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The Azadi Briefing: Who Is The Taliban's New Prime Minister?

Abdul Kabir (center), one of three deputies to ailing Prime Minister Hassan Akhund, is set to take over the post on a temporary basis. He's known for his diplomatic skills, which could help the isolated regime on the international stage.
Abdul Kabir (center), one of three deputies to ailing Prime Minister Hassan Akhund, is set to take over the post on a temporary basis. He's known for his diplomatic skills, which could help the isolated regime on the international stage.

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

The Taliban appointed a new prime minister on May 17, saying the incumbent, Hassan Akhund, was suffering from ill health.

The militant group said Abdul Kabir, one of Akhund's three deputies, would take over on a temporary basis. But it is unclear whether Akhund, a 78-year-old cleric, will return to his post.

The 60-year-old Kabir was a military commander and shadow governor during the Taliban's 19-year insurgency against the Western-backed Afghan government. He served as an official during the Taliban's first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

Like many Taliban officials, Kabir is on the United Nations' terrorism blacklist.

Why It's Important: Under the Taliban's clerical system, the prime minister carries out the day-to-day administration of the government. But Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada has the ultimate say on all important matters of the state.

Sami Yousafzai, a veteran Afghan journalist and commentator who tracks the Taliban, said Kabir's appointment is unlikely to "mark a major policy shift."

But Yousafzai said Kabir and Akhund are "very different in how they operate and conduct themselves."

Unlike Akhund, Kabir has played a much more visible role. He was involved in negotiating the U.S.-Taliban deal in 2020 that paved the way for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban seized power, Kabir has been pictured regularly meeting representatives of foreign governments and organizations visiting Afghanistan. Akhund, experts said, shunned public engagement.

Many Taliban leaders are Pashtuns from the southern province of Kandahar, the group's power base. But Kabir is a Pashtun from the northern province of Baghlan who hails from the Zadran tribe. Kabir's promotion is likely an attempt to placate those Taliban members who have accused leaders in Kandahar of monopolizing power.

What's Next: Kabir is known for his diplomatic skills. That could help the unrecognized and isolated Taliban-led government improve its ties with the outside world, including neighboring Pakistan.

Kabir is also known for his close links with Islamabad, the Taliban's longtime ally. But tensions have increased between the sides over the Taliban's alleged sheltering of the Pakistani Taliban, which has waged a yearslong insurgency against Islamabad.

The Taliban is unlikely to rescind its repressive policies, including its restrictions on women. But Kabir's appointment could mean the Taliban-led government has an interlocutor who is likely to be more open to discussing thorny issues with Afghans and representatives of foreign governments and organizations.

The Week's Best Stories

A growing number of Afghan families have been forced to send their children to work amid a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where incomes have plummeted, and millions are on the brink of starvation. There are at least 1 million child laborers in Afghanistan, with many polishing boots, washing cars, begging in the streets, or working in mines.

The parents and family of a 21-year-old Afghan migrant struck by a train in Serbia had to rely on public generosity to get his body home for a proper farewell. His death is a tragic facet of a decade-long battle between asylum seekers and populist, anti-immigrant governments in stepping-stone states like Serbia, on the border of the more affluent European Union.

What To Keep An Eye On

The UN Office on the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that climate change is reducing people's access to water across Afghanistan.

The agency said the proportion of Afghan household lacking access to water is rising rapidly.

"Households experiencing water shortages rose from 48% in 2021 to 60% in 2022," the OCHA tweeted on May 18.

The UN warned on May 17 that it was quite certain that 2023-2027 will be the warmest five-year period ever recorded.

Afghanistan is already one of the world's most vulnerable countries to climate change. Changing weather patterns have resulted in frequent flash floods and persistent droughts in the country.

Why It's Important: Afghanistan is already grappling with the world's biggest humanitarian crisis, which worsened when the Taliban seized power.

Receding access to water will further wreak havoc on the livelihoods of millions of Afghans who depend on subsistence farming and animal husbandry. Together, these sectors make up a large part of the Afghan economy.

Declining international humanitarian aid, in part due to the Taliban's restrictions on the work of foreign NGOs, is likely to worsen the blow for many Afghans.

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.

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