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The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Continues To Stamp Out Religious Freedoms

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

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

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

The Key Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Keep An Eye On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all from me for now.

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

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He also writes the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday in our newsletter, the Azadi Briefing, correspondent Abubakar Siddique shares his analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.

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