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FIFA Awards Afghanistan 'Fair Play Award For 2013'

Youths play football in Kabul. (file photo)
Youths play football in Kabul. (file photo)
FIFA has named the Afghanistan Football Federation as the winner of FIFA’s Fair Play Award for 2013.

FIFA Fair Play Committee member Tokyo Sexwale said at FIFA’s Ballon d’Or awards ceremony in Zurich on January 13 that the Afghan federation had shown “dedication and hard work to develop football at the grassroots level” and “built the foundations for the game, nurturing a national league in the midst of violence and destruction.”

Sexwale said the Afghan federation “against all odds” had “opened up football to a wider audience, including women and families,” and had helped “ease regional tensions” by hosting its first international match against a neighboring country in nearly a decade.

The award was presented to Afghan Football Federation President Karim Keramuddin by Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, FIFA vice president for Asia.

Based on reporting by BaAFP and RFE/RL

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The Azadi Briefing: Many Afghans Forced From Pakistan Are Homeless 

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

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

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

The Key Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Keep An Eye On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afghan Women Hope to Preserve Unique, Ancient Woodcarving Craft

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

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

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

Afghan Women Activists Seek Taliban ICC Trial Over Rights Abuses

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

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

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

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

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

She is one of dozens of signatories to the letter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pressure Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pledge Of Allegiance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Military Option

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It gave no further details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancient Afghan Monuments In Herat Are Crumbling After Earthquakes

Ancient Afghan Monuments In Herat Are Crumbling After Earthquakes
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A 12th-century mosque and minarets from 1417 are visibly cracked, with ornate tiles falling to the ground in Herat, Afghanistan. The ancient monuments had been neglected even before Afghanistan's severe 6.3-magnitude earthquakes in October, in which more than 1,000 people died. Now the Herat monuments are showing significant signs of damage while the Taliban-led government appears indifferent.

Pakistani Military Says It Has Killed Eight Suspected Militants In South Waziristan

The reported firefight took place in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. (file photo)
The reported firefight took place in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. (file photo)

Pakistani troops have shot dead eight suspected Islamist militants during a firefight in the South Waziristan district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, the military said in a press release on November 27. The statement did not say what group the alleged the militants had belonged to, but members of the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been active in the area. Islamabad has accused Afghanistan's Taliban rulers of allowing TTP militants to use Afghan territory to launch cross-border attacks. The Taliban has denied the accusation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

UN Worried For Fate Of Afghans Driven From Pakistan

'We Don't Have Toilets': Afghans Struggle After Crossing Border From Pakistan
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Many of the Afghan families being driven out of Pakistan have no homes to return to and will struggle to feed themselves through the harsh winter, the UN warned on November 24. UN refugee agency UNHCR says more than 370,000 people have returned to Afghanistan since October 3, when Pakistan issued an ultimatum to the 1.7 million Afghans it says are living illegally in the country. "There are no open arms for these families," said Hsiao-Wei Lee, Afghanistan country director for the UN's World Food Program, who recently traveled to a border crossing to observe the distribution of food aid.

German Aid Agency Says Local Staff Detained In Afghanistan

Germany on November 24 said four local employees of its government-linked operator GIZ had been detained by Taliban authorities in Afghanistan. "I can confirm that the local employees of GIZ are in custody, although we have not received any official information on why they are detained," a spokeswoman for Germany's Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development said. "We are taking this situation very seriously and are working through all channels available to us to ensure that our colleagues are released," she added. Germany closed its embassy in Afghanistan after the group swept back to power in 2021.

Updated

Afghan Embassy To India Closed Permanently

The embassy requested that the Afghan flag remain on the building in New Delhi.
The embassy requested that the Afghan flag remain on the building in New Delhi.

Afghanistan's embassy to New Delhi has announced it is closing permanently due to what it said was "pressure from the Indian government" and lack of diplomatic recognition. The embassy said in a statement that the closure entered into force already on November 23 and came after the ceasing of operations from the start of last month. The statement said that emergency consular services will continue to be provided to Afghan citizens. The embassy requested that the Afghan flag remain on the building. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here. (CORRECTION: A previous version of this story attributed the embassy's closing to Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.)

Family Confirms Death Of Former Afghan Prosecutor, Says Body Showed Signs Of Torture

Mohammad Naqi Taqi (file photo)
Mohammad Naqi Taqi (file photo)

The family of former prosecutor Mohammad Naqi Taqi, who was forced out when Taliban militants took power in August 2021, has confirmed his death in eastern Afghanistan, saying it appears he was brutally slain by unknown assailants.

Taqi's son told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi on November 22 that his father and aunt were killed in the eastern Nangarhar Province this week after being invited to a celebration in the region.

He said the family doesn't know the identity of the killers and he didn't elaborate on whether the family knew the individuals who had invited his father and aunt to the event.

He added that the family identified their dead bodies after they were first discovered on the side of a road in Nangarhar’s rural Behsud district on November 20.

"They were poisoned first and then tortured because traces of severe torture could be seen on their dead bodies," he told Radio Azadi.

Taqi, a lawyer, had served in the Afghan Attorney General's Office during the fallen pro-Western government and had investigated high-profile cases.

Like hundreds of former prosecutors, he was forced to relinquish his job after hard-line Taliban militants seized power as U.S.-led international forces withdrew from the country.

Instead of fleeing Afghanistan like most other former prosecutors -- who became targets of the criminals they investigated or helped convict -- Taqi stayed in Kabul.

Some of the prosecutors, now living in exile in Pakistan, are resisting being deported back to the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Abid Andrabi, a member of the Afghanistan Prosecutors Association, said that before Taqi's killing, some 37 former prosecutors and others working for the Attorney General's Office and the judiciary had been killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power.

"The general amnesty the Taliban has touted since returning to power is being completely disregarded," he told Radio Azadi. "Taliban members have been settling personal scores with the military and civilian employees of the previous government."

Afghan human rights activists allege that the killings of former government officials in the country are on the rise.

"These murders are increasing daily, which is deeply worrying," Nargis Sadat, a human rights campaigner, told Radio Azadi.

In a report in August, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said the Taliban militants ruling Afghanistan had carried out more than 200 extrajudicial killings of former government officials and security forces since August 2021.

Afghan Border Trade Resumes After Pakistan Suspends New Visa Rule

Pakistan began requiring the crew of commercial vehicles to have passports and visas to enter, and Afghanistan responded by refusing to allow any trucks to pass. (file photo)
Pakistan began requiring the crew of commercial vehicles to have passports and visas to enter, and Afghanistan responded by refusing to allow any trucks to pass. (file photo)

Cross-border trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan was back to normal on November 22, officials in both countries said, after Islamabad suspended a new visa rule. Commercial traffic ground to a halt on November 21 when Pakistan began requiring the crew of commercial vehicles to have passports and visas to enter, and Afghanistan responded by refusing to allow any trucks to pass. "Last night, officials from the Ministry of Commerce held a meeting with Afghan officials, reaching an agreement to grant another two-week extension for Afghan drivers," a Pakistan customs official told AFP. The governor of Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province confirmed that cross-border trade had resumed.

Afghan Female Prosecutors Fear Being Sent Back To Afghanistan Under Pakistan's Deportation Program

Maria Safi, a senior member of the Committee of Afghan Women Prosecutors in Pakistan, said the ongoing forced deportation of thousands of Afghans from Pakistan daily are extremely worrying.
Maria Safi, a senior member of the Committee of Afghan Women Prosecutors in Pakistan, said the ongoing forced deportation of thousands of Afghans from Pakistan daily are extremely worrying.

Female Afghan prosecutors who served the fallen pro-Western Afghan government are concerned about being deported from Pakistan to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan more than two years after they fled the country because of fears of persecution.

The Committee of Afghan Women Prosecutors in Pakistan, meeting in Islamabad on November 21, said it is worried about the fate of hundreds of former prosecutors if they are forced to leave Pakistan as part of an ongoing drive to deport more than 1.7 million “undocumented foreigners” who are predominantly Afghan.

The former prosecutors, who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, have become targets of the criminals they investigated or helped convict.

Maria Safi, a senior member of the committee, said the ongoing forced deportation of thousands of Afghans from Pakistan daily are extremely worrying.

“This situation has forced us to face grave mental and emotional problems,” she said.

Safi said the prosecutors want Western embassies in Islamabad to process their immigration visas swiftly.

Former prosecutors estimate that more than 300 former Afghan prosecutors currently live in Pakistan. At least 30 among them are women.

They are among tens of thousands of Afghans in Islamabad waiting for Western embassies in the city to process their applications.

“We want them to not only process the cases of prosecutors, judges, and lawyers but all refugees,” she added.

Pakistani authorities have said these Afghans are exempt from deportation. But in Islamabad many Afghans pursuing their visa cases have complained of police harassment, bribes, and even forced expulsions.

“Pakistani authorities are not renewing our visas, which is a major headache,” said Muska Amiri, a former Afghan prosecutor.

“I have stopped leaving my house to avoid facing the police,” she added.

Farahnaz Hashimi, another former prosecutor, says returning to the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan she fled in late 2021 is not an option.

“I’m afraid that if I’m sent back to Afghanistan, I might be arrested by the Taliban,” she said.

Pakistani and Taliban officials confirmed on November 20 that more than 400,000 people returned to their countries after Islamabad first announced its ongoing crackdown on illegal foreigners on October 3.

Afghan Bodybuilder Breaks Down Over His Hungry Family's Sacrifices

Afghan Bodybuilder Breaks Down Over His Hungry Family's Sacrifices
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Afghan Ali Reza Asahi says his path to the gold medal in the World Bodybuilding Championships in Seoul on November 9 was paved with pain. The 50-year-old father and husband, who won in the over-40 category, says in order to win he had to eat what little protein his family could afford while his family did without.

Report: Online Abuse Of Politically Active Afghan Women Tripled After Taliban Takeover

Online abuse and hate speech targeting politically active women in Afghanistan has significantly increased since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, according to a report released on November 20 by a U.K.-based rights group. Afghan Witness, an open-source project run by the nonprofit Center for Information Resilience, says it found that abusive posts tripled, a 217 percent increase, between June-December 2021 and the same period of 2022. The report said the team of investigators "collected and analyzed over 78,000 posts" written in Dari and Pashto directed at "almost 100 accounts of politically active Afghan women."

Protesters Block Major Border Crossing Between Afghanistan And Pakistan

Protesters march on November 19 against Pakistan's new travel regulations at the Chaman crossing with Afghanistan.
Protesters march on November 19 against Pakistan's new travel regulations at the Chaman crossing with Afghanistan.

Protesters in Pakistan have blocked a major border crossing with neighboring Afghanistan to protest against Islamabad's refusal to allow document-free travel, which has hit traders and the local economy on both sides hard.

Late on November 19, protesters in Chaman, a border town in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan Province, blocked the gate connecting the town to Spin Boldak, a town in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal on November 20, Ghousullah Lagharee, the leader of a monthlong sit-in protest in Chaman, said the action would continue until Islamabad rescinds its decision to only allow people with valid travel documents to cross the border.

"We will continue this blocked until the government accepts our demands [to resume passport-free travel]," he said.

"We will announce further steps as this is blocked and the ongoing strike [in Chaman] continues," he added.

WATCH: Pakistani demonstrators also slammed the government's crackdown on undocumented Afghan nationals.

Protesters Urge Pakistan To Stop Deporting Afghans
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Last month, Pakistan unilaterally ended the century-old "Easement Rights," an arrangement that allowed members of some communities straddling the 19th-century Durand Line border to cross freely.

In Chaman, free movement across the border helped most residents earn a living by moving goods between the neighboring countries. Members of the Achakzai and Noorzai Pashtun tribes make up most residents on both sides of the border in the desolate desert region.

"The government restrictions have killed our livelihoods and made our people jobless," said Faiz Mohammad, a local union leader in Chaman.

He said that at least 20,000 families in Chaman alone depended on document-free travel to trade with Afghanistan.

Attaullah, another leader of the protesters in Chaman, said they had been meeting senior civil and military officials in Balochistan's capital, Quetta, and were now seeking an audience with senior government leaders in Islamabad.

"We hope to have our first meeting with them today or tomorrow," he told Radio Mashaal on November 20.

Pakistani officials insist cross-border movement has to be regulated to improve security and control smuggling in the country.

Islamabad has blamed Afghanistan's Taliban rulers for failing to prevent Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which they say is a Taliban ally and shelters in Afghanistan, from launching attacks inside Pakistan and then retreating back across the border.

On November 8, caretaker Pakistani Prime Minister Anwar ul-Haq Kakar said terrorist attacks inside the country had increased by 60 percent since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021. Since then, some 2,300 people have been killed in these attacks.

In early October, Islamabad announced November 1 as a deadline for more than 1.7 million "undocumented foreigners" to leave the country. In a nationwide crackdown after the expiry of the deadline, Pakistani police arrested thousands of Afghans and deported them.

Pakistani authorities said on November 20 that more than 400,000 Afghans had crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan during the crackdown on migrants.

But in Chaman, protesters are adamant that they will not allow Islamabad to invoke security fears or budget woes to wipe out their livelihoods.

"Our people have awakened. Anybody who is thinking about laying a brick on the border must think hard first," Lagharee told Radio Azadi.

Protesters Urge Pakistan To Stop Deporting Afghans

Protesters Urge Pakistan To Stop Deporting Afghans
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Pakistani demonstrators have slammed the government's crackdown on undocumented Afghan nationals. The Joint Action Committee for Refugees -- a platform of Pakistani politicians, activists, and lawyers -- organized the gathering on November 18 in Karachi. Slogans on some banners warned of the hardships awaiting women and minorities deported to Afghanistan. Many Afghans found refuge in Pakistan during the decades of unrest in their homeland. The number of undocumented Afghans in Pakistan was estimated at 1.7 million in October when the Pakistani government ordered them to leave by the end of the month.

Demand For Probe After Taliban Official Visits Cologne Mosque

The German government had not been informed about the visit by Abdul Bari Omar, and he had not been issued a visa before traveling to the EU country. (file photo)
The German government had not been informed about the visit by Abdul Bari Omar, and he had not been issued a visa before traveling to the EU country. (file photo)

The appearance of a high-ranking Afghan Taliban official at a mosque in the German city of Cologne has sparked outrage from the government as well as the local authorities. "We strongly condemn the appearance of Taliban representative Abdul Bari Omar in Cologne," the Foreign Office wrote on its official account on X, formerly known as Twitter. The government had not been informed about the trip and the official -- from Afghanistan's food and drug administration -- had not been issued a visa before traveling to Germany. A local Afghan cultural association had organized the event.

Pakistan's Deportation Of Afghans 'Couldn't Have Happened At A Worse Time,' UNHCR Says

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

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Afghanistan says the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Afghans from Pakistan threatens to deepen the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The agency said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on November 17 that most of the returning Afghans have neither jobs nor homes and noted that Pakistan undertook the action just before winter. “The mass arrivals couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” UNHCR Afghanistan said. Islamabad announced last month that more than 1.7 million undocumented foreigners must leave by November 1 or face arrests and deportations. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.


Afghanistan's Acting UN Representative Demands Release Of Women's Rights Activist

Parisa Azada
Parisa Azada

The acting head of the Afghan UN mission has requested the release of Afghan dissident Parisa Azada. Naseer Ahmed Faiq said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the detention of Azada by the Taliban is an act against Islamic and cultural values, as well as the fundamentals of human rights and freedom. His post on November 16 strongly condemned the arrest and demanded Azada’s immediate release, as well as the release of other women and human rights defenders. The Taliban arrested Azada, a member of the Women's Movement for Justice and Freedom, last week in Kabul. To read the original story on RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, click here.

Afghan Traders Seek The Release Of Stranded Imports In Pakistan

Thousands of containers filled with merchandise are stranded in the Pakistani port of Karachi. (file photo)
Thousands of containers filled with merchandise are stranded in the Pakistani port of Karachi. (file photo)

Afghan traders are asking Pakistan to release thousands of containers filled with imports stranded at the southern seaport of Karachi after authorities blocked their transit claiming the goods are being smuggled back into Pakistan after they arrive in Afghanistan.

Yunus Mohmand, the acting head of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce, said on November 16 that Pakistan's actions are unjust. Islamabad claims it is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue because of the illegal smuggling as the goods are sent to Kabul duty-free.

“Creating such illegal obstacles for trade is having a terrible effect on the economy of both countries,” Mohmand told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi, noting that new additional taxes on the goods would crush traders.

Mohmand said that the imports contain electronics and perishable foodstuffs.

On November 14, the minister for the Taliban's de facto Ministry for Industry and Commerce, Nooruddin Azizi, raised the issue with Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan's caretaker foreign minister.

"Hundreds of these containers have been parked for several months, while some have been stuck for more than a year,” a Taliban diplomat in the northwestern city of Peshawar told the AFP news agency.

He said Kabul is seeking to lessen the losses of Afghan importers.

Pakistan's blockade of Afghan transit goods is one of several critical issues plaguing relations with neighboring Afghanistan.

Since early October, more than 300,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their country after Islamabad announced a drive to deport more than 1.7 million undocumented migrants, most of whom are Afghan.

Afghans and ruling Taliban officials have accused Pakistani police and other law enforcement agencies of widespread abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture, bribes, and harassment of Afghans across the country.

To open alternative international trade routes for Afghanistan, the Taliban regime's deputy prime minister, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, secured access to Iran’s southeastern Chabahar Port.

Since the turn of the century, successive Afghan governments have sought to establish Chabahar as an alternative port to Karachi for their land-locked nation.

FlyDubai Resumes Flights To Afghanistan After Two-Year Hiatus

Officials from Afghanistan's ruling Taliban on November 15 welcomed the resumption of FlyDubai flights to Kabul's international airport two years after stopping service following the collapse of the Western-backed government. All international airlines halted flights to Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August 2021 as U.S. and NATO forces departed after two decades of war. A United Arab Emirates-based FlyDubai flight landed in Kabul on November 15. FlyDubai, the sister carrier of long-haul airline Emirates, now will make two flights a day to Kabul.

'I Won't Be Free': Afghan Women, Girls Face Grim Future After Expulsion From Pakistan

Afghan refugees rest upon their arrival from Pakistan at a registration center near the Afghan-Pakistani border in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar Province on November 6.
Afghan refugees rest upon their arrival from Pakistan at a registration center near the Afghan-Pakistani border in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar Province on November 6.

Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghan families have fled to neighboring Pakistan.

Some escaped their homeland so that their daughters could continue their education, following the Taliban's ban on women attending university and teenage girls from going to school.

Among them was Bibi Gul, who moved to Pakistan with her teenage daughter. A 10th grader, her daughter was seeking to graduate from high school. But both were recently deported by the Pakistani authorities.

Last month, Pakistan ordered 1.7 million undocumented Afghans to leave the South Asian country by November 1. The measure has spurred over 300,000 people to return to Afghanistan and has been followed up by police roundups and forced deportations.

Afghan children receive bread from a local charity at a makeshift camp upon their arrival from Pakistan, near the Torkham border crossing in Nangarhar Province on November 12.
Afghan children receive bread from a local charity at a makeshift camp upon their arrival from Pakistan, near the Torkham border crossing in Nangarhar Province on November 12.

Afghan girls and women who return to their homeland face a grim future. The Taliban has severely curtailed female education and women's right to work. The extremist group has also imposed restrictions on women's appearances and freedom of movement.

"We fled Afghanistan because my daughter was deprived of an education," Gul told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi as she crossed Chaman, one of two key border crossings between Afghanistan and Pakistan. "Now that we have returned, she must be able to continue her studies."

But there are few signs that the Taliban will reverse its restrictions on female education in Afghanistan, where rights groups have accused the hard-line group of trying to erase women from public life and imprison them in their homes.

Afghan women and girls who still remain in Pakistan live in constant fear of being forcibly expelled to Afghanistan, where they say they have no future.

Mina Aslami, an 11th grader, moved with her family to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, last year. She is intent on graduating from high school, although she fears her education will be cut short.

"If I return, I will just sit at home," Aslami told Radio Azadi. "There are no schools or education courses [for teenage girls]. Even going out alone is prohibited, and I won't be free."

Masumah Ahmadi studies biotechnology at a university in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore. The fourth-year student said she will "endure the same stress, anxiety, and despair as the girls living in Afghanistan are experiencing" if she is forced to return to her homeland.

An estimated 700,000 Afghans, most of them undocumented, have sought refuge in Pakistan since the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021.

They joined around 3 million Afghans who have moved to Pakistan over the past four decades of war, poverty, and political upheaval in Afghanistan.

After initially targeting Afghans living "illegally" in Pakistan, Islamabad has said it will begin deporting the millions of Afghans living legally in the country.

Human rights groups have urged Islamabad to halt its mass deportations, warning it will endanger Afghan refugees, particularly women and girls.

Afghanistan is grappling with a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis as well as what rights groups have called a deepening "human rights crisis."

"If the Pakistani government doesn't halt the deportations immediately, it will be denying thousands of at-risk Afghans, especially women and girls, access to safety, education, and livelihood," Livia Saccardi of Amnesty International said in a November 10 statement.

Asia moved to Pakistan so that her children could have a better future. But they were recently deported, leaving her facing an uncertain future.

"We are now facing many economic problems and our children struggle with educational challenges," she told Radio Azadi.

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by Khujasta Kabiri and Fayeza Ibrahimi of RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

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