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Once A Bastion Of Taliban Resistance, Afghanistan’s Badakhshan On Brink Of Falling To Militants

Internally displaced persons in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan Province, where the Taliban has carried out a relentless offensive in recent weeks.
Internally displaced persons in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan Province, where the Taliban has carried out a relentless offensive in recent weeks.

FAIZABAD, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan’s vast and remote northern province of Badakhshan -- which straddles the borders with Pakistan, China, and Tajikistan -- was once a bastion of resistance to the Taliban and never conquered by the extremist Islamist group during its five years in power.

From its bases in Badakhshan and the neighboring Panjshir and Takhar provinces, the Northern Alliance resisted the brutal rule of the Taliban, which had captured around 90 percent of Afghanistan by 2001.

But 20 years later, Badakhshan is on the verge of falling completely to the militant group, which has seized large swaths of the northern countryside as foreign forces depart the country.

During a blistering offensive in recent weeks, the Taliban is reported to have seized control of 26 of Badakhshan’s 28 districts and encircled the provincial capital, Faizabad.

Fear and panic are rife in the city. Flights to and from it have been suspended and business has ground to a halt. The government in Kabul has responded by deploying hundreds of Afghan special forces and pro-government militiamen to reinforce the city of some 30,000 people.

“The situation is very worrying,” says Fereshtah Hamraz, a 34-year-old female resident of Faizabad. “The Taliban has reached the gates of the city. The airport is under threat and we cannot leave by air or land.”

Murid Azimi, who owns a retail store in the city, says the uncertainty is sinking business. "Insecurity has increased a lot,” he says. “People are not buying anything and businesses are suffering.”

The militants have overrun about one-third of the country’s approximately 400 districts since the start of the international military withdrawal on May 1.

Afghans who have been displaced by the fighting in neighboring Kunduz Province.
Afghans who have been displaced by the fighting in neighboring Kunduz Province.

The Taliban’s gains on the battlefield have fueled fears that it could topple the internationally recognized government and overrun the country's much-maligned security forces, which will lose crucial U.S. air support once all foreign troops depart by August 31.

Fear Of Repressive Laws

Women fear that the Taliban will reimpose in Faizabad many of the repressive laws and retrograde policies that defined its 1996-2001 rule.

The Taliban severely curtailed girls’ education during its rule. It also forced women to cover themselves from head to toe, banned them from working outside the home, and required them to be accompanied by a male relative when they left their homes.

“As a woman, I’m afraid of losing the freedoms and rights that we have secured in the past 20 years,” says Asefa Karimi, a civil activist in Faizabad. “If the Taliban takes over Faizabad I will not be able to work or study.”

Karimi says the militants have reimposed many of their restrictions on women in districts they now control in Badakhshan.

“I also fear that they might kill me,” she adds. “I’m a public figure. I have been interviewed and shown on television. If I’m a target, my family is in danger, too.”

In the past year, the Taliban has killed scores of activists, journalists, and public figures, including dozens of women, in a campaign of targeted killings and assassinations.

Rights groups say the killings are intended to silence and intimidate independent voices and civil society in Afghanistan, which has made inroads on women’s rights and free speech since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban regime.

Internal Refugees

The Taliban’s relentless march through Badakhshan has displaced thousands of people.

More than 2,000 Afghan civilians and security personnel have fled to Tajikistan as of July 9, where there are fears of an impending major influx of refugees.

Afghan special forces arriving in Faizabad for reinforcement on July 4.
Afghan special forces arriving in Faizabad for reinforcement on July 4.

Several thousand families from districts across the province have also sought refuge in Faizabad. Some live in crammed houses with other families. Others live in the open, including in public parks, as local authorities struggle to provide them with food and shelter.

“We had to leave all of our clothes and belongings in our village,” says Begum, a 46-year-old mother of six who escaped the Yaftali Sufla district about 10 days ago after it was overrun by the Taliban.

“We now live in a rented house with four other families,” she says. “The government hasn’t helped us at all so far.”

Abdul Wahid Taibi, the head of the provincial department for refugees and returnees, said local authorities had documented the arrival of over 2,000 families to Faizabad in the past two weeks.

But he said aid packages including clothes, food, and basic cooking utensils had been distributed to only a fraction of them.

“We received two loaves of bread yesterday,” says Masoumah, a woman from the Yaftali Sufla district who lives in a dilapidated house with four other family members in Faizabad. “But we are five people. What can I give them to eat? We have no food.”

This story was written in Prague based on reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for security reasons.

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Afghan Refugee Hasn't Saved '5 Pennies' During Decades In Pakistan

Afghan Refugee Hasn't Saved '5 Pennies' During Decades In Pakistan
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On World Refugee Day, the plight of millions of displaced Afghans is illustrated by Abdul Raziq, a bricklayer at a kiln in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan Province. Having fled his homeland decades ago, Raziq has done backbreaking manual labor for years, but he still struggles to get by. But going back to Afghanistan would be worse, he said.

Germany Blasted For Considering Deportations Of Afghans, Syrians

The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.
The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.

A push for Germany to consider the viability of using third countries to deport Afghan and Syrian refugees and process asylum seekers is meeting stiff resistance from rights groups and advocates.

The issue was a major topic of discussion in talks between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of Germany's 16 states in Berlin on June 20.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said during a meeting of regional interior ministers the same day that "concrete negotiations" are under way and that she was "confident" a way would be found to deport Afghan or Syrian immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

Faeser said the measures would only affect a small number of people, and that in the case of Afghan nationals deportations could be conducted via third countries such as Uzbekistan.

Ahead of the meetings, which came on World Refugee Day, more than 300 organizations issued an open letter to Scholz in which they sharply criticized the initiative.

"Please issue a clear rejection of plans to outsource asylum procedures," said the letter, whose signatories included Amnesty International Germany, Doctors Without Borders, and the German migrant advocacy group Pro Asyl.

"Plans to deport refugees to non-European third countries or to carry out asylum procedures outside the EU...do not work in practice, are extremely expensive, and pose a threat to the rule of law."

The signatories argued such measures would result in serious human rights abuses and integrating asylum seekers into society can succeed with greater cooperation.

The backlash against refugees has risen among conservative and hard-right politicians after a 25-year-old Afghan was accused of stabbing a German police officer to death late last month.

Germany halted deportations to Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021, and Berlin has no diplomatic ties with the de-facto government formed by the hard-line Islamist leaders.

Germany is also a major destination for Syrians seeking to escape that country's civil war and rule under leader Bashar al-Assad. Syrians are the largest refugee group in Germany, with hundreds of thousands allowed into the country since 2015.

The security and human rights situations in both Afghanistan and Syria are considered dire by watchdogs.

Scholz has previously backed dropping Germany's ban on deportations, however. On June 19 his vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, voiced his support for deportations at least in situations where individuals were suspected of terrorism or convicted of serious crimes like murder.

Proponents of the idea are reportedly considering whether it might be possible to conduct such deportations through third countries such as Uzbekistan while still staying in compliance with international law.

Faeser told the Neue Osnabrucker newspaper that negotiations have taken place with "various countries" and "we want to consistently expel and deport Islamist threats."

The Interior Ministry is also reportedly seeking ways of conducting asylum proceedings in third countries outside the European Union, similar to plans by Italy with Albania. The United Kingdom's deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has also been cited by advocates as an example.

Michael Stuebgen, the interior minister of the eastern state of Brandenburg, has argued Germany could engage in talks with the Taliban and that parts of Syria are secure enough to allow the returns of refugees.

Opponents have argued that deportations of Afghans and Syrian refugees would go against the German constitution and commitments under international law and that the outsourcing of asylum procedures would violate asylum-seekers' human rights.

During their three days of talks that end on June 21, the state interior ministers are also reportedly considering cutting welfare benefits paid to Ukrainian refugees.

With reporting by dpa and AP

'A Big Betrayal': Afghan Women Sound The Alarm Ahead Of Key International Event That Will Include Taliban

Afghan women chant slogans in protest at the closure of universities to women by the Taliban in Kabul in December 2022.
Afghan women chant slogans in protest at the closure of universities to women by the Taliban in Kabul in December 2022.

Leading Afghan women’s rights activists have sounded the alarm ahead of a major international conference on Afghanistan hosted by the United Nations.

Rights campaigners have slammed the world body for inviting the Taliban to the June 30-July 1 event in Qatar, a move that they say provides tacit international legitimacy to the Taliban’s unrecognized and internationally sanctioned government.

Activists are also enraged that the UN has made major concessions to the extremist group, which has severely curtailed women’s rights since seizing power in 2021. That includes preventing the participation of Afghan women and removing the issue of women’s rights from the agenda of the meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Sima Samar, an award-winning rights campaigner and the former head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, is among those who have voiced their concerns ahead of the meeting.

“When we talk about the critical issues in Afghanistan, it will be meaningless without a discussion on human rights and the right of women to education and work,” Samar told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

Prominent Afghan rights activist Shaharzad Akbar has described the removal of issues like women's rights from the Doha meeting's agenda as a "big betrayal." (file photo)
Prominent Afghan rights activist Shaharzad Akbar has described the removal of issues like women's rights from the Doha meeting's agenda as a "big betrayal." (file photo)

The Doha conference will bring together members of the Taliban, the special envoys to Afghanistan of over a dozen countries, and UN officials. Afghan women are barred from the main meeting, but have been invited to an informal dinner before the two-day event kicks off.

Intended to increase international engagement with Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, the meeting is expected to discuss issues that include economic development, climate change, and drug eradication.

The Taliban boycotted two previous UN-sponsored meetings held in Doha since last year. The hard-line Islamist group said it would only participate if it would be the sole representative of Afghanistan at the meetings.

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

The militants have also refused to discuss their alleged human rights violations. The Taliban has been accused of gross abuses, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture, and denying Afghans -- women and girls in particular -- their fundamental human rights.

“I’m very concerned,” said Samar. “Human rights must top the agenda while everything else should be discussed within its framework.”

Samar said she is not against international engagement with the Taliban, which has been accused of imposing gender apartheid in Afghanistan.

“But these talks must not mean ignoring all the human rights violations,” she added. “Engagement with the Taliban should not translate to ignoring or closing your eyes to all the human rights violations.”

On June 4, United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan received a delegation led by the Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.
On June 4, United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan received a delegation led by the Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Shaharzad Akbar is another prominent Afghan women’s rights activist who has voiced alarm ahead of the meeting.

“This conference has been organized according to the wishes of the Taliban,” Akbar, who runs the independent advocacy organization, Rawadari, told Radio Azadi.

“I’m deeply concerned because removing issues like the rights of girls and women from the agenda is a big betrayal,” she added.

'Women's Rights Crisis'

International women’s rights activists have also blasted the UN and accused the world body of bowing down to the Taliban.

Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, said on X on June 17 that it was “shocking” that the UN had made “very serious concessions” to the Taliban by shutting out Afghan women from the Doha meeting and taking women rights off its agenda.

“The situation of women in Afghanistan is the most serious women’s rights crisis in the world,” Barr said in a statement on June 11. “That crisis is getting serious every day.”

Protesters participate in a rally in support of Afghan women's rights in London. (file photo)
Protesters participate in a rally in support of Afghan women's rights in London. (file photo)

Meanwhile, Richard Bennett, the UN special human rights rapporteur in Afghanistan, said the Taliban “must not be allowed to dictate the terms of the UN-hosted meetings.”

“Sustained improvements in human rights must form an essential part of any way forward,” he told the UN Human Rights Council on June 18.

Zabiullah Mujahid, the chief Taliban spokesman, said Bennet’s comments and his scathing recent report about human rights in Afghanistan was part of an effort to “mislead public opinion ahead of the Doha meeting.”

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Foreign Ministry, said on June 16 that “if there are any changes to the agenda and participation, it would naturally affect our decision” to participate in the Doha meeting.

Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said a host of Western countries complained in writing to the UN about the lack of non-Taliban Afghan voices invited to the Doha meeting.

“One of the factors that resulted in the Taliban’s failure to attend previous meetings was the Taliban’s insistence on serving as the only Afghans speaking on behalf of the country,” said Smith. “Some international officials object to this idea, demanding the inclusion of so-called civil society actors.”

How Survivors Of Wartime Sexualized Violence Are Fighting For Justice And Reparations

Rehabilitation, compensation, and, perhaps more importantly, the satisfaction that justice has been served. For survivors of wartime sexualized violence worldwide those are the essential aims of any reparations program.

However, aims don't always match outcomes. Survivors rarely receive comprehensive reparations. Instead, they often spend years in courtrooms, seeking at least some form of justice, while their attackers -- and the states they were representing -- often evade accountability.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, RFE/RL tells the stories of survivors from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Kosovo, Chechnya, and Afghanistan and their personal struggles to seek justice.

Ukraine: 'I Want To See Them Punished'

Lyudmyla Huseynova
Lyudmyla Huseynova

Human rights activist Lyudmyla Huseynova, a survivor of wartime sexualized violence, is now one of the leading voices advocating for the rights of survivors in Ukraine.

Since 2014, when Russia seized control of Crimea and began backing separatists in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, she has also been helping orphans living near the front lines.

It was in the Donetsk region in 2019 that she was abducted by separatists. Falsely accused of espionage and extremism, Huseynova was brought to the infamous Izolyatsia prison in the city of Donetsk.

The Russian military and separatists in charge of the prison routinely subjected those under their control to physical and psychological abuse and torture, including of Huseynova, who said she suffered torture and sexualized violence.

"For example, everyone, just everyone, went through forced stripping at Izolyatsia, that's for sure," she recalled. "And then -- it's impossible to say who was or wasn't lucky, because it will sound cynical -- then there were many women who survived [sexualized violence]. The militants blackmailed some women, so to speak, with the chance of seeing or speaking to their children. It's so cynical and so disgusting."

In 2022, she was released as part of an all-female prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia, along with 107 other women. Now, Huseynova is fighting for reparations and punishment for the rapists, not only in her own case but in those of other survivors.

After her release, she filed a case against Russia both with Ukrainian prosecutors and at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

"One of my personal hopes is to see them punished. I was so happy when I received confirmation that my complaint had been accepted for consideration by the [ECHR] court. And there it says [on the document]: Huseynova Vs. Russia," Huseynova said.

"In it, I documented everything that happened to me: the illegal detention, the inhumane conditions, and the instances of sexualized violence, as well as the total lack of any medical care."

In April 2024, Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian parliament commissioner for human rights, announced the launch of an interim program to compensate the wartime survivors of sexualized violence at the hands of the Russian Army. According to a statement, up to 500 survivors will receive onetime compensation of 3,000 euros ($3,200) and additional psychological assistance from the Global Survivors Fund, a survivors-focused NGO administering the program.

"Reparations to survivors of gross human rights violations, especially victims of conflict-related sexual violence, are not limited to economic support. It is an important step toward establishing justice," Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska said in early March while discussing the program.

Alongside this, Ukrainian authorities are seeking full reparations from Russia, according to Iryna Didenko, who heads the department of the Prosecutor-General's Office handling cases of war-related sexual violence.

"We are collecting evidence for the international courts mostly. Our survivors are ready to go and testify in another country. This is what we are trying to achieve in all possible ways," Didenko told RFE/RL.

Didenko's office has documented nearly 300 cases of sexualized violence committed by invading Russian forces since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, although the true number is feared to be much higher and growing.

Survivors of sexualized violence are also seeking other forms of compensation from Russia as well, says Khrystyna Kit, director of Ukrainian female lawyers association JurFem.

"We are also talking about other forms of reparations, in line with international law," Kit said.

Igor Cvetkovski, a specialist from the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) who is currently working in Ukraine, says reparations can include "psychosocial support" and "vocational training," along with "helping children born from rape."

Given the fact that many survivors of sexualized violence may not come forward, it is important that they have the option to seek help and justice even decades later, Cvetkovski says.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Not Paying Up

Lawyer Ajna Mahmic from Trial International
Lawyer Ajna Mahmic from Trial International

Ms. A, as she was referred to in court documents, was sexually assaulted near Sarajevo in 1993 in an area controlled by ethnic Serb forces. She was 32 at the time of the attack and has been waiting nearly as many years for compensation.

She came closer to finding justice in 2015, when her attacker was found guilty in a Bosnian court of wartime rape and sentenced to eight years in prison. He was also ordered to pay his victim the equivalent of some $16,000 but has not yet paid, claiming he did not have the money.

Four years later, Ms. A also appealed to the UN Committee Against Torture, which issued a recommendation in 2019 that Bosnia-Herzegovina compensate her instead. But that too has not happened.

Nearly 30 years after the end of the war in Bosnia, survivors of wartime sexual violence are still struggling to access the assistance and protection they need.

"The working group [in Bosnia] appointed to implement the decision and create a strategic plan of measures for implementation was truly dysfunctional," said Ms. A's lawyer, Ajna Mahmic, who works with Trial International, a Geneva-based NGO that helps victims and seeks justice for international crimes.

During the Bosnian War, which lasted from 1992 to 1995, it is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 women, girls, and men were raped. Many of them never received proper medical and psychological care or financial support. Bosnia does not have a countrywide law to support victims of war, including those who have suffered sexual violence.

Thirty-two individuals were convicted for crimes of sexual violence by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which ceased functioning in December 2017. Since then, more than 90 convictions on sexual-violence charges have been handed down by local courts. In some cases, perpetrators were obliged to pay compensation ranging from $8,200 to $33,000.

While across the former Yugoslavia efforts have been made to bring perpetrators of wartime sexual violence to justice, their victims have largely been forgotten, Cvetkovski says.

"There has been no regional reparations program, nor an adequate national reparations program -- except for laws in Croatia and Kosovo, and some efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Cvetkovski told RFE/RL.

"However, there has been no comprehensive approach to reparations for victims of sexual violence or any other type of victims."

In its findings, the UN Committee Against Torture also recommended that Bosnia create a fund to compensate all wartime victims of sexual crimes, a system of psychological support, as well as issue a public apology.

However, since the UN recommendations were made five years ago, a working group has been created but made little progress.

Jasna Zecevic, the president of Vive Zene, a Bosnian NGO that provides comprehensive support for rape victims, says that survivors are still struggling to receive compensation for their suffering.

Those efforts are hampered by Bosnia's complicated administrative system, with separate applicable laws for each of the country's three entities: the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, and the Brcko District.

Those differences in legislation have led to uneven access to rights, according to Trial International, as well as varying compensation awards. Depending on where they live, survivors of sexual violence in Bosnia can receive monthly compensation as low as the equivalent of $75 or as much as the equivalent of $373.

Progress on the issue is slow, according to Cvetkovski, not because of a lack of funds but more a lack of political will.

Kosovo: Delayed Justice Is Denied Justice

Feride Rushiti, head of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Survivors
Feride Rushiti, head of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Survivors

Since 2023, April 14 has been observed in Kosovo as the Day of Sexual Violence Victims who suffered during the 1998-99 Kosovo War, where Serbian forces terrorized the ethnic Albanian population.

While the number of sexual-violence survivors from the conflict remains unknown, a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the figure as high as 20,000 people.

This day, Kosovar officials say, serves to "recognize the pain" of all survivors of sexual violence during the war and to contribute to collective memory.

Kosovo has taken some steps to help survivors. In 2018, Kosovo instituted a reparations system, paying victims of wartime sexual violence the equivalent of $245 a month. But advocates say this falls short of what those affected need.

"While survivors of sexual violence are eligible to receive this monthly payment as...recognition of their suffering during wartime as rape victims, it ruled out them receiving old-age pensions," said Feride Rushiti, executive director of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Survivors (KRCT), a Kosovar NGO providing aid and support to survivors of sexual violence.

'Not Victims, But Survivors': Kosovar Activist Speaks Out About Wartime Rape
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However, just recently, the Basic Court of Pristina, Kosovo's top judicial body, ruled in favor of three survivors of sexual violence, awarding them not only compensation but a pension as well, Rusiti says.

Fitorja (not her real name) had her status confirmed as a victim of a war crime, entitling her to a monthly payment of the equivalent of 230 euros.

She was already receiving a lower standard pension, but she gave that up after the government informed her that she was entitled to just one pension.

Since 2021, with the help of KRCT, she has been fighting to keep her pension and the monthly payment. "The stress and waiting destroy you. [The termination of one pension] should not have happened," the 71-year-old Fitorja said.

The court's ruling in her favor, along with two other survivors, was a partial victory. Another seven similar cases are now going through the judicial system.

Chechnya: Living In The Shadows

In 2000, Russian Army Colonel Yury Budanov, together with two of his subordinates, kidnapped and later strangled 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva, a resident of the Tangi-Chu village in Chechnya.

During his trial in 2003, the colonel, who was part of the Russian force fighting separatists in the republic, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of murder, kidnapping, and abuse of power. He was stripped of his rank and ordered to pay the family 330,000 rubles (about $11,000 at the 2003 exchange rate).

Budanov was released from prison on parole in 2009, yet Kungayeva's family got nothing from the ex-army colonel, who was assassinated in 2011, and they have also not received anything from the state.

In Chechnya, that is a familiar story. Following the conflicts of the 1990s and 2000s, thousands of people who suffered war crimes or who lost their homes and families are still waiting for compensation from the authorities.

The exact number of sexualized-violence survivors during both wars is unknown, largely due to a reluctance to report such crimes in Chechnya due to social stigma and the overall distrust of the authorities.

The Kungayeva's family lawyers insisted on including two reports from independent forensic experts that confirmed that Kungayeva was raped. The rape charges, however, were eventually excluded from the indictment.

Afghanistan: Silence And Stigma

Shaharzad Akbar, the last chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which was dissolved by the Taliban after they seized power in 2021
Shaharzad Akbar, the last chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which was dissolved by the Taliban after they seized power in 2021

Survivors of wartime sexual violence in Afghanistan, where women's rights have been dramatically curtailed by the ruling Taliban, are almost invisible.

To date, no aid or support has been provided to survivors. And since the Taliban seized power again in 2021, no institution exists to address the rights of war victims, says Shaharzad Akbar, the last chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. The commission was dissolved when the fundamentalist militia returned to power.

Now in exile, Akbar, who heads the human rights watchdog Rawadari, says that, even before the Taliban's rise to power, there was no effective system to deal with victims of wartime sexual violence. Some officials, she says, appeared to blame survivors for failing to come forward to demand justice.

"There was no official mechanism to address their issues. The only thing that the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission could do was document all cases of war crimes, which included sexual violence and rape during the war," Akbar said. "There was no political will or inclination to address the rights of war victims."

Over the last 30 years, Afghanistan has endured a series of devastating conflicts, with the civil war of the early 1990s, two periods of Taliban rule, and the prolonged conflict following the U.S. invasion in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

It was Afghan women that suffered the most, says Shinkai Karokhail, a former member of Afghanistan's now dissolved parliament and a former Afghan ambassador to Canada.

"Unfortunately, there was no mechanism in place to identify those women who were sexually assaulted during the war, to listen to their demands, and to give them the courage to come forward and speak about the sexual assault they experienced," Karokhail said.

"In Afghanistan, victims of sexual assault often hide their identities, while the perpetrators often boast about their actions," she said, adding that in the deeply conservative country, survivors fear the stigma of coming forward.

According to Karokhail, Afghanistan's democratic government, which was in power before the Taliban takeover in 2021, did little to help female survivors.

It was commonly known that women were kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and some even sold at markets in Pakistan, Karokhail says. But one of the reasons why the issue of sexualized violence was ignored was that the people committing these assaults were in power themselves, Karokhail says.

And while women are now reluctant to come forward, Karokhail is convinced a few brave voices could trigger more.

"If a woman comes forward and says she has been sexually assaulted, I am sure that survivors of previous wars will also come forward and share their stories," Karokhail said.

'Systematic Discrimination': Taliban's Drastic Cut In Salaries Of Female State Employees Triggers Anger

An Afghan nurse cares for newborn children who lost their mothers during an attack at a hospital in Kabul. (file photo)
An Afghan nurse cares for newborn children who lost their mothers during an attack at a hospital in Kabul. (file photo)

Shugufta, an elementary school teacher, earned around $300 per month under the previous Western-backed Afghan government.

But after the Taliban seized power in 2021, the extremist group cut the salaries of female government employees by half.

Despite her lower income, Shugufta was relieved to work as the country grappled with an economic meltdown after the Taliban takeover.

The hard-line Islamist group has barred thousands of women employed by the previous government from returning to their jobs. Only women whose jobs cannot be done by men according to the militants' strict interpretation of Shari'a law -- including doctors, nurses, and teachers -- have been permitted to work.

But in a major blow, the Taliban-led government last week issued a decree that set the monthly salaries of all female government employees at 5,000 afghanis, or around $70, regardless of their job, qualifications, or experience.

For many women, that means a drop of up to 75 percent in their wages at a time when Afghanistan is grappling with mass unemployment and rising poverty.

A female Afghan teacher in the northern province of Jawzjan
A female Afghan teacher in the northern province of Jawzjan

"It is impossible to live on this income," Shugufta's mother, Saliha, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. "Our financial problems have skyrocketed."

The decision has been condemned by Afghan and international rights activists, who said the move illustrated the Taliban's discrimination against women.

Female state employees, some of whom are sole breadwinners, said they will struggle to feed their families.

The Taliban's decision came ahead of Eid al-Adha on June 17, one of the biggest holidays of the Islamic calendar.

"The Taliban didn't listen to our pleas to pay us our full salaries this month," said Muzhda, a female government employee from the western city of Herat.

Muzhda told Radio Azadi that she did not know how she would be able to afford rent, food, and medicine for her family, who depend on her income.

Afghanistan has been gripped by the world's largest humanitarian crisis. Millions of Afghans are on the verge of starvation, according to the United Nations.

An Afghan woman doctor treats a patient at a hospital in Kabul. (file photo)
An Afghan woman doctor treats a patient at a hospital in Kabul. (file photo)

Nazifa Haqpal, a British-based Afghan researcher, said the Taliban's decision to halve the salaries of female public workers "constitutes systematic discrimination."

"Women who work in government institutions and important fields like medicine are earning less while their male colleagues are receiving a higher salary," she told Radio Azadi.

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the "discriminatory and profoundly arbitrary decision further deepens the erosion of human rights in Afghanistan."

In a June 13 statement, he called on the Taliban to "rescind all laws, instructions, edicts, and other measures that discriminate against women and girls."

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

Saji Behgam, an Afghan women's rights activist, said the Taliban's decision will cripple women-led households, including widows.

"Where should these women go?" she told Radio Azadi. "Should they just commit suicide?"

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

From Our Regions: Muslims Celebrate Eid Al-Adha

Millions of Muslims are celebrating Eid al-Adha, one of the biggest holidays of the Islamic calendar, which coincides with the final rites of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. RFE/RL showcases the celebrations across its regions.

Afghan Taliban Delegation To Attend Next Round Of UN Talks In Qatar

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

Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks on Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar, a government spokesman said on June 16. The Taliban-led government's participation in the conference of foreign special envoys to Afghanistan had been in doubt after it was not included in the first round and then refused an invitation to the second round. Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP a delegation from Afghanistan will participate in the Doha conference scheduled for June 30 and July 1. Mujahid told Afghan media that a delegation would attend because the talks' agenda appeared "beneficial to Afghanistan." The agenda includes "topics such as aid for Afghanistan and creating opportunities for investors in Afghanistan."

The Azadi Briefing: Thousands Of Afghans Deported From Pakistan And Iran Each Week

Afghan refugees at a registration center after arriving from Pakistan in the Takhta Pul district of Kandahar Province on May 22
Afghan refugees at a registration center after arriving from Pakistan in the Takhta Pul district of Kandahar Province on May 22

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

Pakistan and Iran are continuing to deport thousands of Afghan refugees and migrants each week, despite warnings from rights groups and aid organizations.

The Taliban government said over 400,000 Afghans have been expelled from the two neighboring countries since the start of the year.

Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, a Taliban official, said around 75 percent of the returnees were expelled from Pakistan.

Over 1 million Afghans have been deported from Pakistan and Iran during the past year.

Why It's Important: Rights groups and aid organizations have warned that the mass deportation drives will worsen the already devastating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the world’s largest.

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

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

"There is no work and food is expensive," Kamran, an Afghan who was recently deported from Pakistan, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. He said he is living in a tent because he cannot afford to rent a house.

"After returning from Iran, I have been living in Kabul for about two to three months,” said Fazaluddin, an Afghan who was recently expelled from Iran. “Life is very difficult here. There were many problems in Iran, but at least I could get a bite to eat."

What's Next: Pakistan and Iran, both of which are not signatories to UN conventions on refugees, appear likely to continue their deportation drives.

In March, Pakistan announced efforts to expand and expedite its plans to deport Afghans from April 15.

Iran, meanwhile, has repeatedly vowed to expel all undocumented Afghans from the country.

What To Keep An Eye On

Child labor is rising under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, where a humanitarian and economic crisis as well as the Taliban restrictions on female employment have led to more children working.

Around 19 percent of children in Afghanistan are working, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on June 12.

Among them is 11-year-old Ahmad, whose mother lost her job as a state employee after the Taliban takeover.

"I’m the only breadwinner after my father died," Ahmad, who works for up to eight hours each day after attending school, told Radio Azadi.

"If parents have jobs, they will never push their children into child labor," said Najibullah Zadran Babrakzai, an Afghan child rights activist.

Why It's Important: The Taliban’s severe restrictions on women, as well as mass unemployment and rising poverty, have forced children as well as the elderly to work to feed their families.

The need to work is likely to deprive thousands of Afghan children from education as many families try to stave off starvation.

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 Education Ban On Afghan Girls Fuels Spike In Child Marriages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I Had No Choice'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Very Dangerous'

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

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

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

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

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

Taliban Clamps Down On Activities Of Rival Islamist Parties

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

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

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

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

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

'Relentless Crackdown'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Narrow-Minded Policies'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removing Tributes To Former Foes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Highly Political'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locals have criticized the move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.A.E. President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan received a delegation led by the Taliban's Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani on June 3.
U.A.E. President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan received a delegation led by the Taliban's Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani on June 3.

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

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

The Key Issue

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, a U.S.-designated terrorist who has a $10 million bounty on his head, visited the United Arab Emirates on June 4.

Haqqani, accompanied by the Taliban's intelligence chief, met the U.A.E. president in Abu Dhabi.

The foreign visit, Haqqani's first since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, sparked widespread outrage among Afghans.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that "hosting UN-sanctioned Taliban members must seek permission for travel through an exemption process as outlined by the UN 1988 sanctions committee, and it's important that member states follow these procedures."

"We understand the complex relationship countries have with the Taliban, particularly those in the region," said a State Department statement later sent to the Associated Press.

It is unclear whether Haqqani or the U.A.E. government had obtained such permission. But on June 5, the UN Security Council allowed Haqqani and several other Taliban officials to travel to Saudi Arabia later this month to perform the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage.

Why It's Important: Haqqani's trip is a public relations win for the Taliban, whose government is not recognized by any country.

Despite its lack of international recognition and limited engagement with the West, the Taliban has established diplomatic ties with around a dozen countries in the region.

Ishaq Atmar, an Afghan political analyst, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that Haqqani's trip can "open a new door" for greater international engagement with the Taliban.

Ghous Janbaz, an Afghan political analyst, told Radio Azadi that Haqqani's trip came weeks before a key UN meeting on Afghanistan in Qatar during which the group will look to allay international fears over the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan.

But Haqqani's trip has triggered online condemnation, with some Afghans asking how one of the FBI's most-wanted men was able to visit the U.A.E., a U.S. ally.

What's Next: International engagement with the Taliban has not moderated its extremist policies.

The militant group has refused to budge on key issues, including establishing an inclusive government, ensuring women's rights, and breaking ties with extremist groups.

The Taliban is likely to use its engagement with the international community to win concessions and present itself as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan.

What To Keep An Eye On

A new survey by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has identified "widespread shocks" in Afghanistan, where many live in severe food poverty.

"Much higher food prices and drought are affecting 60 and 58 percent of Afghan households, respectively," the organization said in a briefing on June 3.

The survey found that despite the decrease in the prices of some food items, poor "households remained vulnerable to intrahousehold and economic shocks," which reflected "broader macroeconomic vulnerabilities in Afghanistan."

More than two-thirds of households reported a decrease in their primary source of income, the survey said, while another 10 percent lived on savings and debt.

Why It's Important: The survey highlights the effects of the devastating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the world's largest.

Shortfalls in international funding, the Taliban's inability to address the crisis, and a series of deadly natural disasters have exacerbated the humanitarian situation.

That's all from me for now.

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

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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

Taliban Publicly Flogs Dozens Of People In Northern Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Un-Islamic'

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Poorest People'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Iranian Newspaper Accuses Taliban Consulate Staff Of 'Torturing' Photographer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kazakhstan Takes Taliban Off Of Its Terrorist List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated

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

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

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

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

He later revised the number of dead downward to eight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AP and AFP

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

Qalandar Ebad, the former Taliban health minister, was a physician and considered to be a “capable and effective” administrator.
Qalandar Ebad, the former Taliban health minister, was a physician and considered to be a “capable and effective” administrator.

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

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

The Key Issue

The only technocrat in the Taliban’s cabinet has been dismissed and replaced by a hard-line cleric.

Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada on May 28 removed Health Minister Qalandar Ebad, a trained doctor, and named Noor Jalal, a former deputy interior minister, as his successor.

The move has triggered criticism and added to fears over the health sector in Afghanistan, which has been in crisis over a lack of funding.

Former Afghan lawmaker Arif Rahmani said on X, formerly Twitter, on May 28 that the move was irrational and accused the Taliban leadership of “carelessness and arrogance.” He added that a technocrat was needed to oversee the health-care system.

Gholam Dastgir Nazari, a former Health Ministry official, said that providing health care was impossible without “good professional leadership.”

Why It's Important: The move appears aimed at purging non-Taliban Afghans, including technocrats and professionals, from the Taliban-led government.

The Taliban’s theocratic regime is dominated by senior Taliban veterans and loyalists, most of them clerics from the Pashtun ethnic group.

Ali Latifi, an Afghan-American journalist based in Kabul, said Ebad’s removal was significant because he was considered to be a “capable and effective” administrator.

Latifi said health-care professionals believed that Ebad was “trying to keep medical treatment available to Afghans across the country, including women.”

Under Akhundzada’s leadership, the Taliban has imposed restrictions on women’s access to health care and limited women’s ability to work in the health sector.

Akhundzada has previously replaced ministers who have defied his hard-line policies with loyal clerics, including the minister of education.

What's Next: The move is likely to further damage the health-care system in Afghanistan, which has been in free fall since the Taliban seized power in 2021. International donors immediately cut financial funding and imposed sanctions on the Taliban government.

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

Ebad’s sacking could also be part of a wider overhaul of the Taliban government. There has been speculation that Akhundzada wants to establish an administration that would be entirely made up of clerics loyal to him.

What To Keep An Eye On

The first freight train from Afghanistan reached Turkey via Iran on May 29. The nearly 2,200-kilometer journey took 40 days.

The train transported over 1,100 tons of talc from the western Afghan city of Herat to the eastern Turkish city of Van.

"The customs clearance process caused the delay," Mohammad Yusuf Amin, director of the Herat Chamber of Commerce and Investment, told Radio Azadi.

Talc exporters hope the new route will allow them to access international markets. Afghanistan currently exports up to 500,000 tons of talc annually.

Why It's Important: Transport by railway is seen as the fastest and cheapest means of moving goods.

For decades, Afghan governments have participated in regional railway projects to better connect the landlocked country to Central Asia and western Asia.

New railway links or the revival of dormant railways can open more routes and markets for Afghan exports.

Railway transport can help reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on neighboring Pakistan. Transit goods of Afghan traders have been sporadically stranded in Pakistan’s ports and border crossings because of bilateral tensions.

That's all from me for now.

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

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia

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

China

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

Pakistan

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

Iran

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

India

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

Kazakhstan

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

Uzbekistan

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

Turkmenistan

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

Tajikistan

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

Azerbaijan

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

Turkey

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

Qatar

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

Saudi Arabia

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

United Arab Emirates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Concerning Trend'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanctions And Islamic Banking

The strain on banks has been compounded by international sanctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flooding Kills 10 Members Of Same Family In Northeast Afghanistan

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

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

The Azadi Briefing: Deadly Floods Worsen Hunger Crisis In Afghanistan

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

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

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

The Key Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Keep An Eye On

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all from me for now.

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

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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

Islamic State Claims Attack In Afghanistan That Killed 3 Spaniards

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

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

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