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Members of a Taliban delegation arrive for a meeting with foreign diplomats in Qatar's capital Doha, in October 2021.
Members of a Taliban delegation arrive for a meeting with foreign diplomats in Qatar's capital Doha, in October 2021.

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

I'm Abubakar Siddique, senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The United Nations is convening a major international meeting on Afghanistan in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar on February 18-19.

The possible appointment of a special UN envoy to Afghanistan will be one of the key issues discussed at the meeting, which will bring together the special representatives for Afghanistan from various countries.

But the Taliban has opposed the appointment of an envoy, an international interlocutor who would be tasked with promoting dialogue between the extremist group and exiled opposition political figures.

After seizing power in 2021, the Taliban has monopolized power and sidelined many ethnic and political groups as well as women. The Taliban's theocratic government remains unrecognized internationally and appears to have little support among Afghans.

Why It's Important: An intra-Afghan process that would lead to a power-sharing agreement among rival Afghan groups is seen as the best way to reach a lasting peace in the war-torn country.

The Taliban's failure to agree to the appointment of a UN special envoy could undermine reconciliation efforts.

"The Taliban thinks that it is not necessary to have a political dialogue with people who have left the country," Tariq Farhadi, an Afghan political analyst based in Europe, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Many of the leaders of the former internationally recognized Afghan government went into exile after the Taliban takeover.

The Taliban has said the appointment of a UN envoy is unnecessary because the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which primarily coordinates humanitarian and development efforts, is already present in the country.

"I don't think that's correct," former British diplomat Sir Nicholas Kay told Radio Azadi, adding that the task of a special envoy will be to promote dialogue among Afghans and "dedicate themselves to that diplomatic international task."

What's Next: Given the Taliban's opposition to a political dialogue and its insistence on imposing its harsh rule through brute force, most of the international community is likely to support the appointment of a special envoy.

But such a move could prompt the Taliban to stop engaging with the United Nations and the international community, which would likely entrench Afghanistan's international pariah status under Taliban rule.

What To Keep An Eye On

Iran has said it is building a 74-kilometer-long "physical barrier" along its long border with Afghanistan.

Kiumars Heydari, head of Iran's regular army ground forces, said on February 10 that the aim was to "block a strip of the border with Afghanistan with physical barriers to limit traffic" on the porous frontier.

He said the project was "one of the most important" undertaken by the Iranian government and will be carried out in four phases.

The launch of the project comes after explosions claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group killed more than 90 people in the southern city of Kerman on January 3, the deadliest attack in Iran in decades.

Tehran has not recognized the Taliban government. But it enjoys relatively good relations with the group, despite clashes over issues like cross-border water resources.

Senior Iranian officials have expressed concerns over security threats emanating from Afghanistan, where IS militants are active. The Taliban claims that the extremist group does not exist in Afghanistan.

Why It's Important: Iran is the second country -- after Pakistan -- that is attempting to build a barrier on the border with Afghanistan.

Iran's project is likely aimed at curbing the thousands of illegal Afghan migrants who cross into the Islamic republic every week. Many are fleeing their homeland to escape Taliban repression and the humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan.

On February 14, Taliban officials said that more than 25,000 Afghans had been forcefully expelled from Iran this month.

Tehran has vowed to expel the estimated 5 million Afghans it says are living "illegally" in Iran.

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. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org.

Shahabuddin Delawar (right), the Taliban's mining and petroleum minister, has been accused of nepotism after his son was appointed as the extremist group's ambassador to Uzbekistan.
Shahabuddin Delawar (right), the Taliban's mining and petroleum minister, has been accused of nepotism after his son was appointed as the extremist group's ambassador to Uzbekistan.

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

I'm Abubakar Siddique, 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

Shahabuddin Delawar, the Taliban's mining and petroleum minister, has been accused of nepotism after his son was appointed as the extremist group's ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Maghfoorullah Shahab, Delawar's younger son, took over Afghanistan's embassy in Tashkent on February 4.

Delawar's elder son, Rohullah Shahab, is already serving as a senior bureaucrat in the office of a Taliban deputy prime minister. Meanwhile, his son-in-law, Shamsuddin Ahmadi, holds a senior position in the Kabul municipality.

Delawar has come under rare criticism from Taliban members, some of whom have said his son's appointment as ambassador was a brazen display of political nepotism.

Why It's Important: The allegations against Delawar are a blow to the Taliban's claims that its hard-line government is free of nepotism and corruption.

In a decree issued last year, Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada told "all officials in the ministries, departments, and independent authorities that no one is allowed to appoint family members or relatives in government positions."

Delawar is not alone in appearing to defy Akhundzada's orders.

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani's uncle, Khalil ur-Rahman Haqqani, is the refugee affairs minister. Members of the extended Haqqani family also hold important posts in the intelligence service and the administration in southeastern Khost Province.

Taliban founder Mullah Omar's son, Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, is the powerful defense minister. Yaqub's uncle, Mullah Manan Omari, is the labor and social affairs minister.

What's Next: Many officials from the fallen Western-backed Afghan government were accused of using their positions to grant favors to their relatives.

It appears that allegations of political nepotism are also likely to dog Taliban officials.

Taliban leaders appear likely to use their positions to enrich themselves and consolidate their power.

What To Keep An Eye On

Global rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) has urged the Taliban to release two Afghan education activists.

Samira Hamidi, a South Asia campaigner for AI, on February 8 urged the Taliban to release Ahmad Fahim Azimi and Sediqullah Afghan.

"They must be released immediately," she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, adding that despite a lack of evidence against the two, a Taliban judge sentenced them to prison in an "unfair trial."

Azimi and Afghan are known for campaigning for girls' education, which the Taliban has severely restricted.

They were arrested in October by the Taliban's intelligence service and now languish in the notorious Pul-e Charkhi prison in Kabul.

Their arrests have been widely condemned by rights activists.

Why It's Important: The arrests of Azimi and Afghan are part of the Taliban's wider crackdown on dissent.

Since its return to power, the Taliban has detained and jailed scores of journalists and activists for publicly opposing its repressive policies.

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 azadi.english@rferl.org

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. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org

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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.

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