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China’s president on January 30 became the first head of state to formally accept the credentials of a Taliban-appointed ambassador.
China’s president on January 30 became the first head of state to formally accept the credentials of a Taliban-appointed ambassador.

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

Chinese President Xi Jinping on January 30 formally accepted the credentials of the Taliban-appointed ambassador, becoming the first head of state to do so.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin clarified that the move did not mean Beijing officially recognized the Taliban government.

“Diplomatic recognition of the Afghan government will come naturally as the concerns of various parties are effectively addressed,” he said.

The Taliban, however, celebrated the move as a major diplomatic victory.

"China understands what the rest of the world needs to understand," chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, urging other countries to expand bilateral relations with his government.

Why It's Important: China’s move is a boost to the Taliban-led government, which has not been recognized by any country since the extremist group seized power in 2021.

Beijing’s expanding diplomatic ties with the Taliban government could prompt other countries in the region, including Iran and Russia, to follow suit.

Ibraheem Bahiss, an Afghanistan expert at the International Crisis Group, said Beijing’s decision suggested that the Taliban was making headway in its strategy to gain official recognition from regional countries.

Countries in the region are growing “more and more skeptical about the Western consensus that the Taliban should stay confined to pariah status on the world stage,” he wrote.

Najib Azad, an exiled former Afghan government official, said that without full diplomatic recognition from all five permanent United Nations Security Council members, Beijing’s move was meaningless.

“Until that time, it is only a PR opportunity for the Taliban to claim success,” he told Radio Azadi.

What's Next: A planned UN conference on Afghanistan later this month is expected to debate the question of Taliban recognition and engagement with the group.

The hard-line Islamist group faces major hurdles in gaining international recognition and legitimacy.

Many nations have tied recognition to the Taliban establishing an inclusive government, ensuring women’s rights, and breaking ties with extremist groups.

But the Taliban has refused to share power, severely eroded women's freedoms, and maintained links with extremist groups, according to experts.

What To Keep An Eye On

Afghanistan dropped 12 places in Transparency International’s global corruption rankings.

Afghanistan was ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2023 Corruption Perception Index. Last year, the same index ranked it 150th. In 2021, under the Western-backed Afghan government, the country ranked 176th.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, attempted to downplay Afghanistan’s significant drop in the rankings.

“The drop in ranking doesn’t mean that corruption has increased in Afghanistan,” he said. “But it is possible that other countries have become more transparent.”

Why It's Important: The ranking is a blow for the Taliban government, which has touted its fight against corruption as one of its major achievements.

But Afghanistan’s declining score suggests that corruption, which was endemic under the previous government, remains pervasive.

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.

An Afghan tea vendor looks for customers along the shrunken Qargha Reservoir on the outskirts of Kabul on January 18.
An Afghan tea vendor looks for customers along the shrunken Qargha Reservoir on the outskirts of Kabul on January 18.

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 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that an unseasonably dry and warm winter could have devastating consequences for Afghanistan.

“Without substantial snowfall soon, the country could experience a severe drought,” the agency said on January 23, adding that a lack of water could wreak havoc on rain-dependent crops and prevent pastures from recovering, prompting the rural population to move in search of water.

Afghan farmers said they are already feeling the devastating impact of drought.

“People are facing hunger and poverty. There is no work, and most have not cultivated their lands,” Farhad Gul, a farmer in the central province of Ghazni, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “Our cattle are hungry because there is no grass.”

During the past two decades, droughts have sporadically hit the mountainous country, where most of its population of 40 million needs humanitarian aid to survive, according to the UN.

Why It's Important: Drought is a major threat to the livelihoods of rural Afghans, many of whom depend on subsistence agriculture and raising livestock.

Parts of Afghanistan were already reeling from persistent drought before the winter. Decades of war, environmental degradation, and climate change have made the country increasingly vulnerable to drought, according to experts.

Severe droughts could exacerbate the devastating economic and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, where millions are on the verge of starvation.

The lack of winter rain and snowfall could cause a food shortage, with Afghan farmers unable to cultivate spring crops. Their livestock, too, could be threatened by the lack of water.

This, in turn, could threaten the Afghan economy, which is “stabilizing at a very low level of activity” after shrinking 27 percent since 2020, according to the UN.

“For two successive years, 4 out of 5 households were impacted by drought and/or economic shocks,” the UN report said, adding that “69 percent of Afghans are subsistence insecure -- meaning they do not have adequate resources for basic subsistence living.”

What's Next: Amid the gloomy predictions, the United States Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has predicted rain and snowfall across the country in February.

While the rainfall is likely to be lower than during typical winters, it could provide relief to some of the most vulnerable Afghans.

What To Keep An Eye On

The Taliban has continued to wage a violent crackdown on independent media, forcing a growing number of journalists to abandon their professions.

"Before I was released, my family was forced to guarantee that I would no longer work with the international media,” an unnamed journalist recently released from Taliban detention told Radio Azadi.

"They slapped me, threatened me, and tied me up,” said another journalist who was also recently detained by the Taliban. "They told me: 'Don't dig around for the truth. Just take care of your family.'"

Both reporters talked on condition of anonymity due to fears of retribution.

Why It's Important: Since seizing power, the Taliban has imposed severe restrictions on the media and access to information, and increased detentions of reporters, activists, and other critics as part of its brutal crackdown on dissent.

That has forced hundreds of reporters and media workers to flee their homeland or abandon their professions.

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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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.

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