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The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Attempts To Ease Its International Isolation

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani (left), Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, and Afghan Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada (combo photo)
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani (left), Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, and Afghan Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada (combo photo)

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 reclusive leader held a secret meeting with the Qatari prime minister in Afghanistan last month, according to media reports.

It was believed to be the first meeting between Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada and a foreign leader since the Taliban seized power in 2021.

Taliban and Qatari officials have not commented on the reported meeting, which is believed to have taken place in the southern city of Kandahar, the de facto capital under the militant group’s rule.

Why It's Important: It is unclear what Akhundzada and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani discussed.

But the talks were seen as part of renewed efforts by the Taliban to ease its international isolation. The Taliban-led government remains unrecognized and has been hit by international sanctions.

The hard-line Islamist group’s restrictions on female education and employment as well as its human rights abuses have made it an international pariah.

Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch, however, said the Taliban’s reported willingness to engage with the international community is not new.

"I don't think it's a new willingness -- just new to see Akhundzada. The Taliban have always been keen, since [August 2021], to press their demands -- for engagement, aid, recognition, congratulations. Parallel to these talks, their crackdown on women/girls has steadily continued & deepened," Barr said on Twitter.

What's Next: It is unclear what effect the meeting will have. Akhundzada has so far been unwilling to reverse Taliban policies that have provoked widespread outrage inside and outside Afghanistan.

It appears unlikely that the international community will recognize the Taliban and resume crucial development assistance to Afghanistan until the group creates a broad-based government and ends its repression of women and girls.

The Week's Best Stories

Tensions remain high following the deadly clashes between Iranian and Taliban border troops over cross-border water supplies. But while both Tehran and the Taliban are doubling down on their water rights, they are leaving the door open for a diplomatic resolution.

The Taliban-led government in Afghanistan has ordered all taxi drivers in the capital, Kabul, to change the color of their vehicles to turquoise, infuriating many cabbies. Officials say the new color code will reduce kidnappings and other crimes.

What To Keep An Eye On

Taliban fighters and Iranian border guards exchanged heavy gunfire on May 27, leading to casualties on both sides.

The clashes occurred across the shared border between southeastern Iran and southwestern Afghanistan, with each side accusing the other of firing first.

Taliban officials said one Afghan border guard was killed, and several people were wounded. Iranian media said that up to three Iranian border guards were killed.

Since then, the sides have exchanged threats and reportedly sent reinforcements along the shared 900-kilometer border.

Why It's Important: The deadly clashes come amid a growing dispute over cross-border water resources.

Iran has accused the Taliban of violating a water treaty signed between Kabul and Tehran in 1973, a claim that the militant group rejects.

Disputes over water resources are likely to increase as both countries grapple with severe drought.

In the 1990s, during the Taliban’s first stint in power, the group was on the brink of war with Iran. But observers say the dispute over water resources is unlikely to lead to a conflict, with both sides calling for dialogue to help resolve their differences.

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.

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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