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The Azadi Briefing: Taliban and Pakistan On Collision Course Over Cross-Border Attacks

Tehrik-e Taliban (TTP) militants patrol an area in Shawal, in the Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan, in August 2021. The Afghan Taliban's takeover of neighboring Afghanistan that month has emboldened the TTP to carry out more attacks within Pakistan.
Tehrik-e Taliban (TTP) militants patrol an area in Shawal, in the Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan, in August 2021. The Afghan Taliban's takeover of neighboring Afghanistan that month has emboldened the TTP to carry out more attacks within Pakistan.

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, a new 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 Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group claimed responsibility for the killing of an official and officer of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency. Police said the two men were shot dead on January 3 outside a hotel in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous and prosperous province.

The TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, said in a statement that a "secret squad of TTP killed ISI Deputy Director Multan Naveed Sadiq along with his colleague Inspector Nasir Butt." Islamabad confirmed the killings but not the TTP's involvement.

It was the latest high-profile TTP attack in Pakistan since the militant group ended a cease-fire with Islamabad in late November. The Afghan Taliban, which seized power in Kabul in 2021, has been accused of sheltering the TTP, a close ideological and organizational ally.

Why it's important: The TTP's intensifying attacks inside Pakistan have inflamed tensions between Islamabad and the Afghan Taliban, who are longtime allies. In a reference to the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan's political and military leadership on January 2 said no country would be allowed to harbor militants who carry out attacks against the South Asian nation.

A day later, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Pakistan's accusations were "baseless" and "provocative." He added that the Taliban was trying its best to prevent any groups from using "the territory of Afghanistan against Pakistan or any other country." This was a pledge the Taliban made under the 2020 U.S.-Taliban deal that paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in August 2021. But the Taliban's alleged sheltering of the TTP suggests it is unwilling to fulfil its promise.

The locations of the TTP's recent attacks are also significant. Previously, the extremist group had concentrated its assaults on Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas, its former stronghold. But it is now expanding the scope of its attacks, including a bombing in the capital, Islamabad, on December 20.

What's next: The TTP is likely to continue its attacks inside Pakistan, which in turn could prompt Pakistan to put more pressure on the Afghan Taliban. In April 2022, Pakistan carried out unprecedented air strikes in eastern Afghanistan, killing dozens of people. Pakistan said it was targeting the TTP. The air strikes provoked unusually harsh exchanges, with the Taliban issuing threats against Islamabad. Similar action in the future is likely to further worsen tensions between Islamabad and the Afghan Taliban.

The Week's Best Stories

During 2022, the Taliban imposed sweeping restrictions on women's appearances, freedom of movement, and their right to work and receive an education. Afghan women said the militant group has effectively erased them from society. Activists have warned that the Taliban is likely to further erode women's rights in 2023 as the group reestablishes its brutal regime of the 1990s.

Women across Afghanistan continue to protest recent bans by the Taliban on education and employment opportunities for females. Some have burned pictures of Taliban leaders. Male professors and university students have also protested against the increased restrictions on women in higher education. Despite international condemnation, the Taliban has said it is unwilling to reverse the bans.

What To Keep An Eye On

Iran announced on January 3 that it is planning to offer more scholarships to female Afghan university students. Last month, the Taliban banned women from attending universities in Afghanistan, a decision that was widely criticized, including by Tehran.

Iran's official IRNA news agency said Tehran University has increased its budget fivefold for scholarships to Afghan students. Some 470 Afghan students, around a quarter of them women, currently study at Tehran University, according to IRNA.

Iran's clerical regime has long been criticized for violating women's rights. But women in the Islamic republic are allowed to attend universities, where they make up the majority of students.

Why it's important: Iran's plan to offer scholarships to female Afghan students is part of a wider rebuke of the Taliban's ban on women's education by Islamic countries. Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is the only country in the world that has banned women's education.

Many Islamic countries and institutions have condemned the Taliban's ban, saying the decision has nothing to do with Islam. Qatar and Indonesia are also reportedly planning to offer university scholarships to Afghan women. But these efforts could be futile if the Taliban, as expected, prevents women from traveling abroad to receive an education.

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

Azadi Briefing

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.