceremony near the graves of victims who lost their lives following flash floods after heavy rainfall in northern Baghlan Province in May.

At least 25 people have died of the disease so far in 2024 in Afghanistan, which has the highest number of cases in the world, according to a WHO report released on June 19.

Experts said a series of natural disasters, including floods that devastated swaths of northern and central Afghanistan in the spring and the country’s crumbling health-care system, are behind the sharp rise in cases.

'No Access To Clean Water'

Sharafat Zaman Amar, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Ministry of Health, said Afghanistan “does not have any confirmed” cases of cholera.

But Faridullah Omari, a physician at the National Infectious Disease Hospital in Kabul, said each day the hospital receives up to 80 patients who are suffering from water-borne diseases like cholera.

He suggested the cholera outbreak has been fueled by lack of hygiene and more people drinking unsafe water.

Communities affected by the recent floods, which killed hundreds and impacted tens of thousands of people, said the deluges destroyed much of the water supply and infrastructure in the region. They also said there was a severe shortage of medicines available to treat infectious diseases like cholera.

Afghan men practice walking with artificial limbs at an orthopedic hospital supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul. (file photo)
Afghan men practice walking with artificial limbs at an orthopedic hospital supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul. (file photo)

"People don't have access to clean water,” said Sharifullah, a resident of the northern province of Sar-e Pol, which was hit by floods.

“All the water is muddy from the floods,” he told Radio Azadi. “But people use this [dirty] water, and they don't have the means to clean it. So people, especially children, are suffering from diarrhea.”

Khodayaqal, a resident of Baghlan, said they have little access to health-care facilities after the mobile clinics deployed by aid agencies and the Taliban government in the aftermath of the floods left.

“Our children are battling with diseases,” he told Radio Azadi. “We have one clinic here, but it doesn’t have any medicine.”

In its report, the WHO said diminishing stocks of cholera vaccines, as well as population growth, natural disasters, and climate change, have led to cholera outbreaks.

The public health-care system in Afghanistan, which was largely funded by foreign aid for nearly two decades, has been in free-fall since the Taliban takeover in 2021. The militants’ seizure of power led international donors to immediately cut financial funding.

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

While some foreign aid organizations continue to operate in Afghanistan, many of them have been forced to curb their work as international funding diminishes.

Pakistani Security Forces Killed In Bomb Attack Claimed By Tehrik-e Taliban

Residents of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province protest against a lack of security in the region in a June 15 demonstration that condemned both the government and extremists.
Residents of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province protest against a lack of security in the region in a June 15 demonstration that condemned both the government and extremists.

Pakistan's military said at least five soldiers in a troop convoy were killed by a roadside bomb in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province near the Afghan border in an attack claimed by the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a longtime ally of the Afghan Taliban. The attack comes after the group announced a unilateral cease-fire on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr holiday from June 17-19. The region has seen an increase in the number of deadly attacks in the past year attributed to the TTP. Relations between Afghanistan's Islamist rulers and Pakistan have been tense since the Taliban returned to power in 2021, with Islamabad blaming the Taliban for sheltering the TTP. Residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have protested against the lack of security provided by Islamabad and against the actions of extremists. To read the original story by Radio Mashaal, click here.

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