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The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Reels From Killing Of Senior Official

Dawood Muzammil is one of the most senior Taliban officials to be killed since the militant group seized power in Afghanistan in 2021.
Dawood Muzammil is one of the most senior Taliban officials to be killed since the militant group seized power in Afghanistan in 2021.

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

I'm Mustafa Sarwar, a senior news editor 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’s governor of Afghanistan’s northern province of Balkh, Dawood Muzammil, was killed in a suicide bombing on March 9.

The Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) extremist group, a rival of the Taliban, took responsibility for the attack, claiming that a suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside Muzammil’s office.

Provincial police spokesman Asif Waziri told Radio Azadi that two other people were killed in the bombing.

Why It's Important: Muzammil is one of the most senior Taliban officials to be killed since the militant group seized power in August 2021. He is also the first Taliban-appointed governor to be assassinated during that time.

Muzammil was appointed as deputy interior minister when the Taliban regained power. He then served as the Taliban’s governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar, where he led operations against IS-K militants. During the Taliban’s insurgency, Muzammil was the head of the militant group’s military commission based in neighboring Pakistan.

Muzammil was part of a Taliban faction that is believed to have close links to neighboring Iran. In 2018, he was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for aiding Iran-sponsored armed groups in the region.

His killing has highlighted the enduring threat posed by IS-K to Afghanistan’s new rulers. In the past 18 months, the Taliban has waged a brutal war against IS-K, killing several of its senior commanders. But that has not appeared to blunt its operational capacity.

What's Next: IS-K militants are likely to continue carrying out high-profile attacks against Taliban officials.

The attacks are aimed at undermining the Taliban government and puncturing its narrative about establishing security in Afghanistan.

Muzammil’s killing is likely to lead to another wave of operations against suspected IS-K cells in Afghanistan. In February, the Taliban said it had killed two senior IS-K members in separate operations.

The Week's Best Stories

Through their art, eight Afghan women depict life under Taliban rule, leaving their homeland, and their aspirations for a better future. "Women are a source of light, courage, and motivation in their own homes but also on a greater scale," one artist told Radio Azadi. "They are the core pillars of every society."

Afghan musician Farida Tarana's new song, Group Sex, in which she criticizes polygamy and Taliban restrictions on women, has caused an uproar in Afghanistan since it was released three months ago. "A man is allowed to have four wives. Isn't that called group sex? Or is it a death sentence for a woman?" she told Radio Azadi.

Women’s Day is intended to celebrate women around the world. In Afghanistan, it is a reminder of the violent resistance to girls and women seeking an education, and the highs and ultimate crushing lows they have endured in pursuit of an inalienable right. “Now that the gates of the universities are closed, I'm entering a scary and dark valley," said one high school graduate.

What To Keep An Eye On

Universities in Afghanistan reopened on March 6 after a winter break, but with the Taliban’s ban on higher education for women still in force.

"A girl cannot study because of [the Taliban’s] absurd mentality. So we remain like birds with clipped wings," Madina, who studied psychology at Balkh University before the ban, told Radio Azadi.

In an open letter issued this week, female students who studied at Kabul University demanded that the Taliban overturn its ban. The letter urged male students to boycott their classes.

On Women’s Day on March 8, dozens of women and girls staged a protest in Kabul and demanded their rights, including being allowed to attend high school and university.

Why It's Important: The Taliban has offered no signs that it will overturn its ban on female education.

The militant group has come under mounting international pressure to reverse its restrictions. On March 7, the European Union sanctioned the Taliban’s Higher Education Minster Neda Mohammad Nadim and the minister for the propagation of virtue and the prohibition of vice, Mohammad Khalid Hanafi.

The Taliban’s war against women’s rights is likely to further isolate its government, which has not been recognized by any country.

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

Until next time,

Mustafa Sarwar

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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    Mustafa Sarwar

    Mustafa Sarwar is a senior news editor for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.