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The Azadi Briefing: Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Fail To Mend Fences After Recent Tensions

A Taliban security guard watches as young Afghan boys help elderly men in wheelchairs after gunfire between Afghanistan and Pakistan border forces near the Torkham crossing on February 20.
A Taliban security guard watches as young Afghan boys help elderly men in wheelchairs after gunfire between Afghanistan and Pakistan border forces near the Torkham crossing on February 20.

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

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

The Key Issue

Pakistan’s defense minister and spy chief visited Kabul on February 22 for talks with senior Taliban officials.

The high-profile visit appeared aimed at easing tensions over recent border clashes and closures, as well as militant attacks in Pakistan.

The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has staged a string of deadly attacks in Pakistan in recent months. Islamabad has accused the Afghan Taliban of sheltering the Pakistani militant group.

In response, the Taliban has accused Islamabad of allowing U.S. drones to fly over its territory and into Afghanistan. The Afghan militants have also accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye to Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), a foe of the Taliban that is present along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

In a February 22 statement, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said that "the two sides agreed to collaborate to effectively address the threat of terrorism."

The Taliban said it expressed its "clear and thorough" views on "drone flights over our territory and the activities of the armed opposition," in an apparent reference to IS-K.

Why It's Important: Attempts by the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan to smooth over their differences appear to have failed.

The Taliban on February 22 agreed to reopen the key Torkham border crossing, days after closing it and accusing Pakistan of unilaterally changing entry rules for Afghans. But on February 23, Islamabad closed its side of the border.

The Afghan Taliban and Pakistan have been close allies for decades. But their relations have plummeted since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021.

Instead of providing the security bulwark Islamabad expected from the Taliban in return for allegedly sheltering its leaders and helping its insurgency for over two decades, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan has become a security concern for Pakistan.

The Taliban's ideological and organizational ally, the TTP, has recuperated under its rule. Its attacks inside Pakistan have soared since Afghan Taliban-brokered peace talks between the TTP and Islamabad last year failed.

What's Next: It is unclear if the sides are willing or able to smooth over their differences.

The Afghan Taliban is unlikely to crack down or expel the TTP, although it could convince the militants to decrease their attacks inside Pakistan.

If the TTP continues to wreak havoc in Pakistan, Islamabad could resort to military action inside Afghanistan, a move that would likely escalate tensions even further.

The Week's Best Story

The Taliban has banned begging and rounded up thousands of impoverished Afghans seeking alms on the streets of Kabul in recent months. But many of Kabul’s poorest are now going door-to-door around the city in search of food or cash in order to survive. Among them is Shakiba, who told Radio Azadi that she has “no choice but to send my children to people's houses to beg."

What To Keep An Eye On

The Taliban announced on February 22 that it has established a consortium with companies from Russia, Iran, and Pakistan in a bid to attract investment.

Taliban Commerce Minister Nooruddin Azizi said his ministry and 14 Afghan businessmen had signed a memorandum of understanding with foreign firms to assess up to $1 billion in various projects, including in the fields of mining, power, and infrastructure.

The Taliban also announced this week that it would turn former foreign military bases in Afghanistan into special economic zones.

Why It's Important: The cash-strapped Taliban government, which remains unrecognized by any country, has tried to attract foreign investment, but international sanctions and isolation have hampered those efforts.

The Taliban has turned to neighbors like Pakistan, China, and Iran, as well as Russia. But the Pakistani, Iranian, and Russian governments and firms are unlikely to be able to invest heavily in Afghanistan. Islamabad is struggling with a sharp economic downturn. Meanwhile, Tehran and Moscow are reeling from crippling Western sanctions.

The Taliban, however, appears to be successfully generating much needed revenue, mainly through tax collection and exports. A recent World Bank report said Afghan exports, including coal, rose to $1.7 billion last year, surpassing the figures for the past two years.

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.

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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 is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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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.