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Who's Who In The Taliban: The Men Who Run The Extremist Group And How They Operate

Militants in the Taliban Military Affairs Commission’s “western zone.” 

With the Taliban in control of more than half of all districts in Afghanistan, promises made by Taliban political negotiators in Doha appear to be falling by the wayside.

The movement’s so-called Political Affairs Commission in Doha had vowed in a February 2020 peace deal with the United States that the Taliban would respect human rights and keep foreign fighters out of the territory it controls.

But recent reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi and Tajik Service belies Taliban claims that it has no foreign fighters in Afghanistan, as there are thousands of them -- mostly Pakistanis -- fighting under the Taliban banner.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said Taliban militants who’ve recently advanced in Ghazni, Kandahar, and other Afghan provinces have been detaining and summarily executing soldiers, police, and civilians with suspected ties to the Afghan government.

Such reports raise doubt about how much clout, if any, the political office in Doha has over battlefield commanders and the shadow governors that Taliban military leaders have installed in the territories they control.

“The most important question about Taliban command and control is the one we know the least about right now,” Afghan security analyst Ted Callahan said. “It centers on the Taliban in Doha right now who are negotiating with the Afghan government and to what degree they actually control the fighting on the ground.”

Command And Control

Questioned by RFE/RL, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid described a leadership structure in which the Political Affairs Commission in Doha has no direct control over the fighters who’ve seized vast tracts of territory in recent months.

Mujahid explained in an e-mail to RFE/RL that the Doha political office is just one of nearly two dozen commissions and offices that serve as a kind of cabinet of ministers beneath Taliban Supreme Leader Malawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.

Mujahid said a separate branch in the Taliban’s leadership structure -- the Military Affairs Commission -- oversees the movement’s entire military chain of command down to the provincial and district levels.

He said Akhundzada is the Taliban’s “ultimate authority” on religious, political, and military issues -- adding that Akhundzada has three deputies under his command.

Political Affairs Deputy Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar heads the Political Affairs Commission and leads the Taliban negotiating team in Doha.

The deputy leader for southern provinces, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, is the son of the late Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar. He also heads the Taliban’s military operations.

Akundzada’s deputy for eastern provinces, Sirajuddin Haqqani, also is the head of the so-called Haqqani network.

Fighters under the Taliban’s “eastern zone” military command.
Fighters under the Taliban’s “eastern zone” military command.

Mujahid noted that the Taliban’s military chain of command falls under the Military Affairs Commission, which is dominated by Yaqoob and Haqqani.

Going up the chain of command from the district level, each Taliban battlefield commander answers to a provincial command.

Mujahid told RFE/RL there are seven regional “circles” that are each responsible for at least three provincial commands.

Finally, overseeing those regional “circles” are two deputy leaders of the Military Affairs Commission. One is in charge of 21 provinces in the Taliban’s so-called “western zone,” Mujahid said. The other oversees the command in 13 provinces in the “eastern zone.”

The Taliban’s Military Affairs Commission also is responsible for appointing and overseeing all of the provincial and district “governors” in the Taliban’s shadow government.

Necessary Evolution

Analysts say the Taliban’s current leadership structure has evolved out of necessity since 2001 from a loose-knit organization of local militia commanders into a more organized political and military movement.

The key leadership changes came in a response to a dispute that divided the Taliban into rival factions following the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar in 2013.

In fact, those divisions are an extension of a long-running power struggle based on Pashtun tribal structures.

One side backed Omar’s son as the Taliban’s next supreme leader. It has followers in western and southern Afghanistan. It also dominated the Taliban’s highest advisory and decision-making leadership council -- the Rahbari Shura -- which is better known as the Quetta Shura.

On the other side are Taliban commanders in eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan linked to the Haqqani network. It has strong links to consultative leadership councils known as the Peshawar Shura in northwestern Pakistan and the Miran Shah Shura in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region.

A 2019 study by the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP) described how the Taliban refined its command structure after the death of Mullah Omar to smooth over the factional divisions.

It said that by creating a more unified military and political movement, the Taliban has been “able to capture and govern large stretches of territory.”

To do so, it created the system of shadow Taliban governance -- a move that allowed military commanders from different factions to appoint shadow government “officials” in territory under their control.

Still, Taliban shadow governance has been “uneven and ad hoc,” the USIP study concluded. It produced different rules “shaped by individual commanders’ preferences, local traditions, and the Taliban’s strength in the community.”

“Multiple actors -- from the Taliban leadership to local commanders -- have played a key role in creating and shaping the movement’s policy in Afghanistan,” it said. “Taliban policymaking has been top-down as much as it has been bottom-up, with the leadership shaping the rules as much as fighters and commanders on the ground.”

Callahan said a key question impacting Afghanistan’s future is whether, going forward, the Taliban will be able to maintain its current command-and-control structure.

“Will it strengthen or will it decentralize so that we see Taliban fiefdoms which are much more regionally aligned than they are nationally?” asked Callahan.

Today's Taliban

“If you had to put a very simple label on it, the Taliban are now basically disgruntled Afghans,” Callahan told RFE/RL. There also are thousands of non-Afghan Taliban fighters in the country, he added.

“It’s no longer a Pashtun ethno-nationalist movement,” Callahan explained. “It’s much more diverse than it was in the 1990s.”

A Taliban fighter from Tajikistan guards a position in northern Afghanistan.
A Taliban fighter from Tajikistan guards a position in northern Afghanistan.

Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), doesn’t believe the Taliban’s promises in the 2020 Doha agreement to respect human rights and keep foreign fighters out of the territory it controls.

Roggio, a senior editor of the FDD’s Long War Journal, said today’s Taliban still appears to be trying to establish an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and impose their strict version of Islamic law on the Afghan people.

But Roggio also sees important differences between today’s Taliban and the Islamist regime that controlled most of Afghanistan during the late 1990s.

“The Taliban is largely made up of Afghans,” Roggio told RFE/RL. “It’s dominated by Afghans. But this question is a little tricky because of groups like the Haqqani network that are based in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

“There are a large number of ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks, even Turkmen and, in some cases, even ethnic Hazara who are Afghans and are part of the Taliban today,” Roggio said. “The Taliban has made deep inroads into these communities in recent years. That’s a big different between the Taliban today and the Taliban before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.”

The thousands of foreign militants fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan include fighters from the Middle East who are part of Al-Qaeda as well as militants from Pakistan and Central Asia, he said.

Indeed, a recent report by the UN Security Council’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said that out of an estimated 85,000 active Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, about 10,000 are thought to be foreign militants.

It says about 6,500 of them are Pakistani citizens. It says others come from Central Asia, Chechnya, or the remnants of Al-Qaeda in the Middle East.

“The primary component of the Taliban in dealing with [Al-Qaeda] is the Haqqani network,” the UN monitoring team concluded. “Ties between the two groups remain close, based on ideological alignment, relationships forged through common struggle, and intermarriage.”

In northern Afghanistan, an exclusive report by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service documented how the Taliban has put the commander of militants from Tajikistan in charge of five districts recently seized by the Taliban along the border with Tajikistan.

The 25-year-old commander, who goes by the alias Mahdi Arsalon, was born in the village of Sherbegiyon in Tajikistan’s eastern Rasht Valley.

Arsalon and his militants are known in Afghanistan as the “Tajik Taliban.”

In reality, they are members of Jamaat Ansarullah, a group founded a decade ago by a rogue former Tajik opposition commander with the goal of overthrowing the government in Dushanbe.

Jamaat Ansarullah is banned in Tajikistan as a terrorist group.

Political Affairs Deputy Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar leads the Taliban's negotiating team in Doha.
Political Affairs Deputy Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar leads the Taliban's negotiating team in Doha.

RFE/RL correspondents in northwestern Afghanistan recently reported the presence of Uzbek militants affiliated with the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

Badghis Province Governor Hossamuddin Shams told RFE/RL the Uzbek militants have been managing the Taliban war in parts of the north and west of the country.

Shams said the families of about 80 Uzbek militants arrived in Badghis Province from Pakistan in 2018 and are now stationed in the Bala Murghab district.

He said most of these Uzbek Taliban fighters are the children of IMU militants who fled to Pakistan in late 2001 after they helped the Taliban fight against the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance the previous year in Takhar Province.

Afghanistan’s northern neighbors say they are concerned that Central Asian Taliban fighters will eventually try to return to their homelands to launch insurgencies.

Callahan, a former adviser to U.S. Special Forces in northern Afghanistan, said the Taliban’s claim that it does not have foreign fighters in its ranks is “demonstrably untrue.”

Taliban fighters ride in a vehicle in the Surkhroad district of Nangarhar Province.
Taliban fighters ride in a vehicle in the Surkhroad district of Nangarhar Province.

“It does seem that they are using these fighters simply because they lack the manpower at the moment to administer all of the areas that they’ve taken over,” Callahan told RFE/RL. “That seems to be a consensus point right now.”

“In the Taliban blitzkrieg across the north in recent months, there are reports of foreign fighters actually being involved in the fighting because, in many cases, the Afghan and Pakistani fighters were insufficient in numbers,” he explained.

Callahan notes that reports of ethnic Uyghur militants from western China being used by the Taliban in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan have unsettled Beijing.

He said the Taliban will continue to deny the presence of foreign fighters among its ranks.

“There is a potential future role in Afghanistan of China,” he said. “Beijing seems to be hedging its bets on whether the Afghan government or the Taliban will have power in the future. They seem poised to work with either group.”

“Having foreign fighters who work with the Taliban -- particularly Uyghur militants -- does threaten the Taliban-Chinese relationship in the future,” he concluded.

Taliban Vs. Afghan Security Forces

On paper, the Taliban is heavily outnumbered and technologically inferior to Afghanistan’s National Security Forces.

But analysts warn that, as with many things about Afghanistan, what appears on paper is not as it is on the ground.

Including troops under the command of the Defense Ministry and police in the Interior Ministry, there are at least three times as many Afghan security forces than the estimated number of active Taliban fighters in the country.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in its latest report to Congress that the total strength of Afghan National Security Forces -- including the army, special forces, the air force, police, and intelligence officers -- is about 307,000 personnel.

Jonathan Schroden, a security expert at the CNA research organization in Arlington, Virginia, estimates that the Afghan government has about 180,000 available combat troops on any given day.

Afghanistan also has been well supplied by the United States, which has spent some $83 billion to help build, equip, train, and sustain the Afghan security forces since the previous Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001.

Afghan National Army 215th Corps troops disembark an Afghan Air Force Black Hawk helicopter.
Afghan National Army 215th Corps troops disembark an Afghan Air Force Black Hawk helicopter.

Afghanistan’s military has received armored vehicles, planes, and attack helicopters, artillery, assault rifles, night-vision goggles, and surveillance drones from the United States.

SIGAR said the Afghan military also has a fleet of 167 aircraft, including its attack helicopters.

But the weaponry delivered to Kabul over the past two decades and what is now available for combat are two different things.

Complete details about the current status of the Afghan arsenal are classified.

But anecdotal evidence suggests much of what has been delivered to the Afghan government and pro-government militias over the years is either no longer functioning or has fallen into the hands of the advancing Taliban.

In Afghanistan, An Old Chant Gets New Life As Anti-Taliban Protest
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Roggio and Callahan agree that the main source of Taliban weaponry appears be within Afghanistan itself.

They say that includes recently captured Western-made weapons and equipment that was supplied to the Afghan military such as assault rifles, vehicles, and night-vision goggles.

It also includes the small arms and light weapons that flooded the country since the Afghan-Soviet War in the 1980s, such as Soviet-designed AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and mortars.

Taliban expert Antonio Giustozzi said the Taliban have tried to use some antiaircraft and antitank weapons with mixed success.

Small rockets, suicide bombers, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are among the deadliest weapons used by the Taliban.

Experts say the regional black market also is a rich source for Taliban weaponry.

Chemicals for fertilizer brought from Pakistan are known to have been widely used by the Taliban to make IEDs in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

But officials in Pakistan, Iran, and Russia deny accusations by Kabul and the U.S. military that they have covertly supplied Afghanistan’s Taliban with weapons and other support.

Written and reported by Ron Synovitz in Prague with reporting by RFE/RL Radio Azadi correspondents in Afghanistan whose names are being withheld for security reasons. Additional reporting by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service.

More News

The Azadi Briefing: Afghanistan Receives Much-Needed Humanitarian Funding

An Afghan woman sits next to a child suffering from malnutrition and other diseases while receiving treatment at Mirwais hospital in Kandahar.

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

International humanitarian operations in Afghanistan were boosted after the European Union and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced they would provide nearly $550 million in funding.

The ADB has approved $400 million “in grants to protect the welfare and livelihoods of vulnerable Afghan people, particularly women and girls, and ease the adverse impact of the ongoing humanitarian crisis.”

The EU has agreed to release more than $149 million of humanitarian assistance “in the fields of education, health, agriculture, and women's economic empowerment in Afghanistan.”

The announcement follows desperate calls for funding after the UN warned that millions among the nearly 30 million Afghans dependent on humanitarian aid will go hungry if they don’t receive urgent humanitarian funding.

“In Afghanistan, WFP has been forced to end life-saving aid for 10 million people,” Cindy McCain, the executive director of the UN World Food Program (WFP), warned on X, formerly known as Twitter, on September 19. “This is what a funding crisis means: no $$, no food.”

In August, the International Rescue Committee, a U.S. nongovernmental organization, said Afghanistan had only received 23 percent of this year's $4.6 billion proposed humanitarian funding.

Why It's Important: These announcements are welcome news for aid workers attempting to save lives in one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world.

The UN estimates that more than two-thirds of Afghanistan's estimated 40 million people need humanitarian assistance. The WFP estimates that more than 3 million Afghans are at risk of famine.

The Taliban's return to power in August 2021 quickly worsened the vast humanitarian crisis millions faced. The impoverished country lost Western aid, which was financing more than 70 percent of the government budget. The economy collapsed as sanctions kicked in against the Taliban leaders.

Yet the UN and international NGOs prevented thousands of deaths and starvation by quickly responding to the humanitarian crisis after utilizing generous funds from Western donors.

What's Next: New funding will help aid agencies prevent a humanitarian catastrophe during the winter, which begins with the first snowfall in November.

However, Western funding for humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan is not guaranteed in the long run. Domestic pressure is likely to prevent Western governments from giving money to a country where the Taliban government has even banned women from working for international aid groups after banning their education and work.

Longer term, Afghanistan's economy is unlikely to quickly turn around under the Taliban's unrecognized government.

What To Keep An Eye On

The caretaker Taliban government is working on a new constitution to establish a permanent government and consultative bodies.

The Taliban’s chief justice, Abdul Hakim Haqqani, is leading the process of writing a constitution, which is under wraps.

“We are still working on the supreme law as we debate [the role of the consultative] councils,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, chief Taliban spokesman. “Once finalized, it will revive all the aspects of governance.”

After seizing power two years ago, the Taliban has imposed a caretaker government comprised of top Taliban leaders, which has been ruling in a legal vacuum by suspending the country’s 2004 constitution.

Why It's Important: Few Afghans believe the Taliban constitution will be framed and adopted in any kind of a democratic, consultative process.

They are concerned that it will be yet another step toward permanently imposing a government by the group that has taken away most fundamental rights and freedoms from Afghans.

“This law is unlikely to be a recipe for a self-governing democratic polity that will pave the way for the international recognition of the Taliban government,” Attiqur Rahman Habib, an Afghan legal expert, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

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.

Afghans Who Recently Arrived In U.S. Get Temporary Legal Status

Afghans disembark from a U.S. Air Force aircraft after an evacuation flight from Kabul in Rota in southern Spain on August 31, 2021.

The Biden administration said on September 21 that it was giving temporary legal status to Afghan migrants who have already been living in the country for a little over a year. The Department of Homeland Security said in the announcement that the decision to give Temporary Protected Status to Afghans who arrived after March 15, 2022, and before Sept. 20, 2023, would affect roughly 14,600 Afghans. This status doesn't give affected Afghans a long-term right to stay in the country or a path to citizenship. It's good until 2025, when it would have to be renewed again. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Mahsa Amini, Activists From Afghanistan, Georgia Nominated For EU's Sakharov Prize

Mahsa Amini died in Iran last year while in custody for an alleged hijab infraction.

Mahsa Amini and the women of Iran were nominated for this year's Sakharov Prize, the European Union’s top rights prize, the EU Parliament said on September 20. Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in Iran last year while in custody for an alleged hijab infraction, was nominated by the parliament’s three largest blocs, making her the favorite to be chosen for the award in December. Afghan education activists Marzia Amiri, Parasto Hakim, and Matiullah Wesa were nominated, as were the "pro-European people of Georgia" and Nino Lomjaria, former public defender of Georgia. The award will be presented in December.

UN Records Torture And Deaths Of Detainees In Taliban Custody

Since ousting the Western-backed Afghan government and taking over the country in August 2021, the hard-line Taliban has failed to live up to promises of moderation and has instead severely restricted people's freedoms. (file photo)

The United Nations said it had documented hundreds of cases of torture and other "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" committed by the Taliban de facto authorities in Afghanistan during the arrest and subsequent detention of individuals.

In a report issued on September 20, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it had documented more than 1,600 cases of human rights violations -- nearly half of which comprised acts of “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” -- committed by the de facto authorities in Afghanistan during arrests and detentions, and the deaths of 18 individuals while in custody. The report covers the period from January 2022 until the end of July 2023, with cases found across 29 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

“The personal accounts of beatings, electric shocks, water torture, and numerous other forms of cruel and degrading treatment, along with threats made against individuals and their families, are harrowing. Torture is forbidden in all circumstances,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement issued with the report.

“This report suggests that torture is also used as a tool -- in lieu of effective investigations. I urge all concerned de facto authorities to put in place concrete measures to halt these abuses and hold perpetrators accountable,” he added.

In a response published with the report, the Taliban-led Foreign Ministry questioned UNAMA’s data and said it had taken steps to improve the human rights situation of detainees.

Since ousting the Western-backed Afghan government and taking over the country in August 2021, the hard-line Taliban has failed to live up to promises of moderation and has instead severely restricted people's freedoms, waged a harsh crackdown on dissent, and reintroduced the militants' brutal form of justice.

Around one in 10 of the violations were against women, the report said. Journalists and civil society members accounted for nearly a quarter of the victims of the violations.

UNAMA considers the extent of torture and other forms of ill-treatment “widely under-reported” and says that the figures presented in the report represent “only a snapshot” of the full scale of human rights violations across Afghanistan.

The report also said that violations of due process guarantees, including the denial of access to lawyers, “are the norm.”

The Taliban claimed the number of reported violations was not accurate, especially the number of journalists or civil society advocates affected. It added that the authorities have taken steps to improve the human rights situation of detainees, and that Islamic law, or Shari'a, prohibits torture.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

China In Eurasia Briefing: What's Driving Beijing's Leadership Turbulence? 

What has happened to Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has not been seen in public for weeks?

Welcome back to the China In Eurasia briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter tracking China's resurgent influence from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Reid Standish and here's what I'm following right now.

Listen to the Talking China In Eurasia podcast. Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google

What's Driving Beijing's Leadership Turbulence?

Less than two months after Qin Gang, who had been serving as China’s foreign minister, disappeared and was replaced, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu has also disappeared from public view and is believed to be under investigation.

What does the turmoil mean for Beijing’s military and foreign policy establishment?

Finding Perspective: According to a report by the Financial Times, the U.S. government believes that Li has been placed under investigation.

There has been no official pronouncement, but Li has not been seen in public for more than three weeks.

One U.S. official who spoke to the British newspaper said the probe into Li, who headed the People’s Liberation Army’s main department for procuring and developing weapons from September 2017 until last October, was corruption-related. Li previously headed the Xichang Satellite Launch Center for a decade and was also sanctioned by the United States in 2018 for weapons deals with Russia.

This is relevant as August saw purges of generals within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force and Li’s potential investigation could be linked to those cases.

The sequence for Li also has echoes of Qin’s removal in July as foreign minister.

Speculation had run over what could be behind that move, but a September 19 Wall Street Journal report may add some clarity.

Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the Journal reported that Qin was stripped of his title because of an extramarital affair that lasted while he was China’s ambassador to Washington before assuming his foreign minister post.

Senior Chinese officials were told, according to the report, that an internal Communist Party investigation found that the affair led to the birth of a child in the United States.

Why It Matters: The instability at home comes as China’s global competition with the United States is growing and scrutiny of senior officials’ dealings with foreigners is intensifying as Beijing looks to remove any -- real or imagined -- security vulnerabilities.

This has led to some analysis that Chinese leader Xi Jinping may be too consumed with putting out fires at home and that the country’s foreign engagements may suffer. Xi has been less willing to leave the country for extended periods of time, missing the recent Group of 20 summit in India and unexpectedly skipping a business forum at the BRICS summit last month.

Chinese elite politics remain a black box and it’s unclear how the shake ups with Qin and Li have altered Chinese diplomacy. In the case of Qin, it looks to be minimal. He was replaced by his predecessor, Wang Yi, an experienced foreign policy hand that was appointed as director of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee on Foreign Affairs earlier this year.

But the move signals an era of turbulence at the top in Beijing that could continue as the Chinese economy suffers a crisis of confidence not seen since the country’s opening to the world in the late 1970s.

Podcast Corner: The Investigation That Shows China And Russia's Cooperation On Censorship

The Talking China In Eurasia podcast is back! Listen here on Spotify, Apple, Google or wherever else you like to listen so you don’t miss an episode.

On the latest episode, I’m joined by Andrei Soshnikov, who heads RFE/RL’s Russian investigative unit, Systema, and we break down our recent investigation based on leaked documents from closed-door meetings between Chinese and Russian officials where they trade tactics and expertise to censor the Internet and monitor dissent.

Be sure to listen and leave a review on your listening platform of choice. I’d also love to hear what you think. Reach out at

Three More Stories From Eurasia

1. CEFC's Ripples Still Felt In Georgia

CEFC China Energy -- a high-flying Chinese conglomerate worth more than $40 billion that went bankrupt following a string of scandals -- is coming back into focus in Georgia as the prime minister’s past work with the company is being seen in a new light as he strengthens ties with Beijing.

You can read the full report by my colleague Luka Pertaia from RFE/RL’s Georgian Service and myself here.

The Details: CEFC was known for its meteoric rise that left behind a trail of high-profile commodity deals, politically linked acquisitions, and scandals across Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa that analysts say are representative of the blurred lines between lofty investments and China’s geopolitical ambitions.

The company has since unraveled in dramatic fashion, and its founder and chairman hasn't been seen since he was detained in China on corruption charges in the spring of 2018.

But current Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s work as an adviser to the board of the firm that managed CEFC’s projects in Georgia before he returned to politics in 2019.

His work for the Euro-Asian Management Group received little attention in Georgia or abroad at the time, but that’s changing as Garibashvili moves the country closer to China, including signing a strategic partnership agreement with Beijing in July. Moreover, since Garibashvili returned as prime minister in 2021, every infrastructure project in Georgia worth more than $100 million has involved Chinese firms.

“Garibashvili's cooperation with CEFC -- however brief -- gave the foundation for further connections and opened new doors for him with the Chinese that we are seeing today,” Tinatin Khidasheli, who was Georgian defense minister from 2015 to 2016, told me.

A particularly interesting case study is CEFC’s investment in the Poti Free Industrial Zone, a tax-free manufacturing base near the Poti port on Georgia's Black Sea coast in 2017.

That deal ultimately fell apart as CEFC’s broader fortunes turned, but as Luka and I reported in the article, the ownership of the Georgian companies involved in the deal can be traced back to close associates of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of the governing Georgian Dream party and a former prime minister.

Those links were further borne out in the 2021 Pandora Papers leak of offshore financial documents, which also showed the ownership structure more clearly and showed politics and business overlapping in CEFC’s work in Georgia.

Read more here.

2. Why New Work Rules At A Chinese-Run Mine In Serbia Matter

Strict new rules enforced at a Chinese-operated mine in eastern Serbia have sparked controversy and pushback in the Balkan country over concerns that the company is violating local labor laws, my colleague Sonja Gocanin from RFE/RL’s Balkan Service reports.

What You Need To Know: According to an internal document from the Chinese firm Jinshan Construction leaked to Serbian media in mid-August, workers at the site are expected to begin each shift by lining up in formation for inspection by their managers and to greet their supervisors in unison.

Employees of Jinshan Construction -- which manages a large copper mine near the eastern town of Majdanpek -- spoke to RFE/RL's Balkan Service and added that these pre-shift meetings sometimes consist of workers being reprimanded publicly for small infractions and then asked to recite company safety rules.

News of the rules have been criticized by labor unions inside the country and led to an inspection of the mine by the Serbian government.

The controversy has also exposed a wider fissure in Serbia between local and Chinese work cultures and a growing public perception that the country's authorities are turning a blind eye to unlawful practices by Chinese firms, which are becoming increasingly vital to the national economy.

Jinshan Construction is a subcontractor that operates the mine on behalf of the Chinese mining giant Zijin, which took control of a money-losing copper smelter in the nearby city of Bor in 2018 and has since opened copper and gold mines across eastern Serbia.

Serbia under President Aleksandar Vucic has enthusiastically welcomed Zijin and other Chinese firms into the country, and it’s not the first scandal involving the companies in the Balkans.

3. The China Angle On Slovakia’s Elections

Slovakia is headed to the polls on September 30 where populist former Prime Minister Robert Fico -- who plans to reverse the country’s military and political support for neighboring Ukraine -- and his SMER party are forecast to get a leading share of votes.

What It Means: If Fico is intent on delivering on his campaign promises, it may prove more difficult for the EU and NATO to forge unified foreign policy positions on Ukraine and Russia -- and could be the latest display of war fatigue spreading among Kyiv’s strongest supporters in Europe.

The upcoming election will have larger consequences for Russian influence in Slovakia, but as Nikoleta Nemeckayova lays out in a new report for MapInfluenCE, a project tracking Chinese influence across Europe for the Association for International Affairs in Prague, this could also affect relations between Bratislava and Beijing.

Support for China’s peace document around ending the war in Ukraine that it unveiled in February and Slovakia’s relationship with Taiwan, which remains one of Europe’s strongest, are the main issues that could be shaped.

As the report notes, positive attitudes toward China and Russia are most commonly embraced by Slovak political parties like SMER, the Republika, and SNS, which hold socially conservative and nationalist views in domestic policies.

Narratives around Chinese and Russian foreign policy also provide fodder for these parties in domestic discourse where they’re looking to frame the current pro-EU, pro-Western leadership as not following Slovak’s national interests and that they’re instead controlled by the collective West, particularly the United States, the report says.

There’s still lots to be determined at the ballot box later this month. Even if Fico and SMER perform strongly, no winner can rule within Slovakia’s electrical math without a coalition in parliament. That means it’s possible that even with a strong showing, Fico may not claim the right to form a government and emerge as prime minister again.

Across The Supercontinent

U.K. Spy Scandal: A U.K. parliamentary aide, along with another individual, was arrested in March on charges of violating the Official Secrets Act on behalf of China.

The scandal could shape London’s line in China and the news has already been met angrily by British lawmakers, in part due to the six-month delay in the announcement. The aide, a 28-year-old man, was a parliamentary researcher for the Conservative Party, a position that allows access to some sensitive information. He was released on bail and has denied the charges.

Baerbock’s Words: Beijing summoned the German ambassador to China after Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called Xi a “dictator,” in the latest flare-up of tensions between the countries.

Another Step From Tbilisi: Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili announced on September 11 that Chinese citizens can now enjoy visa-free travel to the South Caucasus nation, RFE/RL’s Georgian Service reported.

Beijing’s New Man In Kabul: China became the first country to formally name a new ambassador to Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021.

Beijing did not indicate any wider steps toward formal recognition of the Taliban, but the appointment highlights that China’s practical ties are growing.

One Thing To Watch

Despite tensions staying high, talks are ongoing between Beijing and Washington.

Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, recently held multiple meetings with White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan in Malta and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. Wang and Sullivan also held a secret meeting in Vienna in May.

The meetings have set the stage for the revival of high-level contacts that were derailed earlier this year after a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon drifted across Canada and the United States. The talks are believed to be paving the way for Xi’s expected attendance at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in San Francisco in November -- as well as a possible summit on the sidelines of the event with U.S. President Joe Biden.

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

Until next time,

Reid Standish

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every other Wednesday.

Afghan Court Hands Down Flogging Punishment For Nine Convicts

An Afghan judge hits a woman with a whip in front of a crowd in Ghor Province. (file photo)

Nine people were flogged in an Afghan Taliban-ruled court on September 17. The eight men and one woman, who had been tried and are serving jail time, received 20-39 lashes, according to the information and culture department on social platform X, in the southern province of Zabul. The Supreme Court said the individuals in the provincial court were punished for committing "robbery and illegal relations crimes." Without providing further details, the court said "Tazir" punishment was applied. "Tazir" refers to punishment for offenses at the judge's discretion and usually results in "moderate" flogging intended as a form of discipline and rebuke.

Pakistani Taliban Attempts Land Grab To Boost Insurgency Against Islamabad

Chitral Frontier Scouts, part of the Pakistani military, keep guard in Chitral. (file photo)  

A middle-aged lawyer, Nia Beg, is anxious after a large incursion by Islamist militants rattled his homeland in northwestern Pakistan this month.

Beg is Kalash, and he follows the ancient pagan religion practiced in Bumburet and other remote valleys collectively called Kalash in the northwestern district of Chitral, which borders eastern Afghanistan.

He says that attacks by scores of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on several villages in Kalash pose hard questions about the security of Chitral, which had rarely seen Taliban violence and is one of Pakistan's top tourist destinations because of its unique culture and natural beauty.

"My children ask me, 'How will we now go to school or walk freely in our village?'" he told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal after the Taliban incursion into Chitral that began on September 6.

Pakistan claimed to have repulsed the attack and forced the TTP militants to retreat into Afghanistan.

Pakistani Army personnel evacuate a resident injured in flooding in Chitral. (file photo)
Pakistani Army personnel evacuate a resident injured in flooding in Chitral. (file photo)

On September 6, the military said four soldiers and 12 militants were killed in clashes. In a sign that all was not well in Chitral, the government imposed a three-day curfew in the mountainous region.

On September 10, the military said it killed seven more militants in ongoing "sanitization" operations. Gunship helicopters were also used, which suggests some of the TTP militants were well entrenched.

"Residents of Kalash are extremely frightened because the Taliban are religious extremists," Abdul Majeed Qureshi, a local Muslim leader, told Radio Mashaal.

"We want the Taliban attacks to end permanently," he added.

The once-peaceful Chitral region now appears to be in the crosshairs of the TTP, whose insurgency has grown remarkably after its ideological and organizational ally, the Afghan Taliban, returned to power in Afghanistan two years ago.

Experts say the surprise incursion into Chitral showcases the TTP's attempt to reestablish a territorial foothold in Pakistan.

After its emergence in 2007, the TTP controlled large areas in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. But by 2014, Islamabad's military operations had forced it to flee into neighboring Afghanistan, which shares a more than 2,600-kilometer border with Pakistan.

"Chitral's complex terrain and geographical importance made it a significant option for the TTP to challenge the state’s territorial control," said Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based researcher who tracks the TTP.

"The TTP's attack on Chitral is part of its ambition to establish a stronghold on the Pakistani side of the border," he added.

Chitral, now divided into Upper and Lower Chitral districts, consists of high-altitude valleys in the Hindu Kush Mountains. It borders the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar, Nuristan, and Badakhshan. A narrow strip of Afghan territory separates it from China and Tajikistan, which gives the region great strategic significance.

"The TTP wants to carve out a new safe haven that could serve its objectives," said Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, director of news at Khorasan Diary, a website tracking militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mehsud argues that the TTP's incursion into Chitral "is very dangerous" because the group might want to carve out other sanctuaries in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, which form Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan.

After its emergence in 2007 as an umbrella alliance of Pakistani Taliban groups, the TTP swiftly extended its control over large parts of the South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Mohmand, Bajaur, and Swat districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Years of TTP attacks and the Pakistani Army's counterinsurgency killed more than 80,000 Pakistanis, predominantly ethnic Pashtuns. The violence also displaced more than 6 million Pashtuns.

"The TTP is seeking to restore some of the territorial control it once enjoyed in regions such as Swat and Waziristan," Mehsud said.

TTP violence has risen dramatically since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021. The Taliban-led government brokered negotiations between Islamabad and the TTP, but these ended in November after the TTP formally declared that its cease-fire with Islamabad was over.

According to the Pakistani Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, this August was the most violent month since November 2014.

The TTP claimed some 147 attacks that month. During the first eight months of the year, 227 Pakistanis were killed and 497 were injured in 22 suicide attacks, mostly claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

The Pakistani military and law enforcement have endured mounting losses. At least 120 soldiers and military officers were killed in militant attacks in the first six months of this year. The police, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have had similar losses.

Rising TTP violence has sharply deteriorated relations between longtime allies Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.

Kalash women wear traditional dresses during a religious festival celebrating the arrival of spring in Bumburet. (file photo)
Kalash women wear traditional dresses during a religious festival celebrating the arrival of spring in Bumburet. (file photo)

Islamabad swiftly closed its main border crossing with Afghanistan in Torkham, which is some 400 kilometers to the south. It has also launched a crackdown on an estimated 3 million Afghan refugees and migrants in the country.

“We expect the Afghan interim authorities…to ensure that Afghan territory is not used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Pakistan," said the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on September 11 in response to a Taliban statement demanding the reopening of Torkham.

The border crossing was reopened on September 15.

Sayed said the mountainous border between Chitral and the eastern Afghan province of Nuristan comprises deserted areas known as No-Man's Land.

“This could give the Afghan Taliban the pretext that the TTP has not attacked from areas under their control,” he said.

Mehsud said the TTP attack was also encouraged by the relatively small presence of security forces in Chitral. It is also the only region where the Pakistani border fencing with Afghanistan is incomplete.

"Things are reaching a boiling point between the two countries," Mehsud noted. "Pakistan might launch surgical attacks or kinetic actions inside Afghanistan to target the TTP leaders and their bases."

On September 10, an improvised explosive device targeted a senior TTP commander, Badshah Khan, in the southeastern Afghan province of Paktika.

In Chitral, civilians remain anxious in the aftermath of the TTP attack.

"People are worried that if the Taliban continues to attack, tourists will stop coming," said Ihkamuddin, a local politician in Bumburet.


Taliban Said To Suspect Detained NGO Workers Of Promoting Christianity

Local officials in the central Afghan province where the Taliban detained 18 staffers for a long-serving humanitarian NGO earlier this month suggest the group was suspected of spreading Christianity, RFE/RL's Radio Azadi has learned.

Taliban intelligence and other officials in Kabul have remained silent over the detentions.

The International Assistance Mission (IAM) humanitarian group in Afghanistan on September 15 announced the detention of 18 team members from its offices in Ghor Province between September 3 and 13. It said they all appear to have been transferred to the Afghan capital, Kabul.

IAM and other information suggested the detainees comprise 17 Afghan nationals and a female American surgeon.

Early on September 16, IAM said it still "has not been informed of the reasons for the detention of our staff."

But Taliban officials in Ghor have accused them of spreading Christianity, which can be punished under strict interpretations of Islamic law in Afghanistan.

In a written message to Radio Azadi, Abdul Hai Zaim, the head of information and culture for the Taliban-led government for Ghor Province, confirmed the arrest of the IAM employees and claimed -- without providing evidence -- that they had been promoting Christianity.

The fundamentalist Taliban, who retook control of Afghanistan as U.S.-led international forces withdrew in 2021, have imposed a particularly harsh form of Shari'a law on the country when they have been in power at various points in the past four decades.

The internationally unrecognized Taliban-led government in Afghanistan has been accused by UN and other international officials of grave human rights offenses against non-Muslims, women, and minorities.

IAM said on September 16 that it had inquired with the Taliban-led Afghan government's Finance Ministry and was "working together with the UN and ACBAR, the coordinating body for NGOs in Afghanistan," to seek the release of the staff members.

IAM has worked in Afghanistan for nearly six decades, it said.

"IAM has worked in Afghanistan alongside Afghan communities for 57 years and we value and respect local customs and cultures. We stand by the principle that 'aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint,'" it said, adding, "All IAM staff agree to abide by the laws of Afghanistan."

U.S. Military Orders New Interviews On Deadly 2021 Afghan Airport Attack As Criticism Persists

People carrying an injured person to a hospital after an attack at Kabul airport on August 26, 2021.

The Pentagon's Central Command has ordered interviews of roughly two dozen more service members who were at the Kabul airport when suicide bombers attacked during U.S. forces' chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, as criticism persists that the deadly assault could have been stopped. The interviews are meant to see if service members who were not included in the original investigation have new or different information. The decision, according to officials, does not reopen the administration’s investigation into the deadly bombing and the withdrawal two years ago. But the additional interviews will likely be seized on by congressional critics, mostly Republican. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Pakistan Reopens Afghan Border Gate

Pakistan Reopens Afghan Border Gate
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Bustling traffic returned to Pakistan's Torkham checkpoint on September 15 as the crucial crossing on the border with Afghanistan reopened for trucks and pedestrians. Families with children and people seeking medical treatment entered Pakistan while others were returning to Afghanistan. The border gate was closed after a reported gunfight between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani paramilitary patrols on September 6. The closure left thousands of people stranded and business owners complained of serious losses.

'They Deserve Some Peace': U.S. Envoy Rejects Support For Anti-Taliban Factions In Afghanistan

After returning to power, the Taliban's internationally unrecognized government has refused to share power with other Afghan political groups and armed factions.

A top U.S. diplomat to Afghanistan has categorically ruled out Washington's support for a new war in the nation, saying Afghans "deserve some peace" after more than four decades of international conflict ended two years ago when American and international troops left as Taliban militants seized power.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, Karen Decker, the chargé d’affaires of the U.S. mission to Afghanistan, dismissed any support for anti-Taliban armed factions such as the National Resistance Front (NRF) and the Afghanistan Freedom Front (AFF), saying Afghans themselves have been adamantly against the launch of any new conflict.

“No. Absolutely not! We do not support renewed conflict in Afghanistan. Full stop," she said in response to a question about whether Washington would support these groups.

"The one overwhelming message I hear from Afghans inside the country is no more war," she said, adding that Washington would "support" and "promote" a dialogue among Afghans.

Karen Decker
Karen Decker

Most of its neighbors have resisted supporting another round of war in Afghanistan after the hard-line Islamist Taliban swept to power in the wake of the final withdrawal of U.S.-led NATO troops two years ago.

After the pro-Western Afghan republic collapsed on August 15, 2021, some defunct Afghan security force members joined the NRF and other smaller groups to attack Taliban forces in the northern provinces of Panjshir and Baghlan. This raised the possibility that four decades of war in Afghanistan could enter a new phase.

Ahmad Massoud, the NRF’s leader in exile, recently visited Moscow in what was seen as an effort to win support for the NRF and pressure the Taliban, which has marked its two years in power so far by severely restricting rights and freedoms, especially for women.

Decker, however, questioned whether the Kremlin could support a new Afghanistan conflict.

"The Russians are kind of busy right now doing something else in Ukraine, so I don't know if that is a realistic scenario," she noted in a thinly veiled reference to Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which continues to take a heavy toll on its military resources.

“Any proxy warfare? Absolutely not,” she said. “The Afghan people have had more than 40 years of war. They deserve some peace.”

Decker said that Washington supports a dialogue among Afghans to work out the future of their country, including forming an inclusive government.

After returning to power, the Taliban's internationally unrecognized government has refused to share power with other Afghan political groups and armed factions.

Instead, it has recreated its extremist Islamic emirate. Exclusively led by senior Taliban leaders, the de facto government has banned women from education, work, and public life. The Taliban has also denied Afghans many fundamental rights and freedoms.

Taliban officials, however, point to a commission as evidence of their willingness to embrace reconciliation among citizens in the country.

The commission has invited former senior government members and state officials to come back to the country as long as they do not participate in politics.

Pakistani Police Detain Hundreds Of Afghan Citizens In Karachi

Pakistani Police Detain Hundreds Of Afghan Citizens In Karachi
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Hundreds of Afghan citizens have been detained in Pakistan's southern province of Sindh, most of them in the port city of Karachi, for allegedly not possessing legal residency documentation. But many Afghans complained they were held by police despite having the correct documents. Sindh Province Governor Kamran Tessori said on September 11 that Pakistan's federal government had decided to repatriate illegal Afghan immigrants.

Taliban Detains 18 Staffers At Humanitarian NGO's Offices, Including American Surgeon

The long-serving NGO said, "We are unaware of the circumstances that led to these incidents and have not been advised of the reason for the detention of our staff members."

The ruling Taliban has detained 18 staff members of the International Assistance Mission (IAM) in Afghanistan from the humanitarian group's offices in the central Ghor Province, including an American surgeon. The IAM said in a statement on September 15 that it believed all 18 of the team members had been transferred to the Afghan capital, Kabul. The group said the detentions had taken place over 11 days. The long-serving NGO said, "We are unaware of the circumstances that led to these incidents and have not been advised of the reason for the detention of our staff members." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.

The Azadi Briefing: Shrinking Food Assistance Hits Afghans Hard

Afghan women wait to receive food rations distributed by a humanitarian aid group in Kabul.

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

I'm Malali Bashir, senior editor for women's programs 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

Millions of impoverished Afghans are bearing the brunt of receding international aid to Afghanistan, the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

International organizations operating in the country have been forced to cut their assistance to Afghans in the fields of health care and food aid in recent months, largely due to funding shortages.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) said last week that it would cut emergency assistance to 2 million vulnerable Afghans by the end of the month because of a "massive funding shortage."

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross stopped funding 25 hospitals across Afghanistan on August 31, citing a lack of resources.

The drop in foreign assistance has directly impacted the lives of Afghans, many of whom are reeling from the devastating economic impact of the Taliban's seizure of power in 2021.

"We used to survive on food assistance [from the WFP]," Zarmina, a resident of the northern province of Parwan, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. "But now this assistance has been cut off and my situation is dire."

Zarmina, 27, is the sole breadwinner for her family of six. She said her family received around 4,000 afghanis ($50) worth of food handouts every six weeks from the WFP.

"There's no work for me," she said. "It's very difficult. What are we going to do?"

Why It's Important: Declining international assistance will worsen the devastating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Around 6 million people -- out of a population of around 40 million -- are already on the brink of starvation, according to the UN.

Wahidullah Amani, the spokesperson for the WFP in Afghanistan, told Radio Azadi that the lack of aid will specifically affect women and children, the most vulnerable segments of society.

"My children suffer from malnourishment because they don't have enough food to eat," Hamidullah, a resident of the southeastern province of Khost, told Radio Azadi.

"All Afghans have the same problem. We ask all humanitarian organizations to help Afghans," added Hamidullah, who is the head of an extended family of 20.

What's Next: The cash-strapped Taliban government, which is unrecognized and under international sanctions, appears unable or unwilling to alleviate the economic and humanitarian crisis in the country.

Some Afghans have called on the militant group to do more to create employment opportunities and deliver food to the most needy. "The government should solve these problems and provide a chance for people to find work," said Samiullah, a resident of the eastern province of Nangarhar.

The Week's Best Stories

Afghanistan has seen a surge in the number of female suicides since the Taliban takeover, making the country one of the few in the world where more women take their own lives than men. The spike comes amid the Taliban's severe restrictions on women's lives, including their right to education and employment.

What To Keep An Eye On

China has become the first country to formally name a new ambassador to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.

The Chinese envoy presented his credentials to the Taliban's prime minister at a ceremony in Kabul on September 13.

The Taliban government has not been recognized by any country in the world. It was unclear if Beijing's appointment was a step towards formal recognition.

"This is the normal rotation of China's ambassador to Afghanistan, and is intended to continue advancing dialogue and cooperation between China and Afghanistan," China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Why It's Important: It is unclear if the appointment signals China's growing interest in Afghanistan.

After the Taliban takeover, there was a surge in Chinese traders visiting Afghanistan to explore business opportunities and ink deals. The Taliban has boasted of Beijing's interest in expanding trade and investing billions of dollars in Afghanistan's mining sector.

But experts have said that China's relationship with the Taliban has been limited and largely transactional.

Experts said Beijing's primary concern in Afghanistan is the threat posed by members of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), an Uyghur extremist group. The Taliban has been accused of sheltering the militants.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at

Until next time,

Malali Bashir

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe for free here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.


Key Afghan-Pakistan Border Crossing Reopens Week After Gunbattle

Pakistan Reopens Afghan Border Gate
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Customs officials reopened a key border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan to trucks and pedestrians early on September 15, nine days after the Torkham checkpoint was closed when a gunbattle reportedly erupted between Taliban troops and Pakistani border guards.

The gateway is on a key transit route between the tense South Asian neighbors and is a vital link for residents on both sides of the border. It lies at the end of Pakistan's N-5 National Highway about 5 kilometers west of the Khyber Pass summit.

Sporadic closures have raised fears of deteriorating Pakistan-Taliban relations two years after the radical fundamentalist group took control of Afghanistan as U.S.-led international troops withdrew after two decades of war.

The Afghan Taliban's alleged support of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) extremists is at the center of tensions.

The closure created massive lines of hundreds of stranded trucks and left thousands, including sick people seeking medical treatment across the border, seeking shelter in local mosques and other places.

The head of the Afghan-Pakistani Joint Chamber of Commerce said the closure had cost businesses millions of dollars.

The acting foreign minister for the Taliban-led Afghan government late on September 14 urged Pakistani authorities to reopen transit routes. That discussion followed a week of efforts to reach agreement on ensuring security and other aspects of a reopening.

The Pakistani Army took control of the area of Khyber district from Torkham to the Lundi Kotal checkpoint after a firefight on September 6 between Pakistani and Taliban troops.

There were contradictory reports of casualties in that incident, which reportedly began when Pakistani guards intervened after the Taliban tried to erect a structure on the Afghan side of the gate.

Torkham has undergone sporadic closures since the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan took over in August 2021.

In early August, Torkham was closed briefly after another clash between Pakistani border forces and Taliban guards.

Hoping For A Sweeter Future: Kandahar's Impoverished Farmers Increase Raisin Exports

Afghanistan's Kandahar Province exported 10,000 tons of raisins last year, with many of the producers still employing traditional techniques. It's one of the few cash crops left in the country, which is currently experiencing both an economic and humanitarian crisis under the Taliban.

Afghan Soldier Who Was Arrested At U.S.-Mexico Border After Fleeing Taliban Is Granted Asylum

Abdul Wasi Safi

An Afghan soldier who fled the Taliban and traveled through nearly a dozen countries before being arrested at the Texas-Mexico border and detained for months has been granted asylum, allowing him to remain in the United States, his brother said on September 13. Abdul Wasi Safi, 27, is one of tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who fled to the United States following the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan in August 2021. The soldier worried that if he wasn't granted asylum, he could be sent back to Afghanistan, where he would likely be killed by the Taliban because he had worked with the U.S. military. Two of his brothers live in Houston. To read the original story by AP, click here.

China Becomes First To Name New Afghan Ambassador Under Taliban

The Taliban has not been officially recognized by any foreign government. (file photo)

China has become the first country to formally name a new ambassador to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, after its envoy presented credentials at a ceremony in Kabul. The Taliban has not been officially recognized by any foreign government, and Beijing did not indicate whether the September 13 appointment signaled any wider steps toward formal recognition of the Taliban. "This is the normal rotation of China's ambassador to Afghanistan, and is intended to continue advancing dialogue and cooperation between China and Afghanistan," China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "China's policy towards Afghanistan is clear and consistent." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Hundreds Arrested In New Pakistani Crackdown On Afghan Refugees

Pakistani Police Detain Hundreds Of Afghan Citizens In Karachi
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Police in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh have arrested more than 250 Afghan refugees and migrants as part of a new crackdown aimed at repatriating undocumented Afghans.

Most of the arrests and detentions have occurred in Karachi since September 11. The seaport is the capital of Sindh and also serves as the key industrial and trade hub for the Muslim nation.

"The government has directed the police and other [law enforcement] organizations to arrest Afghans living illegally in Sindh and elsewhere in the country," Kamran Tissori, the governor of Sindh, told journalists on September 11.

Afghan refugees and Pakistani human rights campaigners say the arrests are aimed at harassing mostly impoverished Afghans who cannot return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan because of security fears or economic reasons.

"The mass arrest of Afghan refugees is based on their racial profiling," Muniza Kakar, a lawyer who has voluntarily represented Afghan refugees arrested in Karachi, wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Kakar said that many of the detained Afghans possessed cards issued by the Pakistani government identifying them as Afghans.

"Urgent action needed to protect refugee rights," she wrote.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan complain of harassment and a lack of information and help in completing the paperwork needed for extending their stay in the country.

“After my Pakistani visa ended in July, I repeatedly applied to extend it but the government, unfortunately, has not processed it,” said one such refugee, who said his name was Ahmad.

“The Pakistani government announcement has created huge pressure and most of us now face mental health problems,” he told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

The Pakistani government issued Proof of Registration cards for more than 1 million Afghans that expired on June 30.

Qaiser Khan Afridi, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Radio Mashaal that the UNHCR is discussing the issue with the federal authorities in Islamabad.*

"I am extremely afraid of being arrested whenever I go to the market to buy groceries," said Aimal Habibi, an Afghan refugee in Sindh.

Since the early 1980s, Pakistan has hosted one of the largest refugee populations in the world.

But it has not signed the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It also is not a signatory of the 1967 protocol, which broadens the definition of who can be considered a refugee.

Islamabad currently hosts about 1.4 million documented Afghan refugees. An equal number of undocumented Afghans are estimated to also be living in the country.

*Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted the spokesman for the UNHCR about an extension of the deadline.

At An Impasse: Pakistani-Afghan Border Still Closed As Tensions Rise

Trucks remain stranded amid growing tensions at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, following a firefight that led to the closure of the countries' main crossing point.

Support Grows As Hunger Strike By Afghan Activists In Germany Enters Second Week

The protest began on September 1 in the German city of Cologne.

A hunger strike by a group of Afghan rights activists to protest the anti-female policies of the ruling Taliban has entered its second week as they seek international recognition of the militants' policies as "gender apartheid."

The protest that began on September 1 in the German city of Cologne comes after the Taliban rulers who seized power in the country two years ago banned women from education and from working in most economic sectors. The hard-line Islamist group has also banned women from visiting parks and imposed strict restrictions on their movement and how they can appear in public.

Zarmina Paryani, whose sister Tamana Zaryab Paryani was taken to the hospital on the night of September 9 after her health rapidly deteriorated because of the hunger strike, struck a defiant tone, saying that "until Tamana’s demands are heard, she will not end her strike.”

"She told doctors she could not leave her comrades alone and returned straight to the protest camp from the hospital,” Zarmina Paryani told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

The two sisters and several other Afghan women activists said they launched the strike after hundreds of protests inside Afghanistan and internationally failed to produce any results.

The protest has attracted solidarity and support from rights activists in Europe and Pakistan, they say.

“There is gender apartheid in Afghanistan,” said Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, who visited the protesters in Cologne on September 11.

“Under the Taliban, there is no notion of a public life for women,” he told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal.

In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, Roqia Saee, an Afghan women’s rights activist, is leading a hunger strike in solidarity with the activists in Cologne.

“We will continue the strike until the United Nations, countries of the region and the world, and those who support human rights pay attention to our demand,” she told Radio Azadi.

Since July, UN experts and senior officials have said the Taliban’s systematic restrictions on women and girls could amount to "gender apartheid."

The Taliban, however, has so far resisted all international and domestic pressure calling for a change in policies toward women.

Roadside Bomb Targets Pakistani Security Personnel

Roadside Bomb Targets Pakistani Security Personnel
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Pakistani authorities say a roadside bomb blast killed a security officer and wounded several people, including civilians, in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The improvised explosive device targeted a passing vehicle on September 11 belonging to a paramilitary corps deployed to patrol an area bordering Afghanistan. The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an extremist group linked to the Taliban in Afghanistan, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

'Their Freedoms Have Been Taken Away': Afghanistan Sees Surge In Female Suicides Under Taliban Rule

Afghanistan -- Female patients look at the camera inside a Red Cross mental health shelter on the outskirts of Herat, 11Nov2012

Shabana had a bright future ahead of her. She was studying to become a doctor and preparing to get married.

But the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 turned her life upside down. The militant group's ban on women attending university forced her to abandon her studies. Then her fiance, who is based abroad, broke off their engagement.

Shabana, who was in her 20s, last month committed suicide in her hometown of Charikar, the provincial capital of the northern province of Parwan.

She is among the growing number of women and girls who have taken their own lives in Afghanistan, one of the few countries in the world where experts estimate that more women are committing suicide than men.

The surge in the number of female suicides in the country has been linked by experts to the Taliban's severe restrictions on women. The hard-line Islamist group has banned women from education and most forms of employment, effectively denied them any public role in society, and imposed strict limitations on their mobility and appearance.

Although there are no official figures, Afghan mental-health professionals and foreign organizations have noted a disturbing surge in female suicides in the past two years.

"Today, women and girls make up most of the patients suffering from mental conditions in Afghanistan," said Mujeeb Khpalwak, a psychiatrist based in Kabul.

"If we look at the women who were previously working or studying, 90 percent suffer from mental health issues now," Khpalwak added. "They face tremendous economic uncertainty after losing their work and are very anxious about their future."

Many Afghan women say they have been turned into virtual prisoners in their homes since the Taliban takeover. The vast majority of women are unemployed. And most say they are gripped by hopelessness.

Violence against women, meanwhile, has increased under the Taliban. The militants have scrapped legal assistance programs and special courts that were designed to combat violence against women and girls.

Forced and early marriages of teenage girls have also spiked across Afghanistan, with parents marrying off their adolescent daughters to avoid forced marriages to Taliban fighters.

Maryam Saeedi, an Afghan women's rights activist, says some women see suicide as the only way to escape their plight. "They commit suicide to end their problems, which is dangerous," she told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Maryam, a resident of Kabul, says her 16-year-old sister has suffered from extreme depression since the Taliban banned girls above the sixth grade from going to school. "My sister's mental health has suffered tremendously," she told Radio Azadi. "It is tough for girls to cope after all their freedoms have been taken away."

The Taliban has said that 360 people committed suicide in the country last year, without offering any details. Unofficial figures suggest that the number of female suicides has surged since 2021, when the Western-backed Afghan government collapsed.

The World Health Organization revealed in 2018 that around 2 million Afghans -- out of a population of around 40 million -- suffered from mental distress.

"These numbers are likely much higher today," Action Against Hunger, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, said in a statement on September 5. It added that Afghanistan was grappling with an "unprecedented but unseen mental-health crisis."

Khpalwak, the psychiatrist, says that the country lacks the resources to address what he called a mental-health epidemic.

"The number of mental-health patients is rapidly rising, but the treatment available to them is not enough," he said. "Women psychiatrists cannot work because of the restrictions on their work. There is an urgent need to address the growing mental-health crisis."

Faiza Ibrahimi of RFE/RL's Radio Azadi contributed reporting to this story

Pakistani Soldier Killed In Shoot-Out With Militants Near Afghan Border, Military Says

Pakistani security officials stand guard at the border on September 7 following clashes between security forces of Pakistan and Afghanistan near the Torkham crossing.

A Pakistani soldier was killed in an overnight shoot-out with militants in the country's northwest, near the border with Afghanistan, the military said. A military statement late on September 9 said the shoot-out took place in Mir Ali, a major town of North Waziristan that served as a safe haven for militants for decades. It said the military had been searching for terrorists there. The shoot-out took place following Pakistan's closing of the key northwestern Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan after border guards from the two sides exchanged fire on September 6. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Afghan Meth Trade Surges As Taliban Clamps Down On Heroin, UN Says

Taliban anti-narcotics police destroy poppy fields on the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan in May.

Methamphetamine trafficking in and around Afghanistan has surged in recent years, even as the Taliban has curbed heroin trafficking since taking power, a United Nations report said on September 10. "The surge in methamphetamine trafficking in Afghanistan and the region suggests a significant shift in the illicit drug market and demands our immediate attention," said Ghada Waly, executive director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime. The Taliban, which regained power in August 2021, announced a ban the following April on the production of narcotics in Afghanistan, the world's main opium producer. To read to the original story by Reuters, click here.

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