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Younger girls attend class at a local school in Zabul on March 14.

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

A new school year began in Afghanistan this week, but with girls above the sixth grade still banned from attending class.

Last year, the Taliban made a last-minute U-turn after promising for months to allow teenage girls to attend school. But this year, there were few signs before the academic year began that the militants would reverse their ban. In December, the Taliban also banned university education for women.

Human rights groups and female Afghan activists this week condemned the Taliban's ban. In a statement on March 21, UNICEF said the militant group's "unjustified and shortsighted decision has crushed the hopes and dreams of more than 1 million girls."

Former Afghan lawmaker Shukria Barakzai told Radio Azadi that the ban epitomized the Taliban's worldview, which she said fears educated women.

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are prohibited from going to high school.

Why It's Important: The Taliban's restrictions on girls' education as well as its severe constraints on women's right to work and freedom of movement have signaled to Afghans and the international community that the militant group is bent on reestablishing its brutal regime of the 1990s.

The Taliban's draconian policies on girls and women appear to have backfired. The restrictions are considered one of the reasons the hard-line Islamist group has yet to gain international recognition and domestic legitimacy.

The education ban has even undermined the Taliban's religious credentials. The group has come under strong criticism from Muslim countries and Islamic clerics, who have called for the Taliban to rescind its ban.

What's Next: In the long term, the Taliban's education ban is likely to have a devastating social and economic impact.

In August, UNICEF estimated that the Taliban's education ban translated to a loss of at least $500 million for the Afghan economy in the last 12 months.

With the Taliban refusing to reverse its ban, some Afghans have called for the international community to impose further sanctions against the Taliban government.

"Sanctions against the Taliban leaders responsible for these bans would force them to rescind such policies," Shinkai Karokhail, a female former Afghan lawmaker, told Radio Azadi.

The Week's Best Stories

The preservation of Afghanistan's rich cultural heritage has been impeded by decades of war, destruction, and desecration. But while the Taliban's return to power has raised fears of a return to its ruinous old ways when it comes to the country's pre-Islamic history, preservationists continue to pick up the pieces with a surprising level of cooperation.

Norouz festivities are making a limited comeback among Pashtun communities in northwestern Pakistan. The traditional spring celebrations marking the arrival of the New Year died down a century ago due to calendar changes and imperial borders that limited their contacts with fellow Pashtuns in Afghanistan and other communities.

What To Keep An Eye On

The Taliban's influential finance minister, Mullah Hidayatullah Badri, was demoted and appointed as the new head of Afghanistan's central bank on March 22.

The demotion came after speculation that Badri had threatened to resign from his post because of differences with Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

One account suggests that Badri opposed Akhundzada's 2021 decision to impose a blanket ban on opium cultivation without providing alternative livelihoods to the tens of thousands of farmers in southern Afghanistan, where Badri is from, who were dependent on the illicit drug trade.

During its 19-year insurgency, the Taliban is believed to have earned billions from the drug trade. Experts say the Taliban taxed poppy farmers and was involved in the trafficking of narcotics to neighboring countries.

In recent months, senior Taliban officials have publicly criticized Akhundzada, who has been accused of monopolizing power and empowering a cohort of radical clerics.

Why It's Important: Badri, also known by his alias Gul Agha, was among the founding members of the Taliban in the mid-1990s. He controlled the Taliban's finances for more than two decades.

Badri is a prominent Taliban figure from the southern province of Helmand. The so-called Helmand Shura, or council that Badri was a member of, led the Taliban insurgency for several years. In May 2016, a U.S. drone strike killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur inside Pakistan, which weakened the faction.

Badri was the only minister appointed from this faction when the Taliban announced its government in September 2021. His departure from the top echelons of the Taliban government deprives this powerful Taliban faction of a share in power.

Badri also figures prominently on the UN sanctions list against the Taliban leaders. His appointment to Afghanistan's central bank could further complicate the group's international dealings.

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.

Thousands of Afghan evacuees remain stranded in temporary accommodation abroad, not just in the U.A.E., but also in Qatar, Kosovo, and Albania. (file 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

After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the United States, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), and other countries evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans to temporary facilities around the world.

The U.A.E. took in thousands of Afghans, housing them in makeshift refugee housing. Many of the Afghans were later resettled to the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. But up to 2,700 Afghans remain stranded in the Gulf nation after not qualifying for resettlement.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the U.A.E. of “arbitrarily detaining” the remaining Afghans. In a report issued on March 15, the rights group said the U.A.E. was keeping “thousands of Afghan asylum seekers locked up for over 15 months in cramped, miserable conditions with no hope of progress on their cases."

The Gulf nation denied reports of dire living conditions and said it was working with the United States to resettle the remaining evacuees in a “timely manner.”

Dayan Fayez, an Afghan evacuee in the U.A.E., told Radio Azadi that they have limited access to basic services, including education. Another Afghan evacuee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they are “not allowed to go outside the camp.”

Why It's Important: The allegations highlight what activists have called the shocking plight of Afghans stranded in limbo in the U.A.E.

Thousands of other Afghan evacuees remain stranded in temporary housing in Qatar, Kosovo, and Albania as they wait to be resettled to third countries. Some Afghans in those facilities have also complained of mistreatment.

Many Afghan evacuees have protested what they call the protracted resettlement process to the United States and elsewhere, with rights groups repeatedly calling for Washington and other governments to fast-track the process.

What's Next: The fate of the Afghan refugees in the U.A.E., who are not eligible for resettlement elsewhere, remains unclear.

Many of the Afghans have said they cannot return to Afghanistan because they fear reprisals from the Taliban, which has been accused of widespread human rights abuses since seizing power.

Many Afghans who fled their homeland had worked in some capacity for the Western-backed Afghan government that collapsed, the NATO-led mission in the country, or for Western embassies or organizations, making them a target for retribution.

The Week's Best Stories

Dozens of Afghan refugees hoping to emigrate to the West have become stranded in Pakistan, sheltering in a squalid camp in the capital, Islamabad. They fled Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in 2021. Women vastly outnumber men at the refugee camp. In this video, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal visited the camp where refugees struggle to survive on handouts from charities.

March 11 marked the anniversary of the destruction of Bamiyan’s sixth-century Buddha statues by the Taliban in 2001. Archaeologists working to preserve what little cultural heritage is still present in the Bamiyan Valley have been dealing with illegal excavations, encroaching developments, and Taliban gunmen who use the remnants of the Buddhas for target practice.​

What To Keep An Eye On

India offered Taliban diplomats and officials an online course in economics and leadership.

The four-day program -- called ‘immersing with Indian thoughts’ -- started on March 14 and was attended by several members of the Taliban, according to Indian media.

The training course was organized by India’s Ministry of External Affairs. The program covered India’s “economic environment, regulatory ecosystem, leadership insights, social and historical backdrop, cultural heritage, legal and environmental landscape, consumer mindsets and business risks.”​

Why It's Important: India’s offer of training courses to the Taliban raised eyebrows.

India is a longtime foe of the Taliban. In the 1990s, New Delhi backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. After the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, India was a close ally of the Western-backed Afghan government. The Taliban, on the other hand, is a historical ally of Pakistan, India’s archenemy.

Since the Taliban regained power, New Delhi has expressed concerns about the threat of terrorism emanating from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and criticized the militant group’s human rights abuses. But its offer of online courses to the Taliban could hint at India’s attempt to establish some sort of relations with the militant group.

India on March 16 said the offer of training courses did not mean it had recognized the Taliban government. No country in the world has yet to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan.

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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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.