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Afghan Loya Jirga Meeting To Decide Fate Of Remaining 400 Taliban Prisoners

The Loya Jirga is a centuries-old institution used to build consensus among Afghanistan's rival tribes, factions, and ethnic groups.
The Loya Jirga is a centuries-old institution used to build consensus among Afghanistan's rival tribes, factions, and ethnic groups.

KABUL -- Several thousand Afghan politicians and community leaders are meeting in a traditional grand assembly in Afghanistan's capital to decide whether the government should release 400 Taliban prisoners that have been convicted of involvement in deadly, high-profile attacks in the country.

The release of the prisoners is the last hurdle to opening peace talks between the internationally backed government in Kabul and the Taliban under a peace deal between the militants and the United States.

Kabul said it has released 4,600 Taliban inmates out of the 5,000 pledged in the landmark agreement signed in February by the United States and the Taliban, but authorities have balked at freeing the remaining prisoners demanded by the Taliban.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that according to the Afghan Constitution, "the release of these 400 prisoners is not within the authority of the president of Afghanistan...these 400 people have serious cases.”

Ghani, addressing the 3,200 delegates who gathered in a massive tent in Kabul on August 7, stressed that he would "strongly endorse and support any decision."

The three-day Loya Jirga is a traditional gathering of ethnic, religious, and political leaders who decide on matters of national importance.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged attendees "to take advantage of this historic opportunity for a peace that benefits all Afghans and contributes to regional stability and global security" and promised to hold the Taliban to the commitments it made to enter peace talks.

"We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular," Pompeo said in a statement on August 6. "But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan's friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war."

Lawmaker Belquis Roshan, a women's rights activist attending the gathering, protested against the potential release of the prisoners.

As Ghani spoke, she stood in the hall and unfurled a banner that read: "Redeeming the Taliban is national treason."

Roshan was escorted out of the tent by security guards.

Last week, Ghani ordered the release of 500 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture amid a three-day cease-fire proposed by the Taliban and agreed to by the Afghan government that ended on August 2. But those prisoners were not on the Taliban’s list.

Ghani then announced that the Loya Jirga delegates would decide whether to release the remaining 400 prisoners on the Taliban's list.

The Loya Jirga is headed by Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, who took over the leadership of the Loya Jirga from its previous head, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a former warlord and close ally of Ghani's.

Abdullah, Ghani's bitter rival in a disputed presidential election last year, was appointed to lead the council to end political infighting in Kabul.

Critics have accused Ghani of delaying peace talks with the Taliban to retain power because it is widely speculated that negotiations could seek a neutral interim government.

Ghani has insisted he will complete his five-year term.

Abdullah said on August 7 that Afghanistan was at a critical juncture.

“Our decisions are linked to the fate of the country. It was not an easy decision on the 4,600 detainees.... It was a big decision. But what does it show? The determination of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in removing obstacles to achieving intra-Afghan talks and ultimately peace and stability in this country,” Abdullah said.

The Taliban, meanwhile, has denied that the 400 inmates are especially dangerous.

“The accusations [the Afghan government is] now making are not true. In fact, these accusations were made by the Kabul administration for delaying the process and taking advantage of it. Other than that, those [accusations] have no basis,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told RFE/RL from Qatar, where the militants have a political office.

But Afghan officials have described the remaining prisoners as dangerous.

Of the 400 Taliban prisoners left, around 200 are accused by the Afghan government of masterminding attacks on embassies, public squares, and government offices, killing thousands of civilians in recent years.

They include militants linked to the 2018 attack against the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul that killed 40 people, including 14 foreigners.

Another Taliban prisoner is linked to the massive May 2017 truck bombing near the German Embassy in Kabul that killed over 100 people.

Also on the list is a former Afghan Army officer who killed five French troops and wounded 13 in 2012 in an insider attack.

The Taliban says it has freed all 1,000 prisoners it had pledged to in the agreement with the United States and insists on its demand for the release of the remaining 400 prisoners on its list.

The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of the deal that potentially allows the United States to withdraw its forces and end its longest-ever war, warned against the Loya Jirga throwing up any complications.

"We wish the jirga participants success...and urge them not to allow those who prefer the status quo and seek to complicate the path to peace to manipulate the process," Khalilzad said on Twitter.

The United States has reportedly proposed the Taliban prisoners be transferred from Afghan jails to a location where they would be under both Taliban and Afghan government surveillance.

The Loya Jirga is a centuries-old institution used to build consensus among Afghanistan's rival tribes, factions, and ethnic groups.

Such a meeting is traditionally convened under extraordinary circumstances.

Since the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February, 3,560 Afghan security personnel have been killed in attacks by militants, Ghani said last week. He said thousands more have been wounded.

In the same week, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a report that more than 1,280 Afghan civilians had been killed during the first half of 2020 -- mainly as a result of fighting between Afghan government forces and Taliban militants.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

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The Azadi Briefing: Afghan Poet Languishes In Taliban Captivity

Pashtun poets such as Ezatullah Zawab were relatively immune to Taliban oppression, but it's showing a willingness to mute even traditional avenues for airing grievances and criticism.
Pashtun poets such as Ezatullah Zawab were relatively immune to Taliban oppression, but it's showing a willingness to mute even traditional avenues for airing grievances and criticism.

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 prominent ethnic Pashtun poet has spent a month in Taliban captivity in what his family and rights activists see as another example of the hard-line Islamist group's sustained assault on freedom of expression.

Ezatullah Zawab's family members say they are completely in the dark about his situation a month after he was arrested under unclear circumstances. But Zawab's supporters have an idea why he is behind bars.

"We think that it is a conspiracy to silence my father through character assassination," Zawab's son, Nusrat Arman, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Arman has rejected official claims that Zawab was arrested for carrying alcohol, which is strictly prohibited by the Taliban.

Zawab's supporters say the real reason is that the Taliban did not like Zawab's literary magazine, Meena ("Love" in Pashto), because it published prose and poetry that could be seen as critical of life under Taliban rule. Zawab is known for penning satirical verse with political undertones.

"The current political system in Afghanistan is dictatorial," Zarifa Ghafari, a rights campaigner, told Radio Azadi. "The Taliban silences anyone who raises a voice against it."

Why It's Important: Zawab's arrest shows the Taliban is underscoring its lack of tolerance for dissent in any form.

Pashtun poets such as Zawab were relatively immune to Taliban oppression because of their popularity and distance from known political factions. Some of them even dared to criticize the Taliban government for its abuses and mistakes publicly.

But as the Taliban strengthens its stranglehold on power, it is showing a willingness to mute even traditional avenues for airing grievances and criticism like poetry.

Since its return to power in August 2021, the Taliban has imposed all-encompassing censorship. It has detained and tortured journalists, writers, and activists, prompting hundreds in those fields to flee the country.

Despite early promises to tolerate a free press, the Afghan media has significantly declined under the Taliban. Hundreds of media outlets have been shut down and journalists not working for the Taliban are grappling with mounting restrictions.

To deny Afghans access to credible information, the Taliban has banned some international broadcasters. Its government has also denied visas to foreign correspondents to keep the country under wraps.

What's Next: The Taliban is doubling down on creating a media environment that only amplifies its views and promotes its interests.

Some Taliban officials had already declared all forms of photography un-Islamic amid speculation that women will be completely banned from working in or appearing on electronic media.

As the Taliban continues to replace journalism with propaganda, waning international interest in Afghanistan and diminishing access to the country makes accurate reporting on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan increasingly difficult.

What To Keep An Eye On

An international nongovernmental organization, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), has issued a fresh warning about the impact of climate change in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is the 12th-most-vulnerable country in the world to the impacts of climate change," the DRC said in a report issued on February 27.

The report says climate change "continues to worsen the frequency and severity of climate-related disasters such as droughts, floods, and landslides."

The DRC warned that a deepening water crisis and climate change present unique challenges to some 40 million Afghans, 80 percent of whom depend on natural resources for their livelihoods.

"Next year, we will not be able to look after our livestock, so we are selling them now," Faeza, a peasant in the western Ghor Province, told Radio Azadi. "Without water, grass, and vegetable feed, it will be difficult to keep them alive."

Why It's Important: Afghanistan remains one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, and its ability to adapt and difficulties in attracting international aid under the unrecognized Taliban government stand as major obstacles to dealing with the situation.

In one rare bit of good news following years of drought, an ongoing spell of rain and snowfall is expected to prevent drought in parts of the country this summer. However, the country remains the third-greatest at risk from human and natural disasters in the world.

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

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org

Killing Of Street Sweeper Puts Spotlight On Iranian Leader's 'Fire At Will' Approach

The recent killing of a young street sweeper in Iran has raised fears that the country's clerical regime has given many pro-establishment Iranians the green light to confront any perceived threat to the Islamic republic or violations of its rules. (file photo)
The recent killing of a young street sweeper in Iran has raised fears that the country's clerical regime has given many pro-establishment Iranians the green light to confront any perceived threat to the Islamic republic or violations of its rules. (file photo)

Iranians are blaming the killing of a young Afghan street sweeper in Tehran on the authorities' adoption of a "fire at will" approach that allows staunch supporters to take the protection of the Islamic Revolution into their own hands.

The street sweeper, identified as Elias Mohammadi, was thrown off a bridge to his death in the early hours of February 9.

A man arrested in connection with the attack, whose name has not been revealed, told Iranian media that he acted in the belief that Mohammadi was seeking to "insult" flags raised in the Iranian capital to mark the revolution's 45th anniversary on February 11.

The apparent act of revolutionary fervor, coming years after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave supporters free rein to protect the Islamic republic's core values, led to suggestions that the approach has left even ordinary municipal workers at risk.

"Street sweeping is probably the least safe job in Tehran," the reformist Etemad newspaper wrote on February 27.

On social media, observers highlighted how supporters of Iran's clerical establishment feel emboldened to carry out acts of vigilantism in defense of the state.

Moein Khazaeli, an Iranian human rights lawyer based in Sweden, wrote that Mohammadi's death was "the direct result of...the promotion of the culture and ideology of 'fire at will.'"

Khamenei first endorsed the approach in June 2017, when he described supporters as "officers of the soft war" who were free to act independently to put the Islamic republic's teachings into practice at their own discretion.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (file photo)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (file photo)

"Everyone must work independently; as they say on the battlefield, 'fire at will,'" he said in an address to university students in Tehran.

His remark was widely taken as giving pro-establishment Iranians the green light to confront any perceived threat to the Islamic republic or violations of its rules.

With criticism of the clerical establishment at the heart of various mass demonstrations in recent years -- including over contentious elections, Iran's draconian hijab law, and the suppression of human rights and political opposition -- the ingredients for vigilante justice abound.

As authorities have increasingly enforced the requirement that women wear a hijab, or head scarf, numerous cases of ordinary citizens taking it upon themselves to warn, and in some cases attack, women who do not cover their hair have been documented.

"The heinous killing of the Afghan street cleaner, like all those murdered by the executioners of Khamenei, was very upsetting," wrote Gohar Eshqi, an Iranian activist and mother of Sattar Beheshti, a political prisoner who died in custody in 2012.

One user on X lamented Mohammadi's death and said he had fallen victim to "one of the regime's fire-at-will nightcrawlers." Another demanded that the authorities "bridle the fire-at-will crowd" and bring justice to Mohammadi.

Rising Anti-Afghan Sentiment

Mohammadi's killing also comes amid rising anti-Afghan sentiment in Iran. This has been promoted in recent weeks on social media by mostly anonymous accounts under a Persian hashtag that calls the "expulsion of Afghans" a "national demand."

The authorities say around 5 million undocumented Afghan citizens live in Iran "illegally" and have vowed to deport them. More than 400,000 Afghan migrants have been expelled since November 2023.

Afghan migrants have also been banned from living in, traveling to, and working in 16 of Iran's 31 provinces.

Iran enhanced restrictions particularly after a man identified as an Afghan citizen attacked a Shi'ite shrine in Shiraz, Fars Province, in August 2023, killing 13 people. The attack was claimed by the extremist Islamic State group.


Following the incident, Iran imposed a ban on "foreign nationals" living in the vicinity of the shrine. In the directive, however, the Persian term used for foreign nationals -- "atba'" -- is generally understood to be a euphemism for Afghans.

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

Iranian authorities say that despite hosting millions of Afghan refugees, the country is receiving little financial support from international groups.

Taliban Holds Another Public Execution In Afghanistan

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

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

Polio Inoculation Campaign Kicks Off In 21 Afghan Provinces

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

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

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

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

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

Afghan Girls Banned From Contacting Media In Eastern Province

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Families Demand Release Of 39 Afghans Detained In Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In November 2022, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, ordered the use of qisas and hudood punishments, which allow "eye-for-an-eye" retribution and corporal punishments for offenses considered to be in violation of the boundaries set by God.

Since then, hundreds across Afghanistan have been publicly flogged or had body parts amputated for crimes such as theft and adultery.

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

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

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

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

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

What To Keep An Eye On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Taliban government, which remains unrecognized and has been hit by sanctions from the international community, appears unable to address the humanitarian needs of Afghans.

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

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org

Taliban Publicly Executes Two People For Murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Unacceptable'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Categorical Answer'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Divisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AP

Afghan Province Orders Officials Not To Photograph Living Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International diplomacy concerning Afghanistan is intensifying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by Mustafa Sarwar

5.0-Magnitude Earthquake Jolts Northern Afghanistan

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

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

International Envoys Discuss Afghan Engagement In Doha; Taliban Rejects Invite

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Taliban has long had a representative office in Qatar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Keep An Eye On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org.

Azerbaijani Envoy Hands Letter To Taliban On Opening Embassy In Kabul

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EU Special Representatives Arrive In Bishkek To Participate In Afghanistan Talks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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