Accessibility links

Breaking News

The Azadi Briefing: Taliban's New Pick For Health Minister Triggers Criticism

Qalandar Ebad, the former Taliban health minister, was a physician and considered to be a “capable and effective” administrator.
Qalandar Ebad, the former Taliban health minister, was a physician and considered to be a “capable and effective” administrator.

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 only technocrat in the Taliban’s cabinet has been dismissed and replaced by a hard-line cleric.

Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada on May 28 removed Health Minister Qalandar Ebad, a trained doctor, and named Noor Jalal, a former deputy interior minister, as his successor.

The move has triggered criticism and added to fears over the health sector in Afghanistan, which has been in crisis over a lack of funding.

Former Afghan lawmaker Arif Rahmani said on X, formerly Twitter, on May 28 that the move was irrational and accused the Taliban leadership of “carelessness and arrogance.” He added that a technocrat was needed to oversee the health-care system.

Gholam Dastgir Nazari, a former Health Ministry official, said that providing health care was impossible without “good professional leadership.”

Why It's Important: The move appears aimed at purging non-Taliban Afghans, including technocrats and professionals, from the Taliban-led government.

The Taliban’s theocratic regime is dominated by senior Taliban veterans and loyalists, most of them clerics from the Pashtun ethnic group.

Ali Latifi, an Afghan-American journalist based in Kabul, said Ebad’s removal was significant because he was considered to be a “capable and effective” administrator.

Latifi said health-care professionals believed that Ebad was “trying to keep medical treatment available to Afghans across the country, including women.”

Under Akhundzada’s leadership, the Taliban has imposed restrictions on women’s access to health care and limited women’s ability to work in the health sector.

Akhundzada has previously replaced ministers who have defied his hard-line policies with loyal clerics, including the minister of education.

What's Next: The move is likely to further damage the health-care system in Afghanistan, which has been in free fall since the Taliban seized power in 2021. International donors immediately cut financial funding and imposed sanctions on the Taliban government.

Hundreds of health facilities have been shuttered in the past two years, with no funds to pay the salaries of doctors and nurses. Hospitals that are still open suffer from severe shortages of medicine.

Ebad’s sacking could also be part of a wider overhaul of the Taliban government. There has been speculation that Akhundzada wants to establish an administration that would be entirely made up of clerics loyal to him.

What To Keep An Eye On

The first freight train from Afghanistan reached Turkey via Iran on May 29. The nearly 2,200-kilometer journey took 40 days.

The train transported over 1,100 tons of talc from the western Afghan city of Herat to the eastern Turkish city of Van.

"The customs clearance process caused the delay," Mohammad Yusuf Amin, director of the Herat Chamber of Commerce and Investment, told Radio Azadi.

Talc exporters hope the new route will allow them to access international markets. Afghanistan currently exports up to 500,000 tons of talc annually.

Why It's Important: Transport by railway is seen as the fastest and cheapest means of moving goods.

For decades, Afghan governments have participated in regional railway projects to better connect the landlocked country to Central Asia and western Asia.

New railway links or the revival of dormant railways can open more routes and markets for Afghan exports.

Railway transport can help reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on neighboring Pakistan. Transit goods of Afghan traders have been sporadically stranded in Pakistan’s ports and border crossings because of bilateral tensions.

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.

  • 16x9 Image

    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 also writes the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday in our newsletter, the Azadi Briefing, correspondent Abubakar Siddique shares his analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.