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Afghan, Iranian Asylum Seekers Demand That Indonesia Send Them To Australia

Around 120 mostly Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers are refusing to leave a ship that rescued them at sea unless Indonesia provides a new vessel to allow them to continue on to Australia.

The ship that rescued them this week from a sinking wooden boat near Java took them to the Indonesian port of Merak.

But the asylum seekers say they fear that if they disembark, Indonesian authorities will put them in jail rather than forward them to Australia.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention and often jails asylum seekers awaiting refugee status.

Based on reporting by AFP

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Flooding Kills 10 Members Of Same Family In Northeast Afghanistan

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

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

The Azadi Briefing: Deadly Floods Worsen Hunger Crisis In Afghanistan

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

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

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

The Key Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Keep An Eye On

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all from me for now.

Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

Islamic State Claims Attack In Afghanistan That Killed 3 Spaniards

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

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

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

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

50 Dead In Heavy Rain, Floods In Central Afghanistan

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

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

Updated

At Least 4 Killed In Attack On Foreign Tourists In Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AFP

Intense Border Clashes Between Taliban, Pakistan Cause Deaths, Destruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Keep An Eye On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all from me for now.

Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Anger And Protests'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Little Or Nothing'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Afghan Spring'

The deadly protests in Badakhshan are not isolated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some flood victims say they have received little help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadly Flash Floods Hit Northern Afghanistan

Deadly Flash Floods Hit Northern Afghanistan
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Emergency crews continue scrambling to rescue victims of massive flash floods in remote areas of northern Afghanistan, where hundreds have died. Torrents caused by heavy rainfall have struck communities in Baghlan Province, the worst-hit area, and thousands of homes have been destroyed in Badakhshan, Takhar, Ghor, Faryab, and other provinces.

Search For Survivors Continues Following Deadly Flash Flooding In Northern Afghanistan

Rescue crews are searching for victims in hard-to-reach areas of northern Afghanistan, where at least 300 people have died in flash flooding caused by heavy rainfall.

Updated

Search For Victims Under Way As Death Toll Hits 315 In Afghan Flooding

Residents of Afghanistan's northern Baghlan Province have been hardest hit by the flooding.
Residents of Afghanistan's northern Baghlan Province have been hardest hit by the flooding.

Emergency crews battled the elements as they searched for victims in hard-to-reach areas of northern Afghanistan, where at least 315 people have died in flash flooding caused by heavy rainfall. The Taliban, Afghanistan’s de facto rulers, on May 12 said at least 1,630 people were injured in Baghlan Province, the worst-hit area, and more than 2,660 homes destroyed. Badakhshan, Takhar, Ghor, Faryab, and other provinces have also been hit by the flooding. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that the UN and “its partners in Afghanistan are coordinating with the de facto authorities to swiftly assess needs and provide emergency assistance.” To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.

Updated

Aid Workers Say Death Toll Over 300 From Flooding In Northern Afghanistan

People walk near their damaged homes after heavy flooding in Baghlan Province in northern Afghanistan on May 11.
People walk near their damaged homes after heavy flooding in Baghlan Province in northern Afghanistan on May 11.

The latest wave of flooding in northern Afghanistan from heavy seasonal rains has left more than 300 people dead and many more injured and more than 1,000 homes destroyed, according to UN World Food Program (WFP) officials.

The WFP figure is twice the death toll reported hours earlier on May 11 by a spokesman for the Taliban-led government's Interior Ministry.

Ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Qaniee told Reuters that at least 135 people were injured.

Baghlan Province was initially said to be among the hardest-hit areas, but officials added Badakhshan, Ghor, and Herat provinces to that list.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid expressed "profound sorrow" and cited a "grievous toll" in those four regions.

He also cited "extensive devastation” and “significant financial losses.”

The Taliban Defense Ministry said on May 11 that air forces were evacuating stranded residents in Baghlan and had transported some to military hospitals.

The Taliban-led government is recognized only by China, although a number of countries work with those authorities in many cases to help alleviate the humanitarian hardships that have continued since the Taliban captured most of the country in mid-2021 as U.S.-led international troops withdrew and the UN-backed government fled.

With reporting by Reuters

Afghan Policemen Killed In Blast During Mission To Eradicate Poppy Crops

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of poppy, from which opium and heroin are developed. (file photo)
Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of poppy, from which opium and heroin are developed. (file photo)

Three policemen were killed and five others injured when a bomb exploded near a police convoy on a mission to destroy illegal poppy crops in Afghanistan’s northeastern Badakhshan region, the country’s Taliban rulers said on May 8. Spokesman Ehsanullah Kamgar said explosives had been placed on a motorcycle when they were detonated. No group immediately claimed responsibility. Protests broke out on May 3-4 in the region when the Taliban attempted to forcefully eradicate the poppy crop. The Islamist group banned poppy cultivation in April 2022 after returning to power in August 2021. Afghanistan is the world's top producer of the poppy, from which opium and heroin are developed. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.

'One-Party Rule': Taliban Wages Crackdown On Political Parties

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-e Islami party in Afghanistan, speaks at an event in Islamabad. (file photo)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-e Islami party in Afghanistan, speaks at an event in Islamabad. (file photo)

The Taliban is widening its crackdown on dissent by targeting political parties in Afghanistan.

The extremist group banned all political parties last year. But in recent months, the Taliban has clamped down on parties still deemed to be active.

Among the high-profile targets is the Hezb-e Islami party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan's most notorious ex-warlords and a former militant leader.

The move comes as the Taliban intensifies its efforts to stifle opposing voices in Afghanistan, where scores of journalists and activists have been jailed since the militants’ takeover in 2021.

'Bad Policies'

Hekmatyar signed a peace deal with the former Afghan government in 2016, under which he was granted security and a government-funded residence in the capital, Kabul.

The 76-year-old initially welcomed the Taliban's resumption of control in Afghanistan. But he has grown increasingly critical of the group, which has monopolized power, severely curtailed women’s rights, and stamped out the free press.

In March, the Taliban forced Hekmatyar out of his government-funded residence and barred him from holding his Friday sermons. Members of his party were then prevented from meeting with him in his new residence in the capital.

In April, a TV station owned by Hezb-e Islami was shut down. Barya TV mainly aired Hekmatyar’s speeches and sermons.

Supporters of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar rally in the Afghan capital, Kabul. (file photo)
Supporters of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar rally in the Afghan capital, Kabul. (file photo)

“Totalitarian regimes deeply believe in one-party rule,” said Obaidullah Baheer, a lecturer of politics at the American University of Afghanistan and Hekmatyar’s grandson.

Hezb-e Islami and the Taliban are both hard-line Islamist groups that are mostly made up of Pashtuns.

“Some Taliban followers revere Hekmatyar and agree with his criticism of the group’s bad policies, which the Taliban leader sees as a threat to his authority and the group’s unity,” Baheer said.

In August 2023, the Taliban formally banned all political parties in Afghanistan in a decree issued by Justice Minister Abdul Hakim Sharai.

Sharai, during a gathering in March, reiterated that “parties have no place in our political system.” He added that “even mentioning the name of a party is a crime."

The minister also claimed that the Taliban had shown “full respect” to Hekmatyar.

'Sacred Duty'

Hameed Hakimi, an Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank, said the ban on political parties is aimed at preventing any future political opposition.

“The disenfranchisement and disarming of Hekmatyar sends a signal to those like him,” said Hakimi.

Under the Taliban’s theocratic system, spiritual leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who is the "Amir ul-Momineen," or the leader of the faithful, has the final say on all important matters.

Taliban fighters. (file photo)
Taliban fighters. (file photo)

The Taliban sees “Afghans as subjects of Islamic law,” said Hakimi, adding that obedience to Akhundzada is seen as Afghans’ “sacred duty.”

"It is detrimental to the future of Afghanistan," Hakimi said. "And detrimental to any sense of pluralism."

Isa Ishaqzai, president of the Afghanistan National Congress party, said the Taliban is "terrified" at the prospect of Afghans raising their voices for “justice, human rights, and national interests.”

“Political parties can inform people,” Ishaqzai told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

Iran Seeks To Tighten Crackdown On Afghan Refugees

Afghan refugees who have been deported or returned from Iran in Herat (file photo)
Afghan refugees who have been deported or returned from Iran in Herat (file photo)

Iran says it has expelled some 1.3 million foreigners over the past year, highlighting a significant crackdown by the government on unauthorized migrants, primarily Afghan refugees.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told a press briefing that the efforts to regulate foreign nationals needs to be bolstered with legislative reforms to tighten border controls and prevent any future influx of unauthorized migrants.

"To stop unauthorized nationals from entering Iran, it is necessary to amend the relevant laws in parliament," Vahidi said in an indication the government doesn’t plan to heed calls from human rights groups to ensure a fair immigration policy.

Vahidi added that "effective” laws must be enacted to deal with expelled individuals who have managed to re-enter Iran after being deported. He did not elaborate.

Iranian officials typically use the term "unauthorized nationals" to refer to Afghan refugees and Vahidi’s statement is seen as an indication that the government plans to continue with its efforts to deport those who have fled the Taliban regime.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, Iran currently hosts around 3.4 million foreign refugees, with Afghans comprising the largest single group. The agency requested $114 million in aid for Iran last year to support refugee management, of which Tehran had received over $26 million by mid-2023.

This year, the refugee agency has sought $110 million in aid for Iran, with commitments from several countries, including Italy, Japan, Bulgaria, and Germany, to cover part of the sum.

Iran ranks alongside Turkey as one of the top host countries for refugees globally. The issue of Afghan migration has regained prominence following the Taliban's return to power in August 2021, leading to an increase in the number of refugees seeking safety outside their home country.

Recent government estimates suggest significant discrepancies in the number of unauthorized Afghan nationals in Iran, with figures ranging from 500,000 to 1.2 million, according to last year's assessment by the head of the National Immigration Organization.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Taliban Rejects Claims Of Afghan Involvement In Recent Attacks In Pakistan

Pakistan’s military said on May 7 that a suicide bombing which killed five Chinese engineers and a Pakistani driver in March was planned in neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s military said on May 7 that a suicide bombing which killed five Chinese engineers and a Pakistani driver in March was planned in neighboring Afghanistan.

The Taliban has rejected claims of Afghan involvement in recent attacks in Pakistan, calling it “irresponsible and far from the reality.” Pakistan’s military said on May 7 that a suicide bombing which killed five Chinese engineers and a Pakistani driver in March was planned in neighboring Afghanistan and that the bomber was an Afghan citizen. Major General Ahmad Sharif, a spokesman for Pakistan’s army, has said that four men have been arrested. Enayatullah Khawarazmi, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Defense Ministry, said in a statement on May 8 that “blaming Afghanistan for such incidents is a failed attempt to divert attention from the truth of the matter and we strongly reject it."

To read the original story by AP, click here.

Pakistan Says Afghan-Based Extremists Killed 5 Chinese Engineers

Pakistani security personnel inspect the site of a suicide attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on March 26 that killed five Chinese engineers and a Pakistani driver.
Pakistani security personnel inspect the site of a suicide attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on March 26 that killed five Chinese engineers and a Pakistani driver.

Pakistan’s military has again accused Kabul of providing sanctuary for militants, alleging on May 7 that a March 26 suicide bombing that killed five Chinese engineers and a Pakistani driver was planned in neighboring Afghanistan. Major General Ahmad Sharif, a Pakistani Army spokesman, said the bomber was an Afghan citizen. He said members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) -- a radical Islamist group designated as a terrorist organization by Washington -- are based in Afghanistan and have been conducting regular attacks inside Pakistan. Sharif alleged that Pakistan has shared "concrete evidence" with the Taliban government on the issue but that it hasn't been acted upon. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, click here.

Muddy Floodwaters Surge Through Afghan Villages

Muddy Floodwaters Surge Through Afghan Villages
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Surging brown waters were seen cascading through rural houses and shops in Afghanistan's Ghor Province in the latest flooding to hit the country. Taliban authorities say more than 1,000 families were forced from their homes by heavy rains in recent days. The calamity comes after Afghanistan also suffered heavy flooding that claimed more than 100 lives in March and April.

Locals Protest After Taliban Crackdown Roils Northeast Afghan Province

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

Residents of two remote districts in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan have demanded more accountability and better treatment from the authorities after a Taliban crackdown on protests killed at least two people.

Protests broke on May 3 and 4 in the Darayim and Argo districts when the Taliban attempted to forcefully eradicate the poppy crop. The hard-line Islamist group banned poppy cultivation in April 2022 after returning to power in August 2021.

"People are willing to cooperate in eradicating their opium crops peacefully," Shamsuddin Mubarez, a young activist in Argo, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi on May 6.

"People responsible for destroying the poppy crops should be locals from Badakhshan," he added while outlining their demands.

A resolution adopted by the residents of Argo also demands that Taliban authorities arrest and punish the perpetrators of the shooting that killed Abdul Basit, 23, a local farmer.

In Darayim, a resident speaking on condition of anonymity said that residents refused to talk to a Taliban delegation made up of provincial officials on May 5.

Nizamuddin, a farmer in Darayim's Qarlaq village, was killed. Three more protesters were injured after the Taliban fighters attempted to quell the protest that erupted after they began destroying the poppy crop on May 3.

"People want the Taliban government to hear our voice," a resident of Darayim told Radio Azadi. "But they acted dictatorially and didn’t listen to us."

Abdul Matin Qane, the spokesman for the Taliban-led Interior Ministry, told the BBC that local demands for prosecuting the Taliban security forces responsible for the killings in Badakhshan were "completely justified."

The Taliban government has appointed its army's chief of staff, Fasihuddin Fitrat, a native of Badakhshan, to head a delegation to negotiate with the protesting farmers in the province.

In a purported audio message on May 6, he urged locals to "urgently" end their protests because their agitation would be seen as a rebellion, which could prompt the Taliban to send security forces to quell any unrest.

At least one person was killed in similar protests in Badakhshan last year.

The Taliban ban has pushed the price of illicit opium in Afghanistan to $1,000. But it has pushed tens of thousands of impoverished farmers to extreme poverty because poppies were the best cash crop in the arid, mountainous country.

The Talibans internationally isolated government has so far failed to attract any significant international aid or investments to help Afghan poppy farmers.

Russia Inches Toward Marriage Of Convenience With Taliban In Terror Fight 

Taliban fighters stand guard during a ceremony in Kabul in February.
Taliban fighters stand guard during a ceremony in Kabul in February.

Shortly after the Taliban seized power, Russia addressed the question of whether it was time to review the militant group's status as a terrorist organization.

"It is very important to see what the Taliban's first steps in governing Afghanistan will be like," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on August 30, 2021. "Conclusions can be formed after this."

Two and a half years later -- despite the Taliban's failure to deliver on its promises to form an inclusive government, adhere to basic human rights norms, and prevent Afghan territory from becoming a safe haven for transnational extremist groups -- a mutual enemy appears to be forcing a decision.

Since a deadly terrorist attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group near Moscow on March 22, Russia has increasingly talked up its relationship with the Taliban, which is battling the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) offshoot in Afghanistan that is believed to have carried out the attack.

While the Taliban's government is globally unrecognized, Peskov said last month that Moscow has to resolve "pressing issues" that demand increased dialogue with the militant group, whose leaders are "actually the ones in power in Afghanistan."

Considering the importance Russia places on Afghanistan in maintaining regional security in the face of a rising IS-K threat, boosting engagement with the Taliban holds benefits for Moscow, observers say.

Alec Bertina of Militant Wire, a research outlet that tracks militant groups, says that Russia removing the Taliban from its terror blacklist could be the beginning of a "marriage of convenience."

"As much as it's kind of an amusing idea for Russia and the Taliban to get cozy, it's in their security interest to do so right now," Bertina said. "Given the mutual security threat, and that the Taliban can be used basically to take the hits and casualties that come with fighting IS, it's sort of a no-brainer."

When it emerged in Afghanistan a decade ago, IS-K staged attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its targets included Western forces in Afghanistan as well as the Taliban, which opposed the former Afghan government and vied with IS-K for influence among the dozens of extremist groups active in the country.

Taliban fighters stand guard as workers clean up following a deadly IS-K attack on a children's hospital in Kabul in November 2021.
Taliban fighters stand guard as workers clean up following a deadly IS-K attack on a children's hospital in Kabul in November 2021.

Since the Taliban took over, IS-K has maintained pressure on the Taliban, whose rule it rejects, and has worked to "make life as difficult as possible" for its de facto government, said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Its attacks against the Taliban, religious minorities, and foreign targets in Afghanistan were designed to "undermine the Taliban's legitimacy in order to convince the Afghan people that the Taliban is unable to provide peace and security in the country," Kugelman told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

IS-K has also openly challenged its rival in a sophisticated propaganda campaign, mocking the Taliban government's desire to be recognized by the international community and accusing it of adhering to an "ignorant" brand of Islam.

The group has also increasingly expanded its reach further abroad, including with deadly attacks in Iran, Russia, and Central Asia, a major recruiting ground for IS-K fighters.

"Its main bases are still in Afghanistan, most of its attacks are in Afghanistan, but this is a regional affiliate of Islamic State that has increasingly global goals," Kugelman said of IS-K.

As evidenced by the recent attack on a concert venue that killed more than 140 people and injured hundreds more -- the deadliest terrorist attack on Russian soil in two decades -- Moscow has reason to treat the IS-K with urgency and to forge greater cooperation with one of the group's main adversaries.

"Russian outreach and concessions to the Taliban are likely meant, at least in part, to signal Moscow's confidence in the Taliban's ability to degrade the IS-K threat," Kugelman told RFE/RL in written comments.

The Taliban was designated as a terrorist organization by Russia in 2003, two years after it was pushed from power by U.S.-led forces.

After returning to power, the Taliban initially dismissed the IS-K threat and has insisted that the group is not active on Afghan soil, even as it consistently developed its capabilities to confront the group and destroyed IS-K cells.

Alleged IS-K militants surrender in Nangarhar Province shortly after the Taliban seized power in 2021.
Alleged IS-K militants surrender in Nangarhar Province shortly after the Taliban seized power in 2021.

Most recently, in April, the Taliban reportedly ordered the creation of a special military unit to fight the IS-K.

But "whatever the Taliban has done against IS-K, it hasn't stopped IS-K from being able to conduct external operations in other countries," Bertina said, noting that it has proved incapable of preventing IS-K's recruitment efforts.

That, Bertina said, has led Russia and other countries to discuss "whether it may be of interest to help [the Taliban] out a little bit in their fight."

Moscow's de-listing of the Taliban from its terror blacklist, Bertina said, could pave the way for Russia to potentially "start giving the Taliban resources to better fight IS-K."

Bertina says he envisions a situation in which the Taliban would bear the brunt of the fighting on the ground in Afghanistan, with Russia providing intelligence. Russia would be unlikely to "be too vocal" about direct raids on IS-K in Afghanistan, "considering the uncomfortable history Russia has regarding counterterrorism operations when it comes to countries like Afghanistan."

Kugelman also sees value in Russia cooperating with the Taliban on the counterterrorism front, citing the Taliban's "willingness and capacity to carry out scorched-earth ground campaigns against IS-K."

Russia, while bogged down in its war against Ukraine, could potentially offer the Taliban "arms, money, and even training and advising to help the Taliban do more damage against the IS-K," Kugelman said.

Afghanistan's Only Female Diplomat Resigns In India After Gold-Smuggling Allegations

 Afghan Consul-General in Mumbai Zakia Wardak (file photo)
Afghan Consul-General in Mumbai Zakia Wardak (file photo)

An Afghan diplomat in India, who was appointed before the Taliban seized power in 2021 and said she was the only woman in the country's diplomatic service, has resigned after being detained for allegedly smuggling gold. Zakia Wardak, the Afghan consul-general in Mumbai, announced her resignation on May 4 after Indian media reported she was briefly detained at the airport on allegations of smuggling 25 bricks of gold from Dubai. Reports said she wasn't arrested because of diplomatic immunity. Wardak said that "I am deeply sorry that as the only woman present in Afghanistan's diplomatic apparatus, instead of receiving constructive support to maintain this position, I faced waves of organized attacks aimed at destroying me."

The Azadi Briefing: Deadly Floods Wreak Havoc Across Afghanistan

The Taliban said at least 103 people were killed and over 60 injured in floods and heavy rains between March 21 and April 29. (file photo)
The Taliban said at least 103 people were killed and over 60 injured in floods and heavy rains between March 21 and April 29. (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

Flash floods caused by spring downpours have wreaked havoc in most provinces in Afghanistan.

The Taliban said at least 103 people were killed and over 60 injured in floods and heavy rains between March 21 and April 29.

The downpours have also damaged thousands of houses, while over 100,000 acres of farmland have been destroyed.

“Snow and hail have ruined my apricot, apple, and cherry trees,” Sayed Gul Badshah, a farmer in the central province of Maidan Wardak, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

Saed Akbar, a farmer in eastern Nangarhar Province, said heavy rain and hail have "utterly wrecked" his wheat and vegetable crops.

In the northern Faryab Province, farmer Abdul Qureshi said floods "washed away" scores of houses in the district of Pashtun Kot.

After a prolonged dry spell in autumn and winter, Afghanistan and its neighbors have been witnessing unusually heavy rains and snowfall in the spring.

Why It's Important: Afghanistan is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Experts say climate change has worsened the frequency and severity of extreme weather events -- from droughts and heat waves to floods and storms – around the world.

Afghanistan’s ability to adapt and difficulties in attracting international aid under the unrecognized Taliban government are seen as major obstacles to dealing with the situation.

Extreme weather conditions have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the world’s largest.

What's Next: There are signs that the international community is responding to the crisis by empowering local Afghan communities to combat climate change.

But it is unclear if the initiatives will help mitigate against large-scale natural disasters caused in part by climate change.

Deadly floods and extreme drought in recent years have uprooted millions of Afghans, some of whom have been forced to flee abroad.

What To Keep An Eye On

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed alarm about the situation of scores of exiled Afghan journalists who are staying in neighboring Pakistan.

Celia Mercier, head of RSF's South Asia desk, on April 30 urged the Pakistani authorities and international community to help protect Afghan journalists who fled their homeland for fear of retribution by the Taliban.

Mercier told Radio Azadi that Afghan journalists living in Pakistan “should be able to utilize their journalistic skills” or be allowed to move to a third country willing to host them.

Most of the nearly 200 journalists fled after the Taliban’s return to power in 2021 and are now waiting to be relocated to Western countries.

RSF said that the journalists lack access to education, health care, and employment.

Mohammad Idris Sadat, one of the stranded journalists, said many are suffering from "mental health problems because they face uncertainty" as their immigration cases are taking too long.

Why It's Important: After returning to power, the Taliban has attempted to erase the once vibrant Afghan media landscape.

Fear of reprisals by the group has forced hundreds of reporters and media workers to flee the country. Those remaining have faced beatings, arrests, and harassment.

Hundreds of print and electronic media outlets have been either shut down by the Taliban or closed due to a lack of funding.

That's all from me for now.

I'm off next week. The next Azadi Briefing will appear on May 17.

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.

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