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The Azadi Briefing: Afghan Poet Languishes In Taliban Captivity

Pashtun poets such as Ezatullah Zawab were relatively immune to Taliban oppression, but it's showing a willingness to mute even traditional avenues for airing grievances and criticism.
Pashtun poets such as Ezatullah Zawab were relatively immune to Taliban oppression, but it's showing a willingness to mute even traditional avenues for airing grievances and criticism.

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

A prominent ethnic Pashtun poet has spent a month in Taliban captivity in what his family and rights activists see as another example of the hard-line Islamist group's sustained assault on freedom of expression.

Ezatullah Zawab's family members say they are completely in the dark about his situation a month after he was arrested under unclear circumstances. But Zawab's supporters have an idea why he is behind bars.

"We think that it is a conspiracy to silence my father through character assassination," Zawab's son, Nusrat Arman, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Arman has rejected official claims that Zawab was arrested for carrying alcohol, which is strictly prohibited by the Taliban.

Zawab's supporters say the real reason is that the Taliban did not like Zawab's literary magazine, Meena ("Love" in Pashto), because it published prose and poetry that could be seen as critical of life under Taliban rule. Zawab is known for penning satirical verse with political undertones.

"The current political system in Afghanistan is dictatorial," Zarifa Ghafari, a rights campaigner, told Radio Azadi. "The Taliban silences anyone who raises a voice against it."

Why It's Important: Zawab's arrest shows the Taliban is underscoring its lack of tolerance for dissent in any form.

Pashtun poets such as Zawab were relatively immune to Taliban oppression because of their popularity and distance from known political factions. Some of them even dared to criticize the Taliban government for its abuses and mistakes publicly.

But as the Taliban strengthens its stranglehold on power, it is showing a willingness to mute even traditional avenues for airing grievances and criticism like poetry.

Since its return to power in August 2021, the Taliban has imposed all-encompassing censorship. It has detained and tortured journalists, writers, and activists, prompting hundreds in those fields to flee the country.

Despite early promises to tolerate a free press, the Afghan media has significantly declined under the Taliban. Hundreds of media outlets have been shut down and journalists not working for the Taliban are grappling with mounting restrictions.

To deny Afghans access to credible information, the Taliban has banned some international broadcasters. Its government has also denied visas to foreign correspondents to keep the country under wraps.

What's Next: The Taliban is doubling down on creating a media environment that only amplifies its views and promotes its interests.

Some Taliban officials had already declared all forms of photography un-Islamic amid speculation that women will be completely banned from working in or appearing on electronic media.

As the Taliban continues to replace journalism with propaganda, waning international interest in Afghanistan and diminishing access to the country makes accurate reporting on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan increasingly difficult.

What To Keep An Eye On

An international nongovernmental organization, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), has issued a fresh warning about the impact of climate change in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is the 12th-most-vulnerable country in the world to the impacts of climate change," the DRC said in a report issued on February 27.

The report says climate change "continues to worsen the frequency and severity of climate-related disasters such as droughts, floods, and landslides."

The DRC warned that a deepening water crisis and climate change present unique challenges to some 40 million Afghans, 80 percent of whom depend on natural resources for their livelihoods.

"Next year, we will not be able to look after our livestock, so we are selling them now," Faeza, a peasant in the western Ghor Province, told Radio Azadi. "Without water, grass, and vegetable feed, it will be difficult to keep them alive."

Why It's Important: Afghanistan remains one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, and its ability to adapt and difficulties in attracting international aid under the unrecognized Taliban government stand as major obstacles to dealing with the situation.

In one rare bit of good news following years of drought, an ongoing spell of rain and snowfall is expected to prevent drought in parts of the country this summer. However, the country remains the third-greatest at risk from human and natural disasters in the world.

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,

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

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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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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