• The Taliban government in Afghanistan is using prison as a means of "protecting" women abuse survivors by claiming it is for their safety. However, this practice harms the survivors' mental and physical health and violates their rights. There are no more state-sponsored women's shelters due to the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law, which they claim are unnecessary. The UN criticized the government's handling of gender-based violence complaints as unclear and inconsistent, with male personnel handling them and discouraging victims from reporting. Girls in Afghanistan are now barred from attending school beyond primary level, and women have been stripped of their rights to work, study, travel, and enjoy basic freedoms.
  • The Taliban-led Afghan government is striving to become economically self-sufficient by focusing on agricultural development, infrastructure projects, and mineral resource extraction. However, the international isolation of Afghanistan has hindered its efforts, leading to worsening economic conditions and strained relations with neighboring countries like Pakistan.
  • The article discusses the lack of public discourse on Afghanistan in the United States and emphasizes that past policies towards the country have failed. It suggests reopening embassies, engaging with Afghan society, and providing humanitarian aid to help stabilize the nation after years of conflict. The writer highlights the importance of understanding Afghanistan as a vibrant and complex country, rather than viewing it solely through the lens of Western solutions.
  • Girls as young as 16 have been arrested across the Afghan capital, Kabul, in the past week for violating the Taliban’s hijab rules. The girls – who were detained in shopping centres, classes and street markets – were accused of “spreading and encouraging others to wear a bad hijab” and wearing makeup. Since [taking power in Afghanistan in August 2021](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/16/taliban-declares-war-is-over-in-afghanistan-as-us-led-forces-exit-kabul), the Taliban have further restricted women’s access to education, employment and public spaces. In May 2022, they decreed that [women should cover themselves from head to toe, revealing only their eyes.](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/07/taliban-order-all-afghan-women-to-wear-burqa) Lale\*, 16, said she was arrested by the Taliban along with a number of other girls at her English language class and pulled into a police truck. She said girls who confronted the men and refused to go were beaten, while she was lashed on her feet and legs when trying to reason with them. Her father was later badly beaten for “raising immoral girls”. “My attire was modest and even included a face mask – a precaution I had adopted since the Taliban takeover,” said Lale. “But they beat me anyway, insisting that my outfit was improper.” Lale, who was detained for two days and nights, said the Taliban repeatedly cursed them as infidels, for studying English and for aspiring to go abroad. She was released after community elders intervened and she signed a document pledging not to leave her home without the mandatory head-covering. She has also been banned from attending her English classes. ![Cowed-looking girls in full hijab and veils sit in rows of desks at school with a bearded man in a turban sitting at the back of the room ](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/589bbf922c8c7319c55043ae9b5d069a51da9d75/0_0_5000_3333/master/5000.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none) Lale: ‘I was barred from school when the Taliban took over in 2021, and now I cannot even go to my private classes.’ Photograph: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP “I was barred from school when the Taliban took over in 2021, and now I cannot even go to my private classes,” she said. “I can no longer imagine anything for my future other than staying home and getting married. “I saw how badly my father was beaten because I went to the \[English\] course. When I saw his photos after returning home, I was so scared that I would lose him. I don’t have the motivation to study after this. I don’t want this experience again.” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson, claimed in a voice message to the Guardian that families of the detained women had raised concerns with the Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice that their daughters were supported by foreign groups to promote “bad hijab”. “As a result, they were taken to police stations and freed on bail,” he said, adding that such arrests were “not usual practice”. The detentions happened less than a week after the UN security council requested a special envoy to engage with the Taliban, particularly over gender and women’s rights. The Taliban rejected this proposal, however, claiming it would complicate the situation by imposing external solutions. Fereshta Abbasi, a researcher at the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch, said: “The arrests of women in [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan) are a further crackdown on the basic rights of women and can be intimidating and put more pressure even on women who are still working in the health, primary education and nutrition sectors, and they would not appear in public as they used to.” Videos and photographs shared with the Guardian by another female Afghan activist, who asked not to disclose her identity, show a number of men and women demonstrating in the Dasht-e-Barchi area of Kabul, with placards inviting people to a “beautiful life” by “promoting and observing proper hijab”. The activist, who witnessed the demonstrations, explained that these were families of detainees seeking the release of the women and aiming to prevent further arrests in the community. \* _Name has been changed_ _to protect her identity_
  • KABUL — More than two years after Taliban fighters streamed into the Afghan capital, seizing power here and vowing to cleanse the country of Western decadence, many of them have come to embrace the benefits of urban life. Some spend their weekends in the city’s theme parks. Some watch cricket matches on large outdoor screens. Others are filling their Facebook pages with skyline selfies or buying self-help books published in the West. Most mornings, Kabul’s English schools are crowded with Taliban soldiers and employees in camouflage jackets, who appear as eager as other students to study abroad. As the Taliban continues to change Kabul, some here have started to wonder if the city may also have begun to remake the Taliban. “In many ways, they’ve been transformed,” said Abdulrahman Rahmani, 50, a former fighter who helped the Taliban conquer Kabul in 1996 and then again in 2021, speaking during a recent visit to Kabul’s zoo to see the lions. Some of the Taliban fighters now regret the material success they sacrificed to wage their armed campaign. Just the other day, Rahmani recalled, another Taliban soldier told him he was sad because he and his brother had given up their schooling. “If we had studied, we’d be sitting in offices now,” he told Rahmani. There are no signs that these changes have resulted in a softening of the Taliban’s repressive policies, in particular the campaign against women’s rights. And no doubt, for many of the fighters who in 2021 sped into the Afghan capital on the backs of pickup trucks, this city of about 5 million people is a disappointment. They say urban life is lonelier, more stressful and less religious than they had imagined. Some of the Taliban fighters had grown up here before departing for rural Afghanistan to join the insurgency. Others never left and supported the Taliban as informants. But for most of the men who overtook the Afghan capital, the city’s bright lights were unfamiliar, and Kabul posed a challenge full of seductions. ### Land Cruisers and computer classes Rahmani dreams that one day Kabul will become the Afghan equivalent of Dubai, the glitzy commercial hub in the United Arab Emirates. “Once the economic problems are solved, things will change massively,” he said. Some Taliban members are already developing expensive taste. While officials in the new government initially went shopping for motorbikes, they are now increasingly interested in shiny Land Cruisers, vendors say. City life already appears to have left a mark on Taliban soldier Abdul Mobin Mansor, 19, and his comrades. They agree that reliable internet access, for one, is of increasing importance to them. They say they have gotten hooked on several television series that are best consumed in high definition. Their favorites are Turkish crime drama “Valley of the Wolves” and “Jumong,” a South Korean historical series about a prince who must conquer far-flung lands. Mansor said he still prefers the countryside, where he might eventually return. “But I very much hope that there will be electricity and other modern facilities by then,” he said. Some soldiers, like Hassam Khan, 35, say they can hardly imagine having to move back. Khan said he initially struggled to adapt to the city. He said he felt that Kabul residents feared him, and his eyes hurt when he stared at a computer for too long. But access to electricity, water, English classes and computer science lessons have changed his mind. “I like this life,” he said. Some Afghans who had opposed the Taliban takeover say they have noticed a difference, too. Tariq Ahmad Amarkhail, a 20-year-old glasses vendor, said he has a growing feeling that the Taliban “is trying to adopt our lifestyle.” “They came from the mountains, couldn’t understand our language and didn’t know anything about our culture,” said Amarkhail. When they arrived, he said, they condemned jeans and other Western clothes and destroyed musical instruments. But when Amarkhail and his friends recently drove up to security checkpoints with music playing inside the cars, Taliban soldiers simply waved them through, he said. While Western civilian clothes have become a rare sight on Kabul’s streets, some residents were surprised to see the Taliban embrace military uniforms that bear striking similarities with those worn by their former enemies. In interviews, over half a dozen younger and older regime employees cited access to education as a primary reward for their struggles. “When we conquered Kabul, we vowed to become a better version of ourselves,” said Laal Mohammad Zakir, 25, a Taliban sympathizer who became a Finance Ministry employee. He said he had signed up for an intensive English course to be able to study abroad one day. Not all are tempted by the big city. Zabihullah Misbah and his friend Ahmadzai Fatih, both 25, were among the first fighters to rush into Kabul in 2021. Misbah still primarily associates Kabul with “bad things” such as adultery. “You’re more connected to God when you’re in the village,” he said. With fewer distractions there, “one is mostly busy with praying.” Social bonds in villages are tighter, Misbah said, and life there feels less lonely. “When you pursue jihad, it puts you at ease,” said Fatih. “But when we arrived here, we could not find peace.” While many Afghans fled Kabul during the Taliban takeover, it has turned back into the congested capital it once was. It can take hours to cross the smoggy city from one side to the other. Mansor and his friends acknowledged that the toxic air and the separation from their families in rural Afghanistan are making them reconsider city life. “Those who brought their families here are happier than we are,” said Mansor, who has yet to find a wife. Rent in the city is expensive and apartments too small, he said. When the Taliban’s soldiers need an escape, they climb a hill in the center of Kabul, where the new regime has installed a gigantic Islamic Emirate flag, or they head to the Qargha Reservoir on the city’s outskirts, where they snack on pistachios in their pickup trucks. ### Looking for signs of moderation Kabul residents who fearfully watched the Taliban arrive in 2021 said they hope that the number of former fighters who are embracing big-city life will outweigh those who are repulsed by it and the Taliban will become more moderate. Many women say they haven’t noticed such an evolution. Universities remain closed to them, and girls above grade six are barred from school. From the secluded city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s top leadership has turned Afghanistan into the world’s most repressive country for women, the United Nations says. “The Taliban won’t change,” said Roqya, 25. Sales in her women’s clothing market stall dropped abruptly last month after the Taliban-run Ministry of Vice and Virtue temporarily detained women over dress code violations, she said. “None of the girls dared to go outside alone anymore,” said Roqya, who completed a bachelor’s degree in physics just before the takeover. When no one is looking, she still reads science books behind her counter. ### Glitzy plans for the capital The Taliban has big plans for postwar reconstruction, but restrictions on women could become the primary obstacle. Many foreign donors have abandoned the country in protest during the past 2½ years. Private investors remain scarce. Could the lure of expensive skyscrapers, imposing new mosques and pothole-free roads eventually push the Taliban to compromise, as some Afghans hope? In recent months, the Taliban has moved ahead with plans to resume work on a model city on the outskirts of Kabul, which was first conceived more than a decade ago under the previous U.S.-backed government but was never built. “We will name it Kabul New City,” said Hamdullah Nomani, the Taliban-run government’s minister of urban development. Construction executive Moqadam Amin, 57, said early discussions between his company and the new government suggested that the Taliban wanted a less ambitious project with lower-cost housing options. But the Taliban now appears to have thrown its backing behind the glitzy original plans, which envision the construction of high-rise buildings, schools, universities, pools, parks and shopping malls. If Kabul’s “New City” is ever finished, its construction may take decades. For now, the designated property is accessible only on makeshift roads, lined by brick-stone factories and lone real estate agents who sit on carpets in the sand.
  • KABUL — During the Taliban’s first stint in power in the 1990s, its disdain for many sports meant that Kabul’s main stadium drew some of its biggest crowds on the days it was used for public executions. But since seizing control in Kabul a second time in 2021, the Taliban has turned to making Afghanistan into a global cricketing power, with ambitious plans for a state-of-the-art cricket stadium that could host international matches. The men’s national team was already on the rise before the takeover but has continued to thrive under the new regime, defying expectations and scoring stunning upsets in international play. Privately funded cricket academies have seen a surge in the number of new players. Cricket’s appeal to the Taliban may be partly rooted in the sport’s long-standing popularity in ethnic Pashtun communities, where the Taliban has traditionally drawn its strongest support. But as cricket’s reach expands across ethnic lines, the regime may also view the sport as useful. “Cricket brings the country together,” said Abdul Ghafar Farooq, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue. Within days of the takeover in August 2021, Anas Haqqani, the influential younger brother of the Taliban’s interior minister, visited the Afghan cricket board to demonstrate the new government’s support for the sport. Haqqani, a cricket fan who recently injured his foot while playing volleyball, said Taliban soldiers would have made excellent cricket stars. “If we hadn’t waged a war, many of us would be on the national team now,” he said in a rare interview. “The future of cricket here is very bright.” Taliban soldiers and other spectators closely followed the Cricket World Cup last fall in India, gathering to watch on large screens in parks, at male salons at wedding venues and in television shops. Cheering on their team as it delivered shocking victories against England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands, some Taliban soldiers fired celebratory shots into the sky. “People don’t have anything to enjoy in Afghanistan, but cricket gives us happiness,” said Mohammad Gul Ahmadzai, 48, who used to watch soccer matches on the television in his travel agency in central Kabul until the broadcasts became less frequent. Although global soccer is dominated by teams that are often awash in money, he said, the smaller number of serious international competitors in cricket gives Afghans a more realistic chance of winning. Others say Afghanistan’s cricket frenzy is primarily fed by desperation. Farhard Amirzai, 17, said he and his friends have come to view a professional cricket career as the only path out of poverty. After the Taliban took power, boys “lost interest in education,” said Amirzai, who spends much of his time practicing on a barren field in Kabul with a makeshift tape-covered cricket ball. “Young people think that even if they graduate from school or university, they won’t find a good job under the current government. So, they try their luck with cricket.” Even though cricket academies have seen a spike in sign-ups since the Taliban took over, most young Afghans, including Amirzai, cannot afford them. Taliban soldier Abdul Mobin Mansor would love to join, too, but the 19-year-old said his job leaves him little time. He has wanted to become a national team player ever since he and his comrades — still waging the armed rebellion and hiding in caves at the time — started following the sport on battery-powered radios, he said. And for Afghan women, there is no chance at all. One of the Taliban-run government’s first actions after the takeover was to ban women from playing sports, reintroducing the policy the movement had put in place when it previously held power and shattering female athletes’ dreams. Believed to have been invented in England in the 16th century, cricket was one of the British Empire’s most popular cultural exports. By the early 20th century, the sport thrived in Australia, British India — which includes what is today India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — and other places in the region. But it was slow to catch on in Afghanistan, where the national sport remained buzkashi, an equestrian game in which horsemen try to score a goal with a carcass, traditionally that of a goat or calf but now almost always fake. Cricket’s fortunes began to change here after the 1979 Soviet invasion forced millions to flee to Pakistan. The sport rapidly caught on in northwestern Pakistan’s Afghan refugee camps, which were primarily home to Pashtuns. The sport later found its way to Kabul when some Afghans returned in the late 1990s during the Taliban’s first time in power. Among the first Afghan cricket players was Allah Dad Noori, then the national team’s captain. In an interview, Noori said he initially worried that the Taliban would not allow cricket. But his family’s ties to the regime may have helped convince them. “My brother-in-law, who later spent time in Guantánamo, had already told the Taliban about me,” Noori recalled. “He said to them, ‘This man is the greatest cricketer, and if you capture Kabul you should approve cricket.’” When British businessman Stuart Bentham arrived in Kabul a couple of years later, he became one of the first foreigners to attend an Afghan cricket match, held in the same Kabul stadium that the Taliban was using for executions. At the time, the Taliban had soccer players’ heads shaved as punishment for wearing shorts. The long trousers of cricket players may have raised fewer religious concerns, Bentham said, but cricket’s popularity in neighboring Pakistan probably also played a role in the Taliban desire to promote the sport. “Pakistan had a lot of influence over the Taliban at that time,” he said. ### Plight of female athletes The Afghan team’s importance to the Taliban has begun to prompt uncomfortable questions abroad. Australia’s national cricket team announced early last year that it would boycott matches against Afghanistan to protest the Taliban’s repression of girls and women. But during the Cricket World Cup, the Australians rescinded the boycott, disappointing many Afghan women and others. Weeda Omari, 35, said she hopes no foreign team would agree to play in a Kabul stadium under the Taliban. Omari used to work as a women’s sports coordinator for Kabul’s municipality until her team of colleagues was disbanded within days of the takeover. She has since fled the country, but 80 percent of the female athletes whom she supervised are still in Afghanistan. “Their families accuse them of having drawn the Taliban’s ire by becoming athletes, and now they’re being pushed to marry,” said Omari. “Many call me to cry.” Even though the Taliban-run government remains internationally isolated and under heavy sanctions, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s cricket board said it was recently granted about $16 million from the Dubai-based International Cricket Council, [with media reports](https://www.aljazeera.com/sports/2023/11/21/future-of-cricket-odi-icc-world-cup-india-final-england-australia-future-tours-associate-teams) suggesting that Afghan cricket can expect to receive similar annual contributions in coming years. In a statement, the ICC said it “will not penalise the \[Afghanistan Cricket Board\], or its players for abiding by the laws set by the government of their country,” but continues to advocate for women’s cricket in the country. The ICC does not release public details on member funding. In an interview, Hamdullah Nomani, the Taliban’s minister of urban development, said plans to construct a major new cricket stadium in Kabul have been discussed at the highest levels of leadership. Although the idea for a new stadium originated under the previous government, the Taliban-run government appears intent on helping to finish the project with private funding. The government’s primary concern is that the stadium might not be big enough. “There’s not enough land,” Nomani said. _Lutfullah Qasimyar and Mirwais Mohammadi contributed to this report._
  • ![The sisters recording one of their latest songs on a mobile phone](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/12AED/production/_132852567_236ef3d9-934b-4800-8faa-8374b801e8fe.jpg)Image source, Kawoon Khamoosh Image caption, The sisters became a social media phenomenon. Here, recording one of their latest songs **As the world was watching the Taliban's return to power in August 2021, two sisters in Kabul were among millions of women in Afghanistan who could directly feel the new regime tightening its grip on them.** They decided they couldn't just stand back and watch women's freedoms being restricted, and started secretly using the power of their voices to resist. Putting themselves in great danger in a country where musicians can be arrested, they started a singing movement on social media known as the Last Torch. "We're going to sing this but it could cost us our lives," one of them said in a recorded video, before they started the tune. It was released in August 2021, just days after the Taliban takeover, and quickly went viral on Facebook and WhatsApp. Without any background in music, the sisters - who wear burkas to conceal their identity - became a musical phenomenon. "Our fight started from right under the flag of the Taliban and against the Taliban," says Shaqayeq (not her real name), the younger member of the duo. "Before the Taliban came to power, we had never written a single poem. This is what the Taliban did to us." Image caption, Last Torch is led by the two sisters performing against the Taliban After returning to power, it took the Taliban less than 20 days to implement its unique vision for Afghanistan. Imposing Sharia (Islamic religious law) on everyday life and restricting women's access to education were among their priorities. Women took to the streets of Kabul and other major cities to resist, but faced a harsh crackdown. "Women were the last light of hope we could see," says Shaqayeq. "That's why we decided to call ourselves the Last Torch. Thinking that we wouldn't be able to go anywhere, we decided to start a secret protest from home." The pair soon released other songs, sung from under blue burkas, just as the first song was. One was a famous poem by the late Nadia Anjuman, who wrote it in protest against the first Taliban takeover in 1996. _How can I speak of honey when my mouth is filled with poison?_ _Alas my mouth is smashed by a cruel fist…_ _Oh for the day that I break the cage,_ _Break free from this isolation and sing in joy._ Image source, Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu/Getty Images Image caption, Women protested against the restrictions in front of the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice As the Taliban banned women's education, Nadia Anjuman and her friends used to meet at an underground school, The Golden Needle, where they would pretend to be sewing but would instead read books. They too wore the blue burka, known as _chadari_ in Afghanistan. The older of the two singing sisters, Mashal (also a pseudonym), compares the burka to "'a mobile cage". "It's like a graveyard where the dreams of thousands of women and girls are buried," she says. "This burka is like a stone that the Taliban threw on women 25 years ago," Shaqayeq adds. "And they did it again when they returned to power. "We wanted to use the weapon they used against us, to fight back against their restrictions." Media caption, Watch: The sisters perform one of their songs The sisters have only released seven songs so far but each has resonated strongly with women across the country. To begin with they used other writers' lyrics, but they reached a point "where no poem could explain how we felt," Shaqayeq says, so they started writing their own. Their themes are the suffocating limitations placed on women's everyday lives, the imprisonment of activists and violations of human rights. Fans have responded by posting their own performances of the songs on social media. In some cases they have also worn burkas as a disguise, while one group of Afghan school students living outside the country recorded a version on stage in the school auditorium. This is the opposite of what the Taliban wanted to achieve. One of its first measures after taking power was to replace the Ministry of Women's Affairs with the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. The new ministry has not only enforced wearing of the burka, but also condemned music for supposedly destroying the roots of Islam. "Singing and listening to music is very harmful," said Sawabgul, an official who appeared in one of the ministry's propaganda videos. "It distracts people from God's prayers... Everyone should stay away from it." Soon there were videos of Taliban foot soldiers on social media, burning musical instruments and parading arrested musicians. Image source, Bakhter News Agency Image caption, Foot soldiers were seen burning musical instruments Shaqayeq says she has had many sleepless nights thinking the Taliban might identify them. "We have seen their threats on social media: 'Once we find you, we know how to remove your tongue from your throat,'" says Mashal. "Our parents get scared whenever they read these comments. They say maybe it's enough and we should stop... But we tell them we can't, we cannot just continue with our normal lives." For their security, the sisters left the country last year but they hope to return soon. Image caption, In the streets, women protested the Taliban's ban on education - and shared photos of their protest on social media Sonita Alizada, a professional rapper from Afghanistan now living in Canada, is one of those who has admired the Last Torch's videos from abroad. "When I saw two women under a burka singing, honestly I was crying," she says. She was born in 1996, the year the Taliban first took power, and her family fled to Iran when she was just a child. There her mother tried to sell her into a forced marriage, but she found her way out through music. Like the two sisters of the Last Torch, she sees the women who have protested against the Taliban as a sign of hope. One of the sisters' songs refers to the protesters directly. _Your fight is beautiful. Your female scream._ _You are my broken picture in the window._ "The situation is very disappointing in Afghanistan right now because we have lost decades of progress," Sonita says. "But in this darkness there's a light still burning. We see individuals fighting with their own talent." Image caption, Farida Mahwash: 'These two singers will turn four and then become 10, and then 1,000' The BBC also showed one of the sisters' most recent songs to Farida Mahwash, one of Afghanistan's most celebrated female singers, with a career of over half a century until her recent retirement. "These two singers will turn four and then become 10, and then 1,000," she said. "If one day they go on stage, I'll walk with them even if I have to use a walking stick." In Kabul, the crackdown on activism has further intensified in the past year, with authorities banning women from holding rallies and arresting those who defy the ban. One of the sisters' latest songs is about female activists who were imprisoned by the Taliban and kept in what Human Rights Watch described as "abusive conditions". _The waves of female voices_ _break locks and chains of prison._ _This pen filled with our blood_ _breaks your swords and arrows._ "These poems are just a small part of the grief and pain we have in our hearts," Shaqayeq says. "The pain and struggle of the people of Afghanistan, and the grief they have endured under the Taliban in the last years, can't fit in any poem." The UN says the Taliban could be responsible for gender apartheid if it continues with its current policies. The Taliban has responded that it is implementing Sharia, and won't accept outside interference in the country's internal affairs. Shaqayeq and Mashal are working on their next songs. They are hoping to echo the voice of women in Afghanistan in their fight for freedom. "Our voice won't be silenced. We are not tired. It's just the beginning of our fight." _The sisters' names have been changed for their safety._ [BBC 100 Women](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/c779dqxlxv2t) names 100 inspiring and influential women around the world every year. Follow BBC 100 Women on [Instagram](https://www.instagram.com/bbc100women/?hl=en) and [Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/BBC100women/). Join the conversation using **#BBC100Women**. * [100 Women](/news/topics/c779dqxlxv2t) * [Afghanistan](/news/topics/c8nq32jw5r5t) * [Women's rights in Afghanistan](/news/topics/c97e668pdnwt) * [Women](/news/topics/ce1qrvlel7mt)
  • KABUL — The Taliban-run government is fostering a thriving community of YouTube influencers and video bloggers in Afghanistan, seeking to shape a positive narrative about the country by rewarding those who have welcome viewpoints with access to stories that can draw millions of views online. The Taliban, which smashed televisions and burned films in the 1990s during its first stint in power, is now using modern video technology in its radical campaign to remake Afghanistan. The regime grants influencers coveted broadcasting licenses that put them on an equal footing with TV networks and radio stations, and threatens to withdraw the licenses of those who break official rules. Influencers whose work is seen as benefiting the regime have been allowed to embed with government ministries and showcase their achievements. Meanwhile, videos that are critical of the Taliban have largely disappeared from platforms such as YouTube over the past two years as a result of Taliban pressure and self-censorship, according to interviews with 10 content creators in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. The government has tightly restricted what can be said and worn in online appearances, and two influencers said they were detained and interrogated after running afoul of the Taliban’s rules. Often, however, relations between influencers and the Taliban are mutually rewarding. The most successful influencers can earn thousands of dollars in foreign advertising revenue per video, say Afghan owners of YouTube channels, a striking figure in a country where a monthly salary of a few hundred dollars counts as good income. To bypass Afghanistan’s banking system, which is under international sanctions, some Afghan YouTubers have hired associates in the United States or Europe to receive payments and pass them on. One of the top channels, “Our Afghanistan,” with over 350,000 YouTube subscribers, has focused on a widely known backer of the Taliban named General Mobin, often shown distributing donated winter clothing, talking to soldiers or visiting hospital patients. Some channels, such as “Dostdaran Kabul” with over 40,000 subscribers, focus almost entirely on urban development under the Taliban. Others, such as Milad Azizi’s “Kabul Lovers,” mix scripted entertainment videos with content featuring Taliban officials. That approach has made “Kabul Lovers” one of the country’s most successful YouTube channels over the past two years. Azizi, 23, has hired about 20 employees and rents space in a high-rise building. His channel recently drew more than 2.6 million views with a series in which his video team embedded with morality police from the Ministry of Vice and Virtue as they searched for what they said were suspected witches. In one of the videos, a woman being investigated for alleged sorcery looks anxiously into the camera. “Why are all you men here today?” she asks, apparently fearing arrest. She later confesses to investigators on camera that she practiced magic. Asked for comment, the ministry confirmed past “connections” with Azizi’s channel “to educate the public.” Although officials have decided against letting the team join possible future witch-hunting operations, Azizi said, other collaborations with the government are being planned. “It helps them a lot,” he said. Camera salesman Mohammad Mujib Nabizada, 20, said he has seen so many influencers rise to fame after frequenting his store that he is considering launching a channel himself. “When they start off, they usually only come here to buy cheap microphones,” he said. “But soon after, when the money starts pouring in, they return to buy the big cameras.” Internet speeds and mobile data allowances remain limited in Afghanistan, so influencers here primarily target the estimated 6 million Afghans living abroad as migrants or refugees. (Most of the content is in Dari, the country’s most widely spoken language.) They account for about 90 percent of visitors to some of the most popular Afghanistan-based YouTube channels, with most views coming from the United States and Europe, content creators said. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid unwanted scrutiny from the government. Afghans abroad are often eager to watch videos about how their country is changing under the Taliban. Kabul-based YouTuber Amir Mohammad Yaqobi, 24, said he gets the most views with videos about new roads and other construction. “It’s good for my channel,” he said. More than 140,000 people watched a recent 38-minute video, on a channel called “Afghanistan Streets,” in which a presenter praises the quality of concrete in a tunnel construction project overseen by the government. “It will help the tunnel last forever,” the presenter says in the video. In other clips, presenters accompany Taliban government officials as they burn expired food, crack down on drug dealers, or — in a video titled “An Afghan dream is coming true” — build a major canal across the north of the country. Making sure viewers get the point, an Islamic scholar on a channel focusing on social issues called “Kabul Show,” with 80,000 subscribers, urged at a recent conference, “We should value our current government.” Some Afghans in Kabul say they have begun getting calls from relatives abroad asking if the country is really on the rise under the Taliban, as YouTube content suggests. Influencers who successfully navigate the Taliban’s rules may still run afoul of YouTube itself. The company said it had terminated a number of Afghan channels for posting “content that glorifies or promotes violent tragedies.” After operators reactivated several of these channels, including “Afghanistan Streets” and “Our Afghanistan,” YouTube again terminated them in recent days for violating the company’s terms of service, according to Jack Malon, a spokesman for Google, which owns YouTube. Asked about the activities of YouTube channel owners in Afghanistan, Malon said, “YouTube is committed to compliance with all applicable sanctions and trade compliance laws, including U.S. sanctions against the Afghan Taliban. If we find an account believed to be owned and operated by the Afghan Taliban, we terminate it. Further, our policies prohibit content that incites violence.” Before the Taliban takeover in August 2021, Afghan social media was on many days dominated by clips of the aftermath of bomb blasts and shootings. But for urban Afghans, it was also a space where they felt they could express themselves freely. Afghan YouTube has changed dramatically since then. The Taliban-run government has banned music in videos and mandated that female presenters wear a headscarf and a mask over their mouth for modesty, several content creators said. A 20-year-old female YouTuber in Kabul said she began publishing videos after the Taliban closed schools and universities for women. She primarily uses her channel to read poems or share recipes that are popular among her minority Shiite Muslim community, and she has largely flouted the Taliban’s rules on how to dress in videos, hoping officials will be unable to identify her. But a growing number of viewers have responded angrily to her uploads or threatened to report her to the authorities. “I won’t stop,” she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of drawing the attention of officials. “I love doing this.” There are signs the government intends to further tighten its grip on influencers who do not play by its rules. It has already blocked mobile internet access to TikTok, saying the platform wastes the time of young Afghans and raises moral concerns. Although some Afghan video creators have used YouTube’s geo-blocking tools to hold back their most sensitive content inside Afghanistan, Afghan officials now appear to be using VPN to see what is being published outside the country, according to the owner of a major Afghan YouTube channel. Many YouTubers have in recent weeks received warnings over alleged violations or been asked by the government to cooperate with it more closely, several influencers said. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban government’s spokesman, confirmed that warnings are being issued to all channels that “violate the rules,” and that serious violations can result in legal charges. YouTubers can work freely in the country, Mujahid said in a series of WhatsApp audio messages to The Post, but added: “If they only present the negative side, it doesn’t serve the country.” What serves the country better, he said, is a focus on “development, progress, unity, brotherhood and peace.” Ajmal Haqiqi, a well-known male fashion YouTuber, held such optimistic views when the Taliban took power. He decided to stay in Kabul to keep publishing videos. But he soon faced a growing number of threats and was eventually detained for allegedly mocking the Quran. “I wanted to serve my country,” said Haqiqi, who recently moved to Pakistan. “But all I achieved was going to prison for six months.” Yet even in prison, his YouTube fame earned him envy; guards and inmates came up to him to say: “Lucky you, you must be rich.’” Azizi, the highly successful head of “Kabul Lovers,” was arrested in 2022 for a video that included criticism of the Taliban. He acknowledged that he, too, is now facing more hurdles, such as demands from officials for more paperwork, even though, he said, “we never say anything against them.” _Lutfullah Qasimyar and Haq Nawaz Khan contributed to this report._
  • ![A map showing Afghanistan and Pakistan](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/FE15/production/_132954056_pakistan_airstrike_in_afghanistan_map_english_2640_v2-2x-nc-nc.png) **The Taliban has accused Pakistan of killing eight women and children in two overnight air strikes in Afghanistan.** Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban government, said the "reckless" strikes had hit homes near the border with Pakistan at about 03:00 local time (22:30 GMT). Pakistan has yet to comment. But it comes after President Asif Ali Zardari vowed to "respond strongly" to the deaths of seven troops killed by unknown militants on Saturday. Speaking at the funeral of two of the troops on Sunday, President Zardari added that retaliation would come "regardless of who it is or from which country" the group came from. Saturday's attack on the military post took place close to the Afghan border in north Waziristan. Pakistan says they were launched from Afghanistan - one of a rising number of attacks in recent months, the military say. In a statement to television, Pakistan's military said Afghanistan had been a "safe haven" for militants, alleging the attacks had the "full support and assistance" of the Taliban. They did not mention the air strikes. But a local government official - who asked to remain anonymous - separately told news agency AFP that Monday morning's attacks on Khost and Paktika provinces were in retaliation for Saturday's deaths. The Taliban later announced its forces had targeted Pakistan's military along the border. Image caption, President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari attended the funerals of two of those killed on Saturday Mr Mujahid had already warned Pakistan not to "blame Afghanistan for the lack of control and problems in its own territory" in a statement released on X (formerly Twitter). "Such incidents can have very bad consequences which will not be in Pakistan's control," he added. He said the strikes had hit "civilian homes", killing five women and three children. Tensions have risen between Afghanistan and Pakistan since the Taliban retook control of the country in 2021. Late last year, Pakistan forced hundreds of thousands of Afghans to leave Pakistan, saying they did not have the correct paperwork to stay. Human Rights groups criticised the policy, saying it resulted in many refugees and asylum seekers being coerced into leaving. Caretaker ministers at the time suggested that this was done because of security concerns. Some analysts have suggested groups have taken advantage of the Taliban's return, but the Taliban have denied hosting militant groups, AFP reports. * [Pakistan](/news/topics/c008ql15vpyt) * [Afghanistan](/news/topics/c8nq32jw5r5t) * [Taliban](/news/topics/ckgj731eel1t)
  • ![Relatives attend the funeral of an Afghan man who was killed in a suicide attack at Kabul bank, in Kandahar, Afghanistan](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/E7C0/production/_132982395_a6cf80b72f276f31229acd2c0fd62640276bae02.jpg)Image source, Empics Image caption, Relatives attend the funeral of a man killed in a suicide attack in Kandahar **At least 21 people have been killed in a suicide bombing in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, a hospital doctor has told the BBC.** The Taliban government says a suicide attack took place at a city centre bank at about 08:00 (03:30 GMT). It puts the death toll at three. Police said a number of others were wounded. The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility, and says it was targeting the Taliban. According to a report issued by IS's "news agency" Amaq, the group claimed the attacker detonated his suicide belt among the crowd of "around 150" Taliban members. The blast, believed to be the biggest in Afghanistan this year, took place at a branch where Afghan government employees were queueing to collect their salaries. A doctor from Mirwais hospital, the region's largest, spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity. "So far 21 dead and at least 50 people injured from the explosion have been brought in," he said. Kandahar is the seat of power of the Taliban, the base of their supreme commander. While the overall security situation in Afghanistan has improved since the Taliban gained complete control with the full withdrawal of foreign troops in 2021, there continue to be dozens of bombings and suicide attacks in the country each year. Many of them have targeted Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic minority and have been claimed by Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISKP, the regional affiliate of the so-called Islamic State group, a major rival of the Taliban.
  • Few know better than the Taliban what a relentless foe the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan can be. Much of the West considers the Taliban, which reclaimed power in the country in 2021, to be an extremist Islamic movement. But the Islamic State Khorasan, the affiliate that [took responsibility for a terrorist attack](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/22/us/politics/isis-k-moscow-attack.html) in suburban Moscow on Friday, has slammed the Taliban government, calling the group’s version of Islamic rule insufficiently hard-line. The Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, is one of the last significant antagonists that the Taliban face in Afghanistan. It has carried out a bloody drumbeat of attacks throughout the country in recent years, seeking to use the violence to undermine the Taliban’s relationships with regional allies and to portray the government as incapable of providing security in Afghanistan, experts say. In the months after the Taliban seized power, ISIS-K carried out near daily attacks on their soldiers at roadside checkpoints and in neighborhoods that are home to the country’s Hazara ethnic minority. The following year, ISIS-K fighters [attacked the Russian Embassy](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/05/world/asia/kabul-russian-embassy-suicide-attack.html) in Kabul, [tried to assassinate Pakistan’s top diplomat](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/02/world/asia/pakistan-kabul-embassy-militants.html) to Afghanistan and sent gunmen into a prominent hotel in Kabul that was home to many Chinese nationals, seeking to undermine the Taliban’s promise of restoring peace. More recently, ISIS-K’s attacks have grown bolder and stretched beyond Afghanistan’s borders: The group killed at least 43 people in an assault on a political rally in northern Pakistan in July. It killed at least 84 people in two suicide bombings in Iran in January. Now, [U.S. officials say ISIS-K](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/22/world/europe/isis-moscow-attack-concert-hall.html) was behind the attack in Moscow, which killed at least 133 people. In recent months, ISIS-K has threatened attacks against the Chinese, Indian and Iranian Embassies in Afghanistan. It has also released a flood of anti-Russian propaganda, denouncing the Kremlin for its interventions in Syria and condemning the Taliban for engaging with the Russian authorities decades after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and [log into](https://myaccount.nytimes.com/auth/login?response_type=cookie&client_id=vi&redirect_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2024%2F03%2F24%2Fworld%2Feurope%2Fisis-k-moscow-attack.html&asset=opttrunc) your Times account, or [subscribe](https://www.nytimes.com/subscription?campaignId=89WYR&redirect_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2024%2F03%2F24%2Fworld%2Feurope%2Fisis-k-moscow-attack.html) for all of The Times. Thank you for your patience while we verify access. Already a subscriber? [Log in](https://myaccount.nytimes.com/auth/login?response_type=cookie&client_id=vi&redirect_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2024%2F03%2F24%2Fworld%2Feurope%2Fisis-k-moscow-attack.html&asset=opttrunc). Want all of The Times? [Subscribe](https://www.nytimes.com/subscription?campaignId=89WYR&redirect_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2024%2F03%2F24%2Fworld%2Feurope%2Fisis-k-moscow-attack.html).
  • The Taliban’s announcement that it is resuming publicly stoning women to death has been enabled by the international community’s silence, human rights groups have said. Safia Arefi, a lawyer and head of the Afghan human rights organisation Women’s Window of Hope, said the announcement had condemned Afghan women to return to the darkest days of Taliban rule in the 1990s. “With this announcement by the Taliban leader, a new chapter of private punishments has begun and Afghan women are experiencing the depths of loneliness,” Arefi said. “Now, no one is standing beside them to save them from Taliban punishments. The international community has chosen to remain silent in the face of these violations of women’s rights.” The Taliban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, announced [at the weekend](https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2024/03/25/taliban-leader-akhundzada-women-stoned-death-afghanistan/) that the group would begin enforcing its interpretation of sharia law in Afghanistan, including reintroducing the public flogging and stoning of women for adultery. In an audio broadcast on the Taliban-controlled Radio Television [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan) last Saturday, Akhundzada said: “We will flog the women … we will stone them to death in public \[for adultery\]. ![A poster of a stony-faced bearded man in a turban is seen on a road](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/1fa73b6f4d6797791bcdd18910bbccdb3def666b/0_82_4121_2472/master/4121.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/mar/28/taliban-edict-to-resume-stoning-women-to-death-met-with-horror#img-2) Hibatullah Akhundzada said: ‘The Taliban’s work did not end with the takeover of Kabul, it has only just begun.’ Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty “You may call it a violation of women’s rights when we publicly stone or flog them for committing adultery because they conflict with your democratic principles,” he said, adding: “\[But\] I represent Allah, and you represent Satan.” He justified the move as a continuation of the Taliban’s struggle against western influences. “The Taliban’s work did not end with the takeover of Kabul, it has only just begun,” he said. The news was met by horror but not surprise by Afghan women’s right groups, who say the dismantling of any remaining rights and protection for the country’s 14 million women and girls is now almost complete. Sahar Fetrat, an Afghan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Two years ago, they didn’t have the courage they have today to vow stoning women to death in public; now they do. “They tested their draconian policies one by one, and have reached this point because there is no one to hold them accountable for the abuses. Through the bodies of Afghan women, the Taliban demand and command moral and societal orders. We should all be warned that if not stopped, more and more will come.” Since taking power, in August 2021, the Taliban has [dissolved the western-backed constitution of Afghanistan](https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/01/1132662) and suspended existing criminal and penal codes, replacing them with their rigid and fundamentalist interpretation of sharia law. They also banned female lawyers and judges, targeting many of them for their work under the previous government. Samira Hamidi, an Afghan activist and campaigner at Amnesty International, said: “In the past two and half years, the Taliban has dismantled institutions that were providing services to Afghan women. “However, their leader’s latest endorsement of women’s public stoning to death is a flagrant violation of international human rights laws, including [Cedaw](https://www.ohchr.org/en/treaty-bodies/cedaw) \[the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women\].” Hamidi said Afghan women were now in effect powerless to defend themselves from persecution and injustice. In the past year alone, Taliban-appointed judges ordered 417 public floggings and executions, according to [Afghan Witness](https://www.afghanwitness.org/reports/one-year-of-sharia-punishments), a research group monitoring human rights in Afghanistan. Of these, 57 were women. Most recently, in February, the Taliban [executed people](https://apnews.com/article/taliban-public-execution-convicted-man-fb6d07c01f304b97d16b1b505b98d422) in public at stadiums in Jawzjan and Ghazni provinces. The militant group has urged people to attend executions and punishments as a “lesson” but banned filming or photography.
  • In the two decades before the Taliban returned to power, Afghanistan had [a vibrant media](https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210824-afghanistan-s-media-enters-the-unknown-under-taliban-rule#:~:text=Afghanistan%20now%20has,recent%20years%20too.) sector. There were newspapers, television channels, periodicals, magazines and more, invigorating the public discourse by allowing citizens to express their views on national and local issues. That is completely gone now. I have been the editor-in-chief of one of Afghanistan’s largest newspapers, Etilaat Roz, since 2022. When the Taliban dismantled the republican system of the country in [August 2021](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/15/the-fall-of-kabul-a-20-year-mission-collapses-in-a-single-day), establishing their own theocratic Islamic emirate in the process, they imposed the harshest restrictions possible on the media. This “[crackdown on free speech](https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/08/afghanistan-taliban-severely-beat-journalists)” was followed by the prolonged detention, gruesome beating and even death of journalists who defied the Taliban’s policies against the free press. Two of my reporters at Etilaat Roz were grievously assaulted and detained for doing their jobs. According to Reporters Without Borders, a [majority of female and half of male journalists](https://rsf.org/en/country/afghanistan#:~:text=Proportionally%2C%20women%20have%20been%20much%20more%20affected%3A%20more%20than%20four%20in%20five%20(84%25)%20have%20lost%20their%20jobs%20since%20the%20arrival%20of%20the%20Taliban%2C%20whereas%20only%20one%20in%20two%20men%20have%20(52%25).) lost their jobs in the first three months of the Taliban’s takeover. Not only did many talented journalists lose the ability to work, many were also forced to flee the country or go into hiding to escape persecution. Our offices, which were once located in the heart of western Kabul, were forced to close. Almost all our staff have now left the country, and those who remain are expected to leave in the coming months. But operations that have been forced out of [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan), like ours, did not bend to the will of the Taliban. While in exile, many Afghan journalists regrouped and relaunched their media outlets, despite huge uncertainty and financial pressure. As the Taliban quashed all independent media and the vacuum of information within the country became deeper and wider, newspapers, television channels and other online platforms launched by journalists in exile became a lifeline – the only sources of credible information for people inside Afghanistan. Since 2021, we have been operating from a suburb of Washington DC for the safety of our staff, with seven staff based there. However, this transition was not a smooth one for us. The first challenge was to muster all our courage and strength to revitalise our journalistic work after the traumatising collapse of the country that upended our professional life in such an appalling way. The second was to register Etilaat Roz, find an office for it and turn it into a viable media organisation in exile, while a number of its staff were still scattered in different countries, trying to come to the US. The third challenge was the safety and security of our reporters in Afghanistan who, despite having lost all of their legal protections, did not quit reporting. As the Taliban’s crackdown on independent journalists intensified, we were at a loss as to how to protect our reporters (this concern is still as present as ever). The fourth challenge was raising enough funds to support Etilaat Roz’s operating costs inside Afghanistan and abroad, which has remained a constant struggle. The fifth challenge was to make sure Etilaat Roz remained a credible source of information in exile, just as it had been inside the country. This was a challenge because we no longer had the same access to sources that we had in the past. Central to this have been the courageous journalists who stayed in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Their reports from the ground to Afghan media outlets abroad, including [Etilaat Roz](https://www.etilaatroz.com/) and its English version, [KabulNow](https://kabulnow.com/), are the lifeblood of online newspapers, television channels and other social media platforms. Those journalists, both male and female, risk their own lives and the safety of their families to document and report about what is going on in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Had it not been for their courage and commitment to reveal and report the truth, Afghanistan would have sunk into darkness and the Taliban propaganda and distortion machine would have drowned out all dissenting voices. At great personal cost, they have succeeded in bringing to light stories of the Taliban harassing, detaining, torturing, and raping female dissidents. They uncovered the Taliban’s extrajudicial killings of former army officers and public servants, despite having [announced full amnesty](https://8am.media/eng/the-talibans-blanket-amnesty-strategy-over-200-detained-in-the-past-two-months/#:~:text=On%20the%20first,August%2017%2C%202021.) for them. They documented and reported on the Taliban’s campaign of [extortion](https://kabulnow.com/2024/01/law-of-the-gun/), [displacement of people](https://kabulnow.com/2022/10/villagers-forced-to-leave-properties-under-crackdown-in-panjshir/) from their homes and [requisition of their property and land.](https://kabulnow.com/2023/09/taliban-arrests-24-elders-in-bamyan-over-failure-to-pay-for-their-own-land/) The Taliban have consistently tried to portray themselves as more moderate than the Taliban of the 90s. But there are hardly any signs of their supposed moderation – they have stayed faithful to [opposing free speech](https://rsf.org/en/taliban-intelligence-agency-s-arrests-journalists-undermine-press-freedom-afghanistan) and non-state independent media. Their intelligence service, called Estekhbarat in the local languages, has been active from day one in finding interrogating, detaining, and torturing independent journalists. The Taliban spread fear and anxiety among the media community by the harsh punishments they impose on detained journalists. They use [detention](https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-taliban-journalist-detained/32787205.html), torture and prohibitive financial fines both to prevent detained journalists from returning to media activities and to intimidate other journalists by signalling what may await them. The Taliban also [harass journalists’ families](https://www.yorku.ca/cfr/no-pay-and-constant-harassment-the-lives-of-women-journalists-in-todays-afghanistan/#:~:text=Even%20if%20women%20journalists%20are%20still%20willing%20to%20work%20without%20pay%2C%20they%20face%20pressure%20from%20their%20family%20to%20quit%20their%20job.) to maximise the pressure on them. To legitimise their stifling of the free press, the Taliban also deliberately provoke religious and xenophobic sentiments among the public. They consistently promote the notion that independent journalists are mercenaries, hired by foreigners and tasked with corrupting and destroying the Islamic faith, Afghan family values and the traditional way of life in Afghanistan. As a result of the ceaseless suppression of the free press in Afghanistan, journalists are facing other challenges besides security issues. The chief professional challenges include the lack of access to reliable sources, difficulties in fact-checking and the verification of information, documents and sources. Journalists are also under extraordinary financial strain in the absence of financial support from within the country or from abroad. Today, the independent Afghan media (called “mercenary media” by the Taliban) is the only source of information for the citizens of Afghanistan and the only remaining force trying to prevent the country from completely falling into total darkness. Supporting it is of the utmost importance. This support could be in the form of providing journalism training and scholarships for those aspiring to join this struggle against tyranny and darkness; it could be in the form of technical and financial support to the independent media outlets to increase their effectiveness and reach, and weaken the Taliban’s overarching control of the country’s information channels. The Taliban are obviously trying to dispose of all free press and independent media in Afghanistan – because the independent media represents the only remaining channels of civil discourse, democratic deliberation and uncensored truth-telling. The future of Afghanistan, as a democratic and open society, hinges upon the continuation of an informed national dialogue, made possible by the free press, on how to move the country forward towards peace, non-violence, stability and development. The disappearance of independent media would plunge Afghanistan into tyranny and darkness. * Sakhidad Hatif is editor-in-chief of [Etilaat Roz](https://www.etilaatroz.com/) * Watch Guardian documentary [House No 30, Kabul](https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2024/may/01/can-journalism-survive-the-taliban) (26 mins), a video diary by journalist Abbas Rezaie, shot inside the Etilaat Roz office when the Taliban seized power in 2021 and forced many of the journalists to flee abroad
  • KABUL, Afghanistan -- Yunis Safi, a businessman in Kabul, knows very well the importance of showing off your phone if you want something done. “In Afghanistan, your phone is your personality,” he said, smiling, a jewel-encrusted ring on each hand. One boasts an emerald, the other a fat Russian diamond. “When you go to a meeting with the government, the better your phone, the more they respect you.” Safi runs a phone shop in the posh Shar-e-Naw neighborhood. An armed guard stands outside. The iPhone 15 Pro Max adorns the shop shelves, retailing for $1,400. He has customers ready to part with this sum of money, which may come as a surprise to some given the country’s economic woes and more than half the population relying on humanitarian aid to survive. Afghanistan’s finances were on shaky ground even before the [Taliban](https://abcnews.go.com/alerts/Taliban) seized power in 2021. The budget relied heavily on foreign aid and corruption was rife. The takeover sent Afghanistan’s economy into a tailspin, billions in international funds were frozen, and tens of thousands of highly skilled Afghans fled the country and took their money with them. But, even amid difficult conditions, some businesses are making money out of Taliban rule. Women are reduced to customers, however, as authorities have barred them from most jobs, including retail. None of Safi's 78 staff are women. He has tapped into a diverse consumer base — the ones hungry for the latest iPhone release and those happier with simple handsets, which make up the bulk of his sales and sell for between $20 and $200. The Taliban used to attack phone towers and threaten telecom companies, accusing them of colluding with United States and other international forces in helping track insurgents' movements through mobile phone signals. Now, they’re investing in the 4G mobile networks. The Communications Ministry says 2 million new SIM cards have been issued in the past two years and that subscriber numbers are increasing. Ministry spokesperson Enayatullah Alokozai said the government was plowing $100 million into the telecom sector and had fully restored hundreds of towers. There are 22.7 million active SIM cards in a country of 41 million people. Of these, 10 million are for voice calls and the rest are for mobile internet. According to Trade Ministry figures, phone imports have risen. More than 1,584 tons of phones came into Afghanistan in 2022. Last year, it was 1,895 tons. Safi said he has many Taliban customers and it’s the younger ones who prefer iPhones. “Of course they need smartphones. They use social media, they like making videos. The iPhone has better security than Samsung. The camera resolution, processor, memory are all better. Afghans use their smartphones like anyone else.” Safi has the iPhone 15 Pro Max, wears an Apple Watch Ultra and owns three cars. Business was bad immediately after the Taliban takeover but it’s improving, Safi said. “The people buying the new release iPhones are the ones with relatives abroad sending money to Afghanistan.” Remittances are a lifeline, although they’re less than half of what they were before the Taliban took power and the banking sector collapsed. At the raucous Shahzada Market in Kabul, hundreds of money exchangers clutch stacks of the local currency, the afghani, and noisily hawk their wares. They occupy every floor, stairwell, nook and cranny. Abdul Rahman Zirak, a senior official at the money exchange market, estimates that $10 million changes hands daily. The diaspora sends mostly U.S. dollars to families, who exchange it for the afghani. There used to be more ways to send money to Afghanistan before the Taliban seized control. But there are no more links to SWIFT or international banking and that’s a major reason why business is brisk at the market, he said. “The work of money exchangers has increased and strengthened,” Zirak said. “Money transfers come from Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia, Arab nations and other neighboring countries.” Trade becomes hectic during the holidays. During the holy month of Ramadan, 20,000 people visited the market daily and it took more than 90 minutes to enter, he said. “If the sanctions are removed and the assets are unfrozen, then maybe our business will decrease. But I don’t see that happening. Many don’t have bank accounts. Unemployment is high, so people send money to Afghanistan. Our business will be needed for years to come.” Irfanullah Arif, who runs Haqqani Books, a specialist retailer of Islamic texts, is also upbeat about his fortunes. The majority of his customers are teachers and students at religious schools, or madrassas. There are at least 20,000 madrassas in Afghanistan. The Taliban want to build more. Last year, the supreme leader reportedly ordered the recruitment of 100,000 madrassa teachers. While Arif’s business suffered like everyone else’s in the chaotic aftermath of the takeover, there was another reason. “All the students left the madrassas and went to work for the (Taliban) government,” said Arif. The Taliban’s push for religious education has given him some relief. Last year, he sold 25,000 textbooks. But there’s a price to pay for success. Arif imports everything and the Taliban are laser-focused on collecting revenue, even on Islamic literature. Arif pays a tax of 170 afghanis ($2.36) on a carton of 100 books, the shipping cost for which is 500 afghanis ($6.95). Taxes on his bookstore have tripled under Taliban rule. “That’s why books are expensive in Afghanistan,” he sighed. “With the increase of madrassas, our trade has gone up, but so have the taxes.”
  • Three Spanish tourists and an Afghan civilian have been killed in a shooting attack in Bamiyan province, central Afghanistan. The Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, wrote on social messaging platform X that he was “shocked by the news of the murder of Spanish tourists in Afghanistan”. The Spanish foreign ministry said that the consular emergency unit had been fully mobilised and the victims and their families were being assisted. Four suspects were arrested at the scene in Bamiyan, a top tourist area, and officials said an investigation was under way. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the late-evening attack. Earlier on Friday, the Taliban interior ministry spokesperson, Abdul Mateen Qani, said that four other foreigners and three Afghans were wounded in the attack, without giving the nationalities of the foreign victims. A resident, who did not want to be named, said he “heard the sounds of successive gunshots, and the city streets leading to the site were blocked immediately by the security forces”. Mountainous Bamiyan is home to a Unesco world heritage site and the remains of two giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban during their previous rule in 2001. Since taking over Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban have vowed to restore security and encourage a small but growing number of tourists into the country. The attack on Friday was among the most serious targeting foreign nationals since foreign forces left the country and the Taliban took over. [skip past newsletter promotion](https://www.theguardian.com/world/article/2024/may/17/three-foreign-tourists-and-an-afghan-killed-in-shooting-attack-in-afghanistan-bamiyan#EmailSignup-skip-link-9) Sign up to First Edition Our morning email breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you what’s happening and why it matters **Privacy Notice:** Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our [Privacy Policy](https://www.theguardian.com/help/privacy-policy). We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google [Privacy Policy](https://policies.google.com/privacy) and [Terms of Service](https://policies.google.com/terms) apply. after newsletter promotion The Taliban government “strongly condemns this crime, expresses its deep feelings to the families of the victims and assures that all the criminals will be found and punished”, Qani said in a statement. Blame is likely to fall on the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, a Taliban rival. IS militants have carried out scores of attacks on schools, hospitals, mosques and [minority Shia areas throughout the country](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/sep/06/hundreds-of-hazaras-shia-killed-iskp-islamic-state-khorasan-province-taliban-power-human-rights-watch).
  • Islamic State has claimed responsibility for [an attack by gunmen in Afghanistan’s central Bamiyan province](https://www.theguardian.com/world/article/2024/may/17/three-foreign-tourists-and-an-afghan-killed-in-shooting-attack-in-afghanistan-bamiyan) that killed three Spanish tourists on Friday. The Taliban’s interior ministry spokesperson, Abdul Mateen Qani, said on Sunday that four people had been arrested over the attack. One Afghan citizen was also killed and four foreigners and three Afghans were injured in the attack, he added. Mountainous Bamiyan is home to a Unesco world heritage site and the remains of two giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban during their previous rule in 2001. Since taking over [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan) in 2021, the Taliban have pledged to restore security and encouraged a small but growing number of tourists trickling back into the country. They have sold tickets to see the site of the destroyed Buddha statues. Friday’s attack was among the most serious targeting foreign citizens since foreign forces left and the Taliban took over in 2021. Islamic State previously claimed responsibility for an attack that injured Chinese citizens at a hotel popular with Chinese business people in Kabul in 2022.
  • The leader of the United Arab Emirates has met with an official in the Taliban government still wanted by the United States on an up-to $10 million bounty over his involvement in an attack that killed an American citizen and other assaults DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The leader of the United Arab Emirates met Tuesday with an official in the Taliban government still wanted by the United States on an up-to $10 million bounty over his involvement in an attack that killed an American citizen and other assaults. The meeting highlights the growing divide internationally on how to deal with the Taliban, who [seized control of Afghanistan in 2021](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-kabul-bagram-e1ed33fe0c665ee67ba132c51b8e32a5) and since have [barred girls from attending school beyond the sixth grade](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-women-education-5bc5477a8e4599ac431e4d2e27ebaf85) and otherwise restricted women's role in public life. While the West still doesn't recognize the Taliban as Kabul's government, nations in the Mideast and elsewhere have reached out to them. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, met Sirajuddin Haqqani at the Qasr Al Shati palace in the Emirati capital, the state-run WAM news agency reported. It published an image of Sheikh Mohammed shaking hands with Haqqani, the Taliban's interior minister who also heads the Haqqani network, a powerful network within the group blamed for some of the bloodiest attacks against Afghanistan's former Western-backed government. “The two sides discussed strengthening the bonds of cooperation between the two countries and ways to enhance ties to serve mutual interests and contribute to regional stability,” WAM said. “The discussions focused on economic and development fields, as well as support for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.” For their part, the Taliban described the two men as discussed “matter of mutual interests,” without elaborating. It added that the Taliban's spy chief, Abdul Haq Wasiq, also took part in the meeting. Wasiq had been held for years at the U.S. military's prison at Guantanamo Bay and released in 2014 in a swap that saw [U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl](https://apnews.com/article/bowe-bergdahl-court-martial-overturned-12da397af78384788a6a09d6499936c0), captured after leaving his post in 2009, released. Haqqani, believed to be in his 50s, has been on the U.S. radar even after the Taliban takeover. In 2022, a [U.S. drone strike in Kabul killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-al-qaida-ayman-zawahri-middle-east-taliban-2705b6638b8389e67624ad5e62b4781c), who had called for striking the United States for years after taking over from Osama bin Laden. The house in which al-Zawahri was killed was a home for Haqqani, according to U.S. officials. While the Taliban argued the strike violated the terms of the 2020 Doha Agreement that put in motion the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the accord also included a promise by the Taliban not harbor al-Qaida members or others seeking to attack America. The Haqqani network grew into one of the deadliest arms of the Taliban after the U.S.-led 2001 invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks. The group employed roadside bombs, suicide bombings and other attacks, including on the Indian and U.S. embassies, the Afghan presidency and other major targets. They also have been linked to extortion, kidnapping and other criminal activity. Haqqani himself specifically acknowledged planning a January 2008 attack against the Serena Hotel in Kabul, which killed six people, including U.S. citizen Thor David Hesla. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment over Haqqani's visit. The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the palace where the meeting took place. [The U.S. long has been a security guarantor for the UAE](https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-israel-dubai-united-arab-emirates-abu-dhabi-d37770c718713461a4dc2592e1d291b6), a federation of seven hereditarily ruled sheikhdoms also home to Dubai, and has thousands of troops working out Al Dhafra Air Base and other locations in the country. Since the Taliban takeover, [China is the most-prominent country to accept a diplomat from the group](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-china-ambassador-6e7f6fe404317dc18a99780808c97402). Other countries have accepted de facto Taliban representatives, like Qatar, which has been a key mediator between the U.S. and the group. American envoys have met multiple times with the Taliban as well. The UAE, which hosted a Taliban diplomatic mission during the Taliban's first rule in Afghanistan, has been trying to solidify ties to the group even as it sent troops to back the Western coalition that fought for decades in the country. The low-cost UAE-based carriers [Air Arabia](https://apnews.com/article/air-arabia-flights-kabul-airport-afghanistan-b43b991e1464402362e7d595dfee3786) and [FlyDubai have begun flying into Kabul International Airport again](https://apnews.com/article/flydubai-flights-kabul-dubai-afghanistan-taliban-c048a8460c425a2a4e33f4759e418cf5), while [an Emirati company won a security contract for airfields](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-politics-abu-dhabi-united-arab-emirates-0ac72c95852ae6e302b3ff45f0b95808) in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the international community led by the United Nations has tried to provide aid to Afghanistan, as millions struggle to have enough to eat, natural disasters kill those in rural areas and the country's economy has drastically contracted.
  • The UN has condemned the public flogging of more than 60 people, including more than a dozen women, by the [Taliban](https://www.theguardian.com/world/taliban) in northern Sari Pul province. At least 63 people were lashed on Tuesday by Afghanistan’s de facto authorities, the UN Assistance Mission in [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan) said in a statement, condemning corporal punishment and calling for respect for international human rights obligations. Taliban’s supreme court confirmed the public flogging of 63 people, including 14 women who had been accused of crimes including sodomy, theft and immoral relations. They were flogged at a sports stadium. [ Taliban edict to resume stoning women to death met with horror ](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/mar/28/taliban-edict-to-resume-stoning-women-to-death-met-with-horror) The Taliban, despite promises of more moderate rule, began carrying out severe punishments in public – [executions, floggings and stonings](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/14/afghanistan-supreme-leader-orders-full-implementation-of-sharia-law-taliban) – shortly after returning to power in 2021. The punishments are similar to those seen during the Taliban’s previous rule in the late 1990s. Separate statements by the supreme court said a man and a woman convicted of adultery and trying to run away from home were flogged in northern Panjsher province on Wednesday. Earlier this year, the Taliban publicly executed a man convicted of murder as thousands watched at a stadium in northern Jawzjan province. The brother of the murdered man shot the convict five times with a rifle. It was the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power in August 2021 as USand Nato troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after two decades of war.
  • 14 hours ago By Mahjooba Nowrouzi, BBC Afghan Service ![](/bbcx/grey-placeholder.png)![Parwana Ibrahimkhail Nijrabi Spectacled Parwana Ibrahimkhail Nijrabi wearing a sandal-coloured coat and a black scarf over her head. ](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/480/cpsprodpb/ed75/live/c5cca2c0-27d3-11ef-a74e-9d61efed4dbb.jpg.webp)Parwana Ibrahimkhail Nijrabi Parwana Ibrahimkhail Nijrabi was imprisoned after protesting against the Taliban **After the Taliban restricted Afghan women's ability to work, learn and go out in public, some women initially defied these new rules, taking to the streets to protest.** But soon, those who gathered in the capital Kabul and other major cities to demand "food, work, freedom" felt the full force of the Taliban. Protesters tell the BBC they were beaten, abused, jailed and even threatened with death by stoning. We speak to three women who challenged the Taliban government after it began to place restrictions on women's freedom following the Taliban's takeover on 15 August 2021. Marching through Kabul ---------------------- ![](/bbcx/grey-placeholder.png)![Getty Afghan burqa-clad women hold placards as they protest for their right to education, in Mazar-i-Sharif on August 12, 2023. (](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/480/cpsprodpb/8fe5/live/a97cd080-27e8-11ef-b0c1-85d9ceb9fef8.jpg.webp)Getty Despite protests against Taliban rules, participation of Afghan women in employment has fallen drastically since the takeover When Taliban militants took over Kabul on 15 August 2021, Zakia's life began to crumble. She had been the breadwinner for her family before the Taliban returned to power - but quickly lost her job following the takeover. When Zakia (who is using a pseudonym) joined a protest more than a year later in December 2022, it was her first chance to express her anger at losing the right to work and to education. Protesters were marching to Kabul University, chosen for its "symbolic importance", but were stopped before they could reach their destination. Zakia was loudly shouting slogans when Taliban armed police put an end to her short-lived rebellion. "One of them pointed his gun right into my mouth and threatened to kill me right there if I didn't shut up," she recalls. Zakia saw fellow protesters bundled into a vehicle. "I resisted. They were twisting my arms," she says. "I was being pulled by the Taliban who were trying to load me into their vehicle and other fellow protesters who were trying to release me." In the end, Zakia managed to escape - but what she saw that day left her terrified for the future. "Violence was not taking place behind closed doors any more," she says, "it was taking place on the streets of capital Kabul in full public view." Arrested and punched -------------------- Mariam (not her real name) and 23-year-old student Parwana Ibrahimkhail Nijrabi were among the many Afghan protesters who were detained after the Taliban takeover. As a widow and sole breadwinner for her children, Mariam was terrified she wouldn't be able to provide for her family when the Taliban introduced rules restricting women's ability to work. She attended a protest in December 2022. After she saw fellow protesters being arrested, she tried to flee but didn't get away in time. ![](/bbcx/grey-placeholder.png)![Getty Images Afghan women hold placards as they march to protest for their rights, in Kabul on April 29, 2023](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/480/cpsprodpb/0fb3/live/0d069bf0-2801-11ef-8811-59df10b9d041.jpg.webp)Getty Images The Taliban government is increasingly intolerant towards protests like this one, which took place in Kabul in April 2023 "I was forcefully pulled out of the taxi, they searched my bag and found my phone," she recalls. When she refused to give Taliban officials her pass code, she says one of them punched her so hard she thought her ear drum had burst. They then went through the videos and photos in her phone. "They got furious and grabbed me by pulling my hair," she says. "They caught my hands and legs and threw me into the back of their Ranger." "They were very violent and repeatedly called me a whore," Mariam continues. "They handcuffed me and put a black bag over my head, I could not breathe." A month later, Parwana too decided to protest against the Taliban, along with a group of fellow students, organising several marches. But their action was also met with swift reprisal. "They started torturing me from the moment they arrested me", says Parwana. She was made to sit between two male armed guards. "When I refused to sit there, they moved me to the front, put a blanket over my head and pointed the gun and told me not to move." Parwana started feeling "weak and like a walking dead" among so many heavily armed men. "My face was numb as they slapped me so many times. I was so scared, my entire body was trembling." Life in jail ------------ Mariam, Parwana and Zakia were fully aware of the potential consequences of public protest. Parwana says she never expected the Taliban to "treat her like a human being". But she says she was still stunned by her degrading treatment. Her first meal in jail left her in shock. "I felt a sharp thing scratching the roof of my mouth," she says. "When I looked at it, it was a nail - I threw up." In subsequent meals, she found hair and stones. Parwana says she was told she would be stoned to death, leaving her crying herself to sleep at night and having dreams about being stoned while wearing a helmet. The 23-year-old was accused of promoting immorality, prostitution and spreading western culture and was in jail for about a month. Mariam was kept in a security unit for several days, where she was interrogated with a black bag covering her head. "I could hear several people, one would kick me and ask who paid me to organise \[the\] protest," she recalls. "The other would punch me and say 'Who do you work for?'" Mariam says she told her interrogators she was a widow who needed work to feed her children - but says her answers were met with more violence. ![](/bbcx/grey-placeholder.png)![Parwana Ibrahimkhail Nijrabi Parwana is seen manning a stall to campaign about Afghan women's freedom](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/480/cpsprodpb/b563/live/5081e010-27d9-11ef-80aa-699d54c46324.jpg.webp)Parwana Ibrahimkhail Nijrabi Parwana is continuing her activism from abroad Confession and release ---------------------- Parwana and Mariam were both separately released following intervention by human rights organisations and local elders, and they are now no longer living in Afghanistan. Both say they were forced to sign confessions admitting their guilt and promising not to take part in any protests against the Taliban. Their male relatives also signed official papers pledging that the women would not take part in any more protests. We put these allegations to Zabihullah Mujahid, senior spokesman of the Taliban government, who confirmed women protesters were arrested but denied they were badly treated. "Some of the women who were arrested were involved in activities that were against the government and against public safety," he said. He disputes the women's account and denies torture was used: "There is no beating in any of the Islamic Emirate's prisons and their food is also approved by our medical teams." Lack of basic facilities ------------------------ Human Rights Watch's own interviews with some protesters following their release corroborated the accounts heard by the BBC. "The Taliban use all kinds of tortures and they even make their families pay for these protests, sometimes they imprison them with their children in terrible conditions," said Ferishtah Abbasi of HRW. Amnesty International researcher Zaman Soltani, who spoke to several protesters after they were released, said prisons lacked basic facilities. "There is no heating system in winter, prisoners are not given good or enough food and health and safety issues are not taken into consideration at all," Soltani said. Longing for a normal life ------------------------- ![](/bbcx/grey-placeholder.png)![Getty Afghan women hold placards as they take part in a protest in Herat on September 2, 2021](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/480/cpsprodpb/e63a/live/6c56d3d0-2802-11ef-b270-dd0d3cd8549d.jpg.webp)Getty A group of Afghan women protesting in Herat in September 2021 to urge the Taliban to allow their daughters to continue going to school Around the time of their takeover, the Taliban said women could continue to work and go to school, with the caveat that this could only happen in line with Afghan culture and Sharia law. They continue to insist the ban on girls' schooling beyond year six is temporary but have given no firm commitment to reopening girls' secondary schools. Back in Afghanistan, Zakia took one more chance and launched a home tuition centre to educate young girls. This also failed. "They feel threatened by a group of young women getting together in a place on regular basis," she says, her voice filled with sadness. "The Taliban managed to do what they wanted. I am a prisoner in my own house." She still meets her fellow activists but they are not planning any protests. They publish occasional statements on social media using a pseudonym. Asked about her dreams for Afghanistan, she breaks down in tears. "I cannot do anything. We don't exist any more, women are removed from public life," she says. "All we wanted was our basic rights, was it too much to ask?" [Women's rights in Afghanistan](/news/topics/c97e668pdnwt)
  • Excluding Afghan women from an upcoming UN conference on [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan) would be a “betrayal” of women and girls in the country, say human rights groups and former politicians. The [Taliban](https://www.theguardian.com/world/taliban) are reportedly demanding that no Afghan women be allowed to participate in the UN meeting in Doha starting 30 June, set up to discuss the international community’s approach to Afghanistan, and that women’s rights are not on the agenda. Since [taking power in Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/16/taliban-declares-war-is-over-in-afghanistan-as-us-led-forces-exit-kabul) in August 2021, the Taliban have restricted women’s access to education, employment and public spaces. In March, it was [reported](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/mar/28/taliban-edict-to-resume-stoning-women-to-death-met-with-horror) that they would reintroduce the public flogging and stoning of women for adultery. ![A middle-aged woman with short hair and small oval glasses looks at the camera wryly.](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/762f59352ec914e802aa38e32513e1be737b5786/0_0_3778_2856/master/3778.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jun/21/shutting-afghan-women-out-of-key-un-conference-to-appease-taliban-a-betrayal#img-2) Sima Samar, former Afghan minister of women’s affairs. Photograph: Britta Pedersen/DPA Picture Alliance/Alamy The Taliban did [not participate](https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/02/1146657) in UN talks earlier this year, with the UN chief António Guterres saying at the time that the group presented a set of conditions for its participation that “denied us the right to talk to other representatives of the Afghan society” and were “not acceptable”. Tirana Hassan, executive director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Excluding women risks legitimising the Taliban’s abuses and triggering irreparable harm to the UN’s credibility as an advocate for women’s rights and women’s meaningful participation.” In trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table now, the UN was giving in to their demands to exclude women’s rights, said the former Afghan minister of women’s affairs Sima Samar. “This situation is an indirect submission to the will of the Taliban. Law, democracy and sustainable peace are not possible without including half of the population of the society who are women. I don’t think we have learned anything from past mistakes. “As one of the main changes, the people of Afghanistan should protest against discrimination, especially against women. Because this is not only the problem of women, but the problem of every family and every father, brother, child and husband,” said Samar. [Habiba Sarabi](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/18/afghan-activists-warn-over-absence-of-women-in-peace-process), another former minister of women’s affairs in Afghanistan and the country’s [first female governor](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/apr/26/afghanistan.declanwalsh), said the international community was prioritising engagement with the Taliban over women’s rights. “Unfortunately, the international community wants to deal with the Taliban, and that is why their own agenda has always been more important to them than the women of Afghanistan, democracy, or anything else,” she said. Heather Barr, from Human Rights watch, said: “What is happening in Afghanistan is the most serious women’s rights crisis in the world and the idea that the UN would convene a meeting like this and not discuss women’s rights and not have Afghan women in the room is beyond belief. “The only plausible explanation is that they’re doing this to get the Taliban to the table, but for what? Already, three years of diplomatic engagement has produced nothing and all this does is set an appalling precedent, emboldens and legitimises the Taliban and hands them a huge political win. It is a betrayal not just of Afghan women but all women around the world.” The UN has been approached for comment, but in response to questioning on the involvement of Afghan civil society representatives it [reportedly](https://www.voanews.com/a/taliban-accuse-un-human-rights-expert-on-afghanistan-of-undermining-doha-meeting/7662476.html) said arrangements for the conference were ongoing.
  • Teenage girls and young women arrested by the [Taliban](https://www.theguardian.com/world/taliban) for wearing “bad hijab” say they have been subjected to sexual violence and assault in detention. In more than one case the arrests and sexual abuse that young women faced while in custody earlier this year led to suicide and attempted suicide, reporters from the Afghan news service Zan Times were told. In one case, a woman’s body was allegedly found in a canal a few weeks after she had been taken into custody by Taliban militants, with a source close to her family saying she had been sexually abused before her death. [The UN say that many women were detained by the Taliban for “bad hijab”](https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/02/1146177) in December 2023 and January 2024, following a [Taliban decree](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/07/taliban-order-all-afghan-women-to-wear-burqa) that women must cover themselves from head to toe, revealing only their eyes. At the time the UN called the arrests “concerning” and [girls and women told the Guardian](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/jan/10/afghanistan-girls-detained-beaten-taliban-hijab-rules) they had been subjected to beatings and intimidation while in detention. Now the girls and young women are coming forward to report that they also faced sexual violence and abuse by the Taliban police, with devastating consequences. The family of 16-year-old Zahra\* said she and another teenage girl were arrested in a shop in west Kabul in December 2023. ![An amusement park ride can just be seen above a sign showing a veiled woman facing writing in Pashto.](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/feb646219e8d946e408e64721435b68881b49c17/0_375_5711_3425/master/5711.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jun/25/afghan-women-girls-accuse-taliban-sexual-assault-after-arrests-bad-hijab-suicide#img-2) The Taliban bans women from parks. The sign, in Pashto, reads: ‘Dear sisters! Hijab and veil are your dignity and in your benefit in this world and the hereafter.’ Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/Getty Her mother, Somaia\*, says Zahra and her friend were detained for two weeks before being released. When she came home, Zahra was “not the girl who had left home two weeks before”. “I ran and hugged her, but she cried and said, ‘I am dishonoured.’ For the rest of that day, Zahra didn’t eat or talk,” her mother said. “She only sat in a room and cried. I couldn’t dare to ask about what had happened,” she said. Amina\*, a 22-year-old medical student, said she spent three nights in a Taliban prison after being arrested in January 2024. She said she was interrogated by an older man who asked her about her menstruation and whether she was married or not. “I fell at his feet and begged him, ‘Please, kill me but don’t harass me’,” she said. “He said: ‘Since you are keen to die, I will kill you, but before that, let us have fun with you.’ “Then he started touching my private parts,” Amina said. “I fainted twice during the interrogation, but every time, he poured cold water over my head.” Amina said what happened to her happened to every girl taken to that interrogation room and left alone with the man. “\[Now\] I can’t sleep at night, I am so scared, and every time I see the Taliban soldiers, I faint,” she said. “I have tried to kill myself twice. “Once I took all of my mother’s medication, but my family took me to hospital. Every time I remember that they touched me, I can’t bear living,” Amina said. For Zahra, the ordeal she said she had faced in prison proved too much for her to bear, her family said. “In the middle of the night I woke up and noticed Zahra was not there. I woke up my husband and we started looking for her in all the rooms. “My husband found her dead body,” said Somaia. “She had hanged herself.” ![A woman wearing a headscarf and pink lipstick looks at the camera.](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/a0f1a0bcb6c0185054d1d7dbd90aaea0bd45abf1/98_0_2121_1274/master/2121.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jun/25/afghan-women-girls-accuse-taliban-sexual-assault-after-arrests-bad-hijab-suicide#img-3) Marina Sadat was detained by the Taliban ‘morality police’ in December. Her body was later found inside a sack in a canal. She had been sexually abused. Photograph: Handout Zahra’s death was not the only tragedy linked to the Taliban’s arrest of women over how they wore their hijab. In December 2023, a 23-year-old university student from the same neighbourhood was also reportedly arrested by the Taliban. Marina Sadat had been on her way to the Farabi Institute of Health Sciences, where she was studying midwifery, the only educational option available for women in the Taliban’s [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan). Twenty-two days later, people who know her family say her battered body was found inside a sack in a canal in Kabul’s Paghman district. Zan Times reporters were told that she had been sexually abused. “It is just brutal that a young girl goes to university and her dead body comes home,” one interviewee told the journalists. On 4 January a spokesman for the Taliban’s ministry of vice and virtue told the [Associated Press](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-bad-hijab-women-09d5301ca830f1bdef26696add37fd02) that the women who were arrested “violated Islamic values and rituals and encouraged society and other respected sisters to go for bad hijab … \[i\]n every province, those who go without hijab will be arrested.” After condemnation in Afghanistan and abroad, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, later denied that arrests over “bad hijab” had taken place. In response to the allegations of sexual assault of young women in detention, a Taliban spokesman also denied there had been any arrests for “bad hijab” and said: “The issue of rape is not at all possible because there is not just one or two people \[in the room with a prisoner\] and when there are three people, such a crime would not happen …\[this is\] a very sensitive issue for the Taliban. I am sure such a thing did not happen.” The reports of sexual violence and assault against women and girls in detention comes as the Taliban are expected to attend a UN conference on Afghanistan in Doha on 30 June, where the UN has confirmed that [no Afghan women will participate](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jun/21/shutting-afghan-women-out-of-key-un-conference-to-appease-taliban-a-betrayal) and women’s rights will not be discussed. _Additional reporting by Freshta Ghani_ **\*** _Names changed to protect the identity of_ _interviewees and writers based in Afghanistan_ * Read a full version of this story at [Zan Times](https://zantimes.com/).
  • Since it became clear that the Taliban will be the only Afghan voices at the table and [women’s rights will not officially be on the agenda](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jun/21/shutting-afghan-women-out-of-key-un-conference-to-appease-taliban-a-betrayal) at the UN meeting on Afghanistan in Doha, I have received thousands of messages from women inside and outside the country expressing their deep despair, shock and disappointment. There is increasing concern about the tone that the international community – especially the UN mission in [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan), Unama – have adopted to normalise the human rights violations in Afghanistan in an effort to secure the Taliban’s participation in the Doha talks. The agenda for next week’s meeting will focus on counter-narcotics and the private sector, two peripheral issues chosen to ensure [Taliban](https://www.theguardian.com/world/taliban) participation by putting nothing more contentious on the table. This means the conference will ignore the fundamental issues of holding the Taliban accountable for their unprecedented violations of the basic rights of Afghan women and girls to have education, employment and active participation in society. On Wednesday, in response to the outpouring of criticism, UN undersecretary-general [Rosemary DiCarlo said that Afghan women’s rights, among other key issues, will be raised](https://apnews.com/article/un-meeting-taliban-afghanistan-doha-women-rights-ffaf316874ed2cd010ab1fbc97f7f2ae) in every meeting with the Taliban. She conveniently ignored the fact that the whole world, including Islamic scholars, have been raising the same issues with the Taliban for more than three years to no avail, while the the group continues to impose more bans and restrictions on the women of Afghanistan with impunity. > According to the UN, the Taliban bar on women’s employment is costing the Afghan economy more than $1bn a year The agenda also clearly contradicts the [UN’s own charter and the security council resolutions 1325 and 2721,](https://press.un.org/en/2023/sc15548.doc.htm) which call on the UN secretary general to appoint a special envoy for Afghanistan and to ensure participation of all sides, especially Afghan women’s groups. It also disregards the lack of a legal framework and an inclusive and accountable governing system that ensures participation of all sides. Without a resolution to these two key issues, Afghanistan will never cease to be the centre of narcotics production and drug trafficking, nor will the country’s private sector develop without full participation of women – the two items on the UN’s agenda. According to the [UN’s own assessment](https://unsdg.un.org/latest/stories/one-billion-cost-excluding-women-afghanistan), the Taliban bar on [women’s employment is costing the Afghan economy](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/may/16/afghanistan-further-impoverished-as-women-vanish-from-workforce-taliban) more than $1bn a year. If Unama and others in the international community see the Taliban as the only reality for Afghanistan, they need to look at our history. Millions of Afghans risked life and limb to cast their votes in the 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections, despite threats, fraud and irregularities. They believed in the democratic values and principles which the international community propagated to them for more than 20 years. Yet Afghans today are bewildered that the same international community which championed free elections and women’s rights is willing to compromise its own moral values to cave in to an extremist ideological group. A group that represents a ruling armed clerical regime which has established gender-apartheid in Afghanistan and directed the subjugation of more than 20 million women and girls into an abyss of hopelessness. Given the moral collapse of the international community when it comes to upholding their own values for human rights, women’s rights, and equality for all, most Afghans feel there is no chance of a fair and transparent intervention by global bodies such as the UN to seek a reasonable and durable solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. They question the international community’s commitment to women’s rights when their own fundamental rights were so easily bartered in exchange for geopolitical convenience during the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Taliban members, who came to power with guns, can hold on to power through violence but will never subdue the will of a nation which has never been colonised. Our people, men and women, need education, employment and the prospect of liberty for achieving their dreams in order to realise their full potential. And if the Taliban hope that by sticking to their gender-apartheid vision and forcing the morally compromised internationally community to grant them some level of recognition, will help them achieve their aims they are also wrong. It is the Taliban who launched their war on the women of our country. [Women](https://www.theguardian.com/society/women) are half of our population, and the country cannot move forward without full participation of Afghan women, incorporation of the magnificent diversity of our country, and the incredible talent and potential of our youth who are now fleeing Afghanistan because they do not see any future under Taliban rule. The Taliban have silenced women’s voices inside the country using violence and torture. And by excluding women’s participation at the Doha meeting, the UN and others in the international community have enabled the Taliban to try to silence our voices outside Afghanistan, too. If the international community and the UN want to be useful, let the women of Afghanistan directly talk to the Taliban. This is something that the leaders of the gender-apartheid regime fear the most. * Fawzia Koofi is a politician and women’s rights activist who was the first woman vice-president of the Afghan parliament and chair of its women’s affairs and human rights commission.
  • ISLAMABAD -- A United Nations-led [meeting held in Qatar with the Taliban](https://apnews.com/article/taliban-delegation-doha-meeting-d3af51909b06aa7b086e44b25c464c77) on increasing engagement with Afghanistan does not translate into a recognition of their government, a U.N. official said Monday. The gathering on Sunday and Monday in Qatar's capital of Doha with envoys from some two dozen countries was the first time that representatives of the Afghan Taliban administration attended such a U.N.-sponsored meeting. The Taliban were not invited to the first meeting, and [U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said they set unacceptable conditions](https://apnews.com/article/un-afghanistan-taliban-doha-meeting-d5a6fdca4ddeeb205ddb332161a5899c) for attending the second one, in February, including demands that Afghan civil society members be excluded from the talks and that the Taliban be treated as the country’s legitimate rulers. Ahead of Doha, representatives of [Afghan women were excluded from attending](https://apnews.com/article/un-afghanistan-taliban-women-girls-education-rights-88e7f5aadb25439b328c90283ae6ab5a), paving the way for the Taliban to send their envoys — though the organizers insisted that demands for women’s rights would be raised. “I would like to emphasize that this meeting and this process of engagement does not mean normalization or recognition,” Rosemary A. DiCarlo, a U.N. official for political and peacebuilding affairs said Monday. “My hope is that the constructive exchanges on the various issues over the last two days have moved us a little closer to resolving some of the problems that are having such a devastating impact on the Afghan people,” she added. Zabihullah Mujahid, chief Taliban government spokesman who headed the delegation to Doha, said there was an opportunity for them to meet with representatives of various countries on the sidelines of the gathering. He added that the messages from the Taliban “reached all participating” countries at the meeting. Afghanistan needs cooperation with the private sector and in the fight against drugs, he also said. “Most countries expressed their willingness to cooperate in these areas.” The talks took place behind closed doors with no media access. But that didn’t stop the Taliban delegation from posting videos of the sessions on the social media platform X featuring their officials. Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute, said the Taliban got what they wanted from the Doha gathering because they discussed the issues that mattered to them the most and the meeting excluded those they didn’t want at the table. The talks also shielded the Taliban from much of the vitriol directed at the meeting, given that so much of the anger targeted the U.N. for excluding Afghan women, and not the Taliban for being there, he said. “The Taliban played their cards well. Their conditions were met and they took full advantage with a major PR blitz targeting audiences at home and abroad.” With images and interviews and statements, the Taliban projected the narrative of their officials engaging with the world and conveying the idea that the Taliban are not the pariahs their critics want them to be, he said. Nobody from the Taliban delegation was immediately available for comment about the Doha talks, the most high-profile and high-level international meeting they've attended since seizing power in 2021. No country officially recognizes the Taliban and the U.N. has said that recognition remains practically impossible while [bans on female education and employment](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-women-restrictions-4c4468d1df2cf3309ff2ac2724ad59fc) remain in place. However, some participants, including Canada, expressed disappointment over the exclusion of women and civil society representatives. "Canada is extremely disappointed that the U.N. organizers have excluded non-Taliban Afghan participants, including women’s advocates, religious and ethnic minorities, and human rights groups from participating in the meeting’s main sessions,” David Sproule, Canada’s special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement. DiCarlo, the U.N. official, said that "while women and civil society were not sitting across the table form the de facto (Taliban) authorities in last two days, we made their voices heard ... civil society has a rightful role to play in shaping Afghanistan’s future.”
  • 8 hours ago ![](/bbcx/grey-placeholder.png)![EPA Afghan girls attend to their schools in Kandahar, Afghanistan, 18 September 2022](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/480/cpsprodpb/9cbe/live/9cec2e50-3883-11ef-a609-93de56451762.jpg.webp)EPA Girls above primary school age are barred from education and most jobs by the Taliban Two days of talks between the international community and the Afghan Taliban have been productive, diplomats say. The meetings in Doha were the first to include the Taliban – whose government no country recognises - since they seized power three years ago. At the Taliban government’s insistence, no civil society representatives were in the room with the Taliban officials, meaning no women from Afghanistan were included, prompting criticism from rights groups and activists. UN officials met Afghan civil society groups separately on Tuesday. * [Five key moments in the crushing of Afghan women's rights](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-66461711) As the diplomats and media vacate the vast air-conditioned ballrooms of the Qatari capital, has anything changed for Afghanistan in the last few days? There were no grand announcements, no massive breakthroughs, no solutions - but then none were expected - from the organisers or participants. Instead, the Taliban officials and diplomats seemed quietly and tentatively positive. The tone was “respectful”, “engaged”, “frank”, according to different diplomats the BBC spoke to. The most repeated phrase was “this is a process”. There were no concessions gained, nor pledges won from the Taliban delegation, led by spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid. I asked him what the Taliban government would be willing to offer. “When we go ahead we will see what they \[the international community\] want and what we can do based on Sharia law,” he told us. “ Whatever is against Sharia law we will not discuss it. Whatever is in the framework of Sharia we will solve it. It is a process and it will continue; we will see where it will take us and how much we will improve.” The topics on the agenda were counter-narcotics and the private sector, easier topics to cover than issues like human rights or the role of women. On the latter, the Taliban remained immovable on their view that this is an internal matter. “We don’t want to discuss these sorts of issues between other countries. We will find a solution for it back home,” said Zabihullah Mujahid. When the BBC pointed out to him there had been no solutions for nearly three years, and asked why that was, he said: “We are not ignoring it, we are working on it. We are finding a solution for it based on Sharia law.” ![](/bbcx/grey-placeholder.png)![EPA Taliban's government spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid talks to journalists during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, 29 June 2024.](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/480/cpsprodpb/6280/live/080548d0-3883-11ef-b390-fb401932e653.jpg.webp)EPA Zabihullah Mujahid said the role of women was not being ignored - but there was no sign of any progress The UN itself referred to the situation in Afghanistan as “gender apartheid” where women and girls are not able to attend secondary school, visit parks or gyms and hold certain jobs among an increasing list of restrictions. “It is not just an internal issue and we have made that clear to them,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s lead in these talks. She cited the different treaties signed by Afghanistan prior to the Taliban authorities' takeover in August 2021 that agree to human rights. “It doesn’t matter if the government changes, they are still party to those.” “I think they are ready to talk about some of these things \[women’s rights\], but they are not ready to move,” Tomas Niklasson, special envoy of the European Union for Afghanistan, told the BBC. “I am hopeful that things will change on women’s rights, but I’m not sure about the time perspective.” What made him hopeful? “I’m surprised to see the way in which Afghans still manage through resilience to push back,” he said, adding after a pause. “Hope is not always a rational thing.” The UN did arrange for a separate meeting to take place on Tuesday with civil society activists, although several chose to boycott it and none of those who attended wanted to speak to the media. According to the list of attendees provided by the UN, several countries including China and Russia chose not to attend the session. The UN told us that several delegations not in attendance had travel arrangements. There is no set date for the next meeting of this kind, although many of the countries that attended already meet the Taliban bilaterally and told the BBC that that would continue. All officials we spoke to thought that the few days had laid groundwork for more engagement and conversation. After nearly three years of the Taliban authorities in control, the general mindset of the diplomats we met was that little would improve in Afghanistan if there was not an attempt to engage, at least on the areas of some overlap. “We felt we had to start somewhere,” Ms DiCarlo said in Tuesday’s closing press conference. The question still is where might these talks lead.
  • The Guardian has seen video evidence of a female Afghan human rights activist being gang-raped and tortured in a [Taliban](https://www.theguardian.com/world/taliban) jail by armed men. There have been mounting reports that [sexual violence is being inflicted on women and girls](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jun/25/afghan-women-girls-accuse-taliban-sexual-assault-after-arrests-bad-hijab-suicide) being held in detention in Afghanistan, but this video is believed to be the first direct evidence of these crimes occurring. According to the activist, the mobile phone footage was later sent to her as a threat that it would be shared more widely if she continued to speak out against the [Taliban](https://www.theguardian.com/world/taliban) regime. In the video recording viewed by the Guardian, the young woman is filmed being told to take off her clothes and is then raped multiple times by two men. The woman in the video – recorded on a phone by one of the armed men – tries to cover her face with her hands. One of the men pushes her hard when she hesitates as he gives her orders. At one point she is told, “You’ve been fucked by Americans all these years and now it’s our turn.” The woman has said that she was arrested for taking part in a public protest against the Taliban and was raped while being held in detention in a Taliban prison. She has since fled [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan). She said that after she spoke out against the Taliban in exile, she was sent the video and told that if she continued to criticise the regime the video would be sent to her family and released on social media. “If you continue saying anything bad against the Islamic Emirate, we will publish your video,” she said she was told. She believes that the attack was deliberately recorded to be used to silence and shame her. The person filming the assault captures her standing naked with her face visible and she is identifiable during the attacks. Last week the Guardian [published accounts](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jun/25/afghan-women-girls-accuse-taliban-sexual-assault-after-arrests-bad-hijab-suicide) of teenage girls and young women who said that they were sexually assaulted and beaten after being detained under Afghanistan’s draconian hijab laws. In one case, a woman’s body was allegedly found in a canal a few weeks after she had been taken into custody by Taliban militants, with a source close to her family saying she had been sexually abused before her death. The UN’s special rapporteur on Afghanistan has [recently reported that](https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/un-human-rights-council-56-interactive-dialogue-with-special-rapporteur-on-afghanistan#:~:text=We%20have%20shocking%20reports%20of,increased%20domestic%20violence%20against%20women%2E) women were thought to be facing sexual violence in detention. ![Afghan women in hijabs and burqas hold placards as they take part in a protest](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/32ce18aaeccc5bdf2c1154b754ede0bd7f757d8d/1163_2_3190_1914/master/3190.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jul/03/video-appears-to-shows-gang-rape-of-woman-in-a-taliban-jail#img-2) A protest against school exclusions for girls. The placards say the women are willing to accept the burqa if their daughters are allowed to go to school. There is no suggestion that any of the women pictured have been detained or harmed. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images Since they took power in August 2021, the Taliban have imposed what human [rights groups are calling a “gender apartheid”](https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2024/06/gender-apartheid-must-be-recognized-international-law/#:~:text=The%20concept%20of%20apartheid%20on,the%20Taliban%20in%20the%201990s.) on Afghanistan’s 14 million women and girls, excluding them from almost every aspect of public life. Women and girls are blocked from attending secondary school, banned from almost every form of paid employment, prevented them from walking in public parks, attending gyms or beauty salons and told to comply with a strict dress code. The Taliban have also [announced](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/mar/28/taliban-edict-to-resume-stoning-women-to-death-met-with-horror) the reintroduction of the public flogging and [stoning of women for adultery](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/mar/28/taliban-edict-to-resume-stoning-women-to-death-met-with-horror). The Guardian and Rukhshana Media spoke with multiple other female protestors and activists who have also come forward to allege that they have been tortured and beaten after being arrested for calling for women’s rights. Zarifa Yaqubi, 30, said she was imprisoned for 41 days in November 2022, after attempting to organise a movement for Afghan women. “They gave electric shocks and hit parts of my body with cables so that I would not be able to show in front of the camera tomorrow,” she said, adding that she had been tortured into admitting to taking money from foreigners to protest against the Taliban. Parwana Nejarabi, 23, said she was beaten and given electric shocks after being detained by Taliban forces when protesting for women’s rights in early 2022. She said she spent a month in solitary confinement and was shown a letter with an order for her to be stoned to death. “I could hear them saying, ‘She should be killed,’” she said. She was released after a forced confession and fled Afghanistan to live in exile. Despite the huge risks to their safety, women inside Afghanistan are still staging public protests and criticising the Taliban regime, with Rukhshana Media recording at least 221 acts of protest by women and girls over the past two years. A spokesperson for the Taliban, Zabhullah Mujahid, denied the allegations of the widespread sexual assaults on women in prison. Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch said the Taliban continue to act with “complete impunity for abuses, particularly behind the prison walls.” “The Taliban are aware of how much stigma is involved around the issue of sexual violence in Afghanistan and how incredibly difficult – and usually impossible – it is for victims of sexual violence to come forward and tell their stories, even sometimes to their own families, because there is a risk of shame and potentially ‘honour’ violence,” said Barr. The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said: “I am alarmed by reports of torture and ill-treatment in Afghanistan, including allegations of sexual violence in detention, especially of women. We are continuing to look into these reports and to establish the facts.” Earlier this week, Taliban officials took part in a special meeting on Afghanistan hosted by the UN in Doha to discuss the country’s future. [No Afghan women were present](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jun/21/shutting-afghan-women-out-of-key-un-conference-to-appease-taliban-a-betrayal) at the meeting and women’s rights were not included on the agenda.
  • The United Nations held a new round of talks on bringing Afghanistan into the international fold. For the first time, the Taliban participated — but women's rights advocates were not invited.
  • KABUL, Afghanistan -- Frozan Ahmadzai is one of 200,000 Afghan women who have the Taliban’s permission to work. She should have graduated from university this year in pursuit of her dream of becoming a doctor, but the Taliban have [barred women from higher education](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-3cea615c4d5d6d5d7da68b593a7546f2) and [excluded them from many jobs](https://apnews.com/article/business-afghanistan-kabul-taliban-e44d8521940021e4e7ab11d3898978b5). Now, instead of suturing, she sews in a basement in Kabul. Instead of administering medication, she makes pickles. Half of Afghanistan's population now finds itself locked out of the freedom to work at a time when the country's economy is worse than ever. Few jobs are still available to women. They include tailoring and making food, which the 33-year-old Ahmadzai now does along with women who once were teachers or aspired to be one. Women's participation in the workforce in Afghanistan, always limited by conservative cultural beliefs, was 14.8% in 2021, before the [Taliban seized power](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-second-year-timeline-490bab098864b13d8f8cdb67ae044bee) and imposed harsh restrictions on women and girls. They include banning female education beyond sixth grade, barring women from [public spaces like parks](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-religion-womens-rights-taliban-177fd5045f692b2572b0f202d25c4d3a), and [enforcing dress codes](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-single-women-restrictions-c00c6cddf846957afc2ea43814cf374f). Women's participation in the workforce was down to 4.8% in 2023, according to World Bank data. Ahmadzai’s eyes flare when talking about the new reality for Afghan women. “We are only looking for a way to escape,” she said, referring to the work in the basement. It's a step, at least, beyond being confined at home. But profits are slim for her and her 50 colleagues in the collective. In a good month, the pickle-making and tailoring businesses bring in around 30,000 afghanis ($426). The women also have other complaints familiar to anyone in Afghanistan: The rent and utility bills are high. The sewing machines are old-fashioned. The electricity supply is erratic. Local retailers don’t compensate them fairly. They don’t receive support from banks or local authorities to help their businesses grow. Just obtaining permission from the Taliban to work is challenging for women, though under Afghan labor laws, the process for work permits ought to be the same for both sexes. The ministry responsible for issuing permits has banned women from its premises, setting up a female-only office elsewhere. It's to “speed things up and make things easier” for women, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Samiullah Ebrahimi. There, women submit their paperwork, including their national identity card, a cover letter and a health certificate from a private clinic. That’s assuming they have the documents along with the money to cover any costs. It also assumes they can move around without being harassed if [unaccompanied by a male guardian](https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-women-restrictions-4c4468d1df2cf3309ff2ac2724ad59fc). Last year, a top United Nations official said Afghanistan had become [the most repressive country](https://apnews.com/article/taliban-afghanistan-women-rights-united-nations-591c39436d53f83e5a0c423c5e06891c) in the world for women and girls. Roza Otunbayeva, head of the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan, said that while the country needed to recover from decades of war, half of its potential doctors, scientists, journalists and politicians were “shut away in their homes, their dreams crushed and their talents confiscated.” The Taliban have a different view. They have tried to provide women with a “safe, secure and separate” working environment in line with Islamic values ​​and Afghan traditions in sectors where women’s work is needed, according to ministry spokesman Ebrahimi. They can work in retail or hospitality, but it must be a female-only setting. He said women don’t need degrees for the majority of permissible work including cleaning, security screening, handicrafts, farming, tailoring or food manufacturing. It’s heartbreaking for Ahmadzai and her colleagues to see their expertise go unused. Several also were training to be makeup artists, but [beauty parlors have been closed](https://apnews.com/article/taliban-beauty-salon-ban-women-rights-66c7151465679565d6332b61bf18a584). Some jobs for women remain in education and health care, so Ahmadzai has pivoted to a nursing and midwifery course so she can become a medical professional. But not a doctor. The Taliban don't want more female doctors. The challenges for Afghan women of obeying Taliban edicts while helping to support their families while living conditions worsen is a strain on health, including [mental health](https://apnews.com/article/mental-health-afghan-women-un-report-c0db1ebeb1506746c961c92fd67174c1). Ahmadzai said one of the few positives about her work in the basement in Kabul is the camaraderie and support system there. “Afghan women nowadays all have the same role in society. They stay at home, care for children, mind the house and don’t work hard," she said. "If my family didn’t encourage me, I wouldn’t be here. They support me because I work. My husband is unemployed and I have small children.” Salma Yusufzai, the head of Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, acknowledged that working under Taliban rule is a challenge. The chamber has almost 10,000 members, but the lack of female representation within the Taliban-controlled administration is a challenge. Yusufzai said the chamber supports women by giving them a platform at local markets and connecting them with the international community for participation in overseas exhibitions and other opportunities. Chamber members include key Afghan industries like carpet-making and dried fruit. The businesses are male-owned but kept alive by women who want to support the economy, which she said would collapse without them. She acknowledged that the chamber's limited work was only possible through engagement with the Taliban: “If I close the door then nothing will happen, nothing will remain." Yusufzai once had three gemstone businesses and gave them up because of her chamber role. But she can’t own them anyway under Taliban rule, so the businesses are in her husband’s name. “Since we are living in this country, we have to follow the rules,” she said. Her smile was tight. “From nothing, it is better to have something.”
  • Relief set in the moment Hasina crossed the border into Iran. For two years, the [Taliban](https://www.theguardian.com/world/taliban) barred the 24-year-old medical student from continuing her studies. Now, as part of a growing exodus of Afghan women who desperately want an education, Hasina is pursuing her degree in Tehran. “I was terrified the Taliban would prevent me from leaving,” she says. Last year, they [stopped 100 female Afghan students](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-66636750) boarding a flight to take up places at university in the United Arab Emirates where they had won scholarships. As a precaution, Hasina – whose full name has not been given to protect her identity – left [Afghanistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan) with a tourist visa for Iran. She was accompanied by her father, they posed as a family going on a visit, but he returned home alone. Now, Hasina is enrolled at the Iran University of Medical Sciences in the capital, studying to become a surgeon. It has been more than 1,000 days since the all-male Taliban government [shut the door on girls’ education](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/23/girls-in-afghanistan-school-taliban) beyond the age of 12 after their August 2021 government takeover. Neighbouring Iran – which had previously denounced the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education – has opened it. > There are women everywhere here: professors, doctors, employees. It amazes me Hasina More than 40,000 Afghan students – most of them women – are [now studying](https://en.irna.ir/news/83454108/40-000-Afghan-students-studying-in-Iranian-universities) at university in Iran, according to the country’s deputy science minister for international affairs, Vahid Haddadi-Asl. More than 600,000 Afghan children [are also enrolled](https://reliefweb.int/report/iran-islamic-republic/education-right-every-child#:~:text=More%20than%20600%2C000%20Afghan%20children,requirements%20and%20higher%20tuition%20fees.) in schools across the country, the Norwegian Refugee Council says, explaining that they can enrol in Iranian public schools regardless of their legal status because of a 2015 government decree. ![Street scene in central Tehran near the university.](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/50b2a13a93051e21c7a8107fedd78f77b31130f3/0_0_8192_5464/master/8192.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jul/04/afghan-women-iran-taliban-afghanistan-education#img-2) The busy streets around the university in central Tehran. More than 40,000 Afghan students, mostly women, are studying in Iran. Photograph: Stefanie Glinski “Since the Taliban came to power, the number of Afghan students has increased,” Iran’s ambassador to Germany, Mahmoud Farazandeh, tells the Guardian. “The issue of education, especially of women, is of great importance. The doors of Iranian universities are open to Afghan women and girls who have been deprived of education,” he says. Accurate figures on the number of Afghans living in Iran are hard to come by – many cross through unofficial border points, complicating documentation. [Estimates](https://www.unhcr.org/ir/refugees-in-iran/) suggest that about a million Afghans have fled to Iran since the Taliban takeover. Many Afghan families left to ensure their children went to school. At least [1.5 million girls](https://www.voanews.com/a/afghan-girls-endure-1-000-days-without-school-under-taliban-rule/7653958.html) in Afghanistan are still barred from education. With a shared language and many cultural similarities, Iran has become a last resort for many Afghan women determined to finish their studies. According to the World Bank, Iran’s [female literacy rate](https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.LITR.FE.ZS?locations=IR) sits at 85%, while Afghanistan’s reaches [roughly 23%](https://genderdata.worldbank.org/en/indicator/se-adt) – despite [heavy investment in the education sector](https://af.usembassy.gov/u-s-afghanistan-education-collaboration-continues/) during the 20 years of the US-led invasion. Studying at a private university in Iran is not cheap, Hasina explains, saying she pays $4,500 (£3,550) annually – a discounted rate. Her family scrambles to raise the funds, but is determined to support her education. [skip past newsletter promotion](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jul/04/afghan-women-iran-taliban-afghanistan-education#EmailSignup-skip-link-11) Sign up to Global Dispatch Get a different world view with a roundup of the best news, features and pictures, curated by our global development team **Privacy Notice:** Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our [Privacy Policy](https://www.theguardian.com/help/privacy-policy). We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google [Privacy Policy](https://policies.google.com/privacy) and [Terms of Service](https://policies.google.com/terms) apply. after newsletter promotion ![Hasina poses for a photo with three other girls in hijab outside the Iran University of Medical Sciences in Tehran](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/2824f1d2b8ea1f2870b9e103135f71c6fbfaeb2b/0_0_6960_4640/master/6960.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jul/04/afghan-women-iran-taliban-afghanistan-education#img-3) Hasina, left, with fellow students outside the Iran University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, where she is studying medicine. Photograph: Courtesy of Stefanie Glinski “I miss my family and my home and I hope that one day I can go back; I hope the oppression women across our country face will end. Still, nothing can compensate for the years the Taliban has stolen from Afghan girls and women, including from me,” says Hasina, adding that she is surprised to see how different things are in Iran. “There are women everywhere here: professors, doctors, employees. It amazes me.” Heather Barr, a director at Human Rights Watch, says there are no signs of any positive developments regarding education or women’s rights in Afghanistan. “The Taliban are intensifying their crackdown, sending the message that women shouldn’t be educated – and that extends to education outside Afghanistan as well,” she says, adding that the Taliban’s ban has been “denounced by the Muslim community, including Afghanistan’s neighbours Iran and Pakistan”, two countries where many Afghan women now study. Many Iranians have voiced concerns over growing numbers of Afghans entering the country, with Afghans repeatedly reporting discriminatory and derogatory behaviour towards them. There have also been reports of pushbacks at the border. Still, Iran could benefit from the influx, as its population growth rate had [dropped to 0.7%](https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.GROW?locations=IR) in 2022, down from 2.3% in 2015. Afghan students who have been accepted into universities additionally invest in the Iranian economy and could contribute to the workforce in the future. ![Farzaneh, a journalism student, standing in a wooded garden in Tehran.](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/4be17d3fcc4fc95f2a75e111c8aa9775c60ca311/0_0_2560_1706/master/2560.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/article/2024/jul/04/afghan-women-iran-taliban-afghanistan-education#img-4) Farzaneh, who arrived in Tehran from Afghanistan four months ago, is now studying journalism in Tehran. Photograph: Courtesy of Stefanie Glinski Farzaneh, 23, arrived in Tehran four months ago, accompanied by her brother. She is continuing her journalism studies at Allameh Tabataba’i University, hoping to one day return home to “cover Afghanistan”. She pays about €800 (£680) a year; funded by part-time jobs. Tuition fees in Kabul, where she previously studied, were lower, but when the Taliban took over Farzaneh was dismissed from classes. For two years she struggled to find a way to continue her studies – this year she was finally accepted into university in Tehran. “Most women just want to leave Afghanistan now to rebuild their destroyed dreams elsewhere. This is so painful to me. If the situation for women continues like it has, I don’t have hope,” Farzaheh says. “I’m studying to make my family – my father – proud, but I miss my friends and my home. I remember those days when we smiled and were happy together. These days are gone.”
  • KABUL — When Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers headed to the country’s first “international climate change conference” earlier this year in the eastern city of Jalalabad, few foreign guests turned up. Afghanistan remains a global pariah in large part because of the Taliban restrictions on female education, and that isolation has deprived the country of foreign funding for urgently needed measures to adapt to climate change. So, for now, the Afghan government is largely confronting the impacts of global warming on its own and putting the blame for floods and sluggish governmental aid on foreigners. Some former Taliban commanders view global carbon emissions as a new invisible enemy. “Just like they invaded our country, they’ve invaded our climate,” Lutfullah Khairkhaw, the Taliban’s deputy higher education minister, said in his opening speech at the Jalalabad conference this year. “We must defend our climate, our water, our soil to the same extent we defend ourselves against invasions.” With parched deserts and deforested, flood-prone valleys, Afghanistan is deemed [by researchers](https://reliefweb.int/report/afghanistan/afghanistan-slow-onset-early-action-plan-drought-drought-preparedness-may-2024#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Notre%20Dame,INFORM%20Climate%20Change%20Risk%20Index.) to be among the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. Hundreds of people died, for instance, during recent flash floods that officials blamed on ominous changes in the climate. Kanni Wignaraja, the regional director for Asia and the Pacific at the United Nations Development Program, said prolonged drought in Afghanistan has so hardened soils that flash floods are particularly violent here. “The damage is huge,” she said in an interview. Before the Taliban takeover, international donors estimated that Afghanistan would need more than $20 billion between 2020 and 2030 to respond to climate change. The U.N. is still able to fund some projects in the country, but Wignaraja said the Taliban-run government is correct when it says that “global money for climate has dried up.” While Taliban beliefs are rooted in centuries-old Pashtun culture and an extreme interpretation of Islam, the government affirms that climate change is real, that it’s destroying God’s work and that those in the world who reject the truth of climate change need to get on board. The Taliban has asked imams in Afghanistan’s tens of thousands of mosques to emphasize during Friday prayers the need for environmental protection. Carbon footprints will weigh heavily on judgment day, said Kabul-based imam Farisullah Azhari. “God will ask: How did you make your money? And then he will ask: How much suffering did you cause in the process?” he said in an interview. ### Modern science and age-old beliefs Historically, the Taliban’s environmental activism was unrelated to modern climate science. The Quran encourages Muslims to plant trees, and locals recall how the Taliban flogged illegal loggers when the group was first in power in the late 1990s. At the Taliban-run Afghanistan Science Academy in Kabul, religious scholars are now debating how to reconcile modern science with centuries-old religious beliefs. “Climate change is real,” said Abdul Hadi Safi, professor of Islamic Studies and Management. “But if God doesn’t want something to happen, it won’t happen.” Safi cited the frequent inaccuracy of his smartphone’s weather app to explain his reasoning. Making it rain even when Google says the sky should be sunny “is God’s way of saying: I’m the boss,” he said. Some religious scholars at Taliban-run institutes fear that prolonged drought and the growing number of deadly floods in Afghanistan may at best be God’s punishment and at worst a sign of the apocalypse. Others allege a new chapter in American hegemony: a foreign plot to bring the Taliban-run regime to its knees by exposing it to natural disasters. Members of the institute agree, however, that foreign powers are responsible for climate change, and it’s a religious duty to fight it. ### Humvees and night-vision goggles In Chesht-e-Sharif, a remote town in western Afghanistan, the Taliban’s battle against climate change is fought with American night-vision goggles and two of the Humvees that were seized after the U.S. withdrawal three years ago. Local police chief Abdul Hay Motmayan and his men happened to be on patrol last month when a small local stream suddenly swelled out of control. As soaked and injured villagers emerged from the flood, Motmayan put aside his assault rifle and turned the Humvee into a makeshift ambulance. The dimly lit vehicle sped through pitch-black villages. Miraculously, he said, nobody died in the flood that evening. “The Humvee is very strong, and it can’t be washed away,” Motmayan, a former Taliban commander, said. “It can go where others cannot go.” But few of the more than 800 displaced villagers shared his sense of accomplishment. Most of their fields were destroyed, their livestock drowned, and possessions washed away. When Washington Post team journalists appeared in his town, Motmayan initially mistook them for an international aid team and enthusiastically shook their hands, saying no other assistance had yet arrived. By the time the first government aid convoy finally arrived on day three, Motmayan was repeatedly shouted down by locals. Skirmishes between Taliban soldiers and locals broke out. “I’m fed up with life,” yelled one man. Police officers steered a Post reporter away from the scene. Motmayan and his men said there is nothing more they could have done. “These people are upset, but we’re sad, too,” said Motmayan, walking around the village’s ruins. But when senior disaster response officials arrived in this remote town later in the day, they disagreed. “If there had been just one simple flood barrier, this village could have been saved,” said Wakil Ahmad Nayabi, a disaster directorate expert, shaking his head. “People don’t believe in climate change, but they need to understand it to be able to protect themselves.” Motmayan, the police chief, acknowledged he had never heard of climate change. ### A lesson in climate change With foreign funding for major projects suspended, government officials want villagers to think of themselves as the first line of defense. “God won’t help those who don’t take action themselves,” said Mohammad Edris Hanif, 32, a regional agriculture director, during a recent workshop. Surrounded by farmers, he sat on a carpet in an orchard in Wardak, a longtime Taliban stronghold next to Kabul. The farmers listened in silence as they were told to keep the grass on the mountains untouched so that it can absorb rain and were warned not to move rocks that form natural flood barriers. During a break, one of the officials apologized to a reporter for the farmers’ inability to understand climate change, despite the government’s best efforts. Standing nearby, 53-year-old villager Abdul Ahad Hemat begged to differ. He said he may not always understand what educated people in the cities say about climate change but he now can see the effects of changes in seasonal climate patterns on his own fields. He agreed with the government that it’s his religious responsibility as a Muslim to survive disaster and resist hardship. But most of the government’s DIY advice on how to adapt had so far proven useless. How, he asked, is he supposed to build a dam on his own? _Mirwais Mohammadi and Lutfullah Qasimyar contributed to this report._