Taliban Ink Deal To Procure Russian Petroleum Products, Wheat

Members of Taliban listen to Bashar Noorzai (not pictured), a warlord and Taliban associate, at a press event at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on September 19, 2022. – An American navy veteran detained in Afghanistan for more than two years was released by the Taliban on September 19 in exchange for a key ally, Afghanistan’s foreign minister said. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

 

 

Afghanistan has entered an agreement with Russia to procure millions of tonnes of petroleum products and wheat, Taliban officials said Wednesday.

Russia has been hit hard by unprecedented Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, causing Moscow to push exports to Asian countries to support its economy.

“The contract was agreed upon last month when the minister of industry and trade visited Russia,” Abdul Salam Jawad, spokesman for the ministry, told AFP.

He would not comment on any financial details.

The deal includes supplying Kabul with one million tonnes of gasoline, a million tonnes of diesel, 500,000 tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and two million tonnes of wheat.

The ministry of economy, in a separate statement, said the supplies from Russia are expected to arrive “in the next few weeks”.

An economic crisis in Afghanistan has only worsened since the Taliban returned to power following a hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign forces last August.

The country’s banking sector has nearly collapsed after Washington froze $7 billion of Afghanistan’s assets held in the United States.

Billions of dollars in foreign aid that had helped prop up Afghanistan’s economy for 20 years during the US military intervention has also vastly reduced, further deepening the crisis.

A two-year drought has affected the country’s food production.

Taliban officials have maintained that they are looking to strike trade deals with the international community, and have so far received oil and gas from neighbouring Iran.

The government has not yet been recognised by any country, but Russia has maintained bilateral ties with the hardline Islamists since before they seized power last year.

Russia was one of the few countries to keep its embassy open in Kabul during the Taliban’s chaotic return to power.

UN To End Travel Ban Exemptions For Taliban Officials

Taliban religious scholars attend a public meeting on economic welfare at a private salon in Kandahar on August 18, 2022. (Photo by Javed TANVEER / AFP)

 

 

The United Nations is set to end travel ban exemptions for 13 Taliban officials Friday, pending any deal by Security Council members on a possible extension, diplomats said.

Under a 2011 UN Security Council resolution, 135 Taliban officials are subject to sanctions that include asset freezes and travel bans.

But 13 of them were granted exemptions from the travel ban to allow them to meet officials from other countries abroad.

In June, the 15-member UN Security Council’s Afghanistan Sanctions Committee removed two Taliban education ministers from the exemption list over the regime’s curtailment of women’s rights.

At the same time, they renewed the exemption for the others until August 19, plus a further month if no member objected.

Ireland objected this week, according to diplomatic sources.

China and Russia have called for an extension, while the United States has sought a reduced list of the officials allowed to travel and the destinations they can travel to.

The latest proposal on the table would allow just six officials to travel for diplomatic reasons, diplomatic sources told AFP.

If no member of the Council objects by Monday afternoon, it will come into force for three months.

In the meantime, the exemptions for the 13 officials end at midnight on Friday.

Among the 13 are Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai.

They were instrumental in negotiations with the US government of then-president Donald Trump which led to a deal in 2020 paving the way for America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A spokesperson for the Chinese mission at the UN, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, this week called the Western position linking the travel ban to human rights “counterproductive.”

The exemptions are “needed as much as ever,” the spokesperson said, adding that if reimposing a travel ban is all other members of the Council want to do, “clearly they have learned no lessons at all.”

Despite their promises to be more flexible after they seized power in August last year, the Taliban have largely reverted to the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

In particular, they have severely restricted the rights and freedoms of girls and women, calling for them to don burkas, effectively halting girls’ education and systematically removing women from Afghan workplaces.

No country has so far recognised the government.

Taliban Mark Turbulent First Year In Power

File photo: Taliban fighters stand guard near the venue of an open-air rally in a field on the outskirts of Kabul on October 3, 2021. Hoshang Hashimi / AFP

 

The Taliban marked the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan with a national holiday Monday, following a turbulent year that saw women’s rights crushed and a humanitarian crisis worsen.

Exactly a year ago, the hardline Islamists captured Kabul after their nationwide lightning offensive against government forces ended 20 years of US-led military intervention.

“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered Kabul on August 15 last year just hours after then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

A chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing to Kabul’s airport hoping to be evacuated on any flight out of Afghanistan.

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Images of crowds storming the airport, climbing atop aircraft — and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway —  aired on news bulletins around the world.

Authorities have so far not announced any official celebrations to mark the anniversary, but state television said it would air special programmes.

Taliban fighters, however, expressed happiness that their movement was now in power — even as aid agencies say that half the country’s 38 million people face extreme poverty.

“The time when we entered Kabul, and when the Americans left, those were moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.

 ‘Life Has Lost Its Meaning’ 

But for ordinary Afghans — especially women — the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships.

Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have been imposed on women to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.

Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.

And in May, they were ordered to fully cover up in public, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.

“From the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.

“Everything has been snatched from us, they have entered even our personal space,” she said.

On Saturday, the Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired guns into the air to disperse their rally in Kabul.

While Afghans acknowledge a decline in violence since the Taliban seized power, the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.

“People coming to our shops are complaining so much of high prices that we shopkeepers have started hating ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, the de facto power centre of the Taliban.

For Taliban fighters, however, the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.

“We might be poor, we might be facing hardships, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high forever in Afghanistan”, said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.

AFP

Taliban Beat Women Protesters In Afghanistan

Taliban fighters fire in air to disperse Afghan women protesters in Kabul on August 13, 2022. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)
Taliban fighters fire in air to disperse Afghan women protesters in Kabul on August 13, 2022. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

 

Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hardline Islamists’ return to power.

Since seizing control on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.

About 40 women — chanting “bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.

Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.

The demonstrators carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.

“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” they chanted, many not wearing face veils.

“Unfortunately, the Taliban from the intelligence service came and fired in the air,” said Zholia Parsi, one of the organisers of the march.

“They dispersed the girls, tore our banners and confiscated the mobile phones of many girls.”

Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters, an AFP correspondent saw.

‘Making women invisible’

After seizing power last year, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have already been imposed, especially on women, to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.

Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.

Women have also been banned from travelling alone on long trips and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.

In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.

The United Nations and rights groups have repeatedly slammed the Taliban government for imposing the restrictions on women.

These policies show a “pattern of absolute gender segregation and are aimed at making women invisible in the society”, Richard Bennett, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul during a visit in May.

Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.

But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.

AFP

Taliban Fighters Swap Arms For Books As Hundreds Return To School

In this photo taken on June 7, 2022, a member of the Taliban (C) with his classmates attends an economic faculty class at a private university in Kabul. Since the Taliban swept back to power in August 2021, hundreds of fighters have returned to school — either on their own or pushed by their commanders. (Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

Gul Agha Jalali used to spend his nights planting bombs — hoping to target an Afghan government soldier or, better still, a foreign serviceman.

These days, the 23-year-old Taliban member is studying English and has enrolled in a computer science course in the capital, Kabul.

“When our country was occupied by infidels, we needed bombs, mortars and guns,” says Jalali, an employee at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation.

Now there is a greater need for education, he told AFP.

Since the Taliban swept back to power in August last year, hundreds of fighters have returned to school — either on their own or pushed by their commanders.

The word “Taliban” actually means “students” in Arabic, and the hardline Islamist movement’s name stems from the religious schools in southern Afghanistan it emerged from in the 1990s.

Most Taliban fighters were educated in these madrassas, where studies are largely limited to the Koran and other Islamic themes.

Many conservative Afghan clerics — particularly among the Taliban — are sceptical of more modern education, apart from subjects than can be applied practically, such as engineering or medicine.

“The world is evolving, we need technology and development,” said Jalali, who planted bombs for five years but is now among a dozen Taliban studying computers at the transport ministry.

 ‘Motivated mujahideen’

In this photo taken on June 5, 2022, members of the Taliban attend a computer science class at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in Kabul. Since the Taliban swept back to power in August 2021, hundreds of fighters have returned to school — either on their own, or pushed by their commanders. (Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

The desire of fighters like Jalali to go back to school showed Afghans yearned for education, government spokesman Bilal Karimi said.

“Many motivated mujahideen who had not completed their studies reached out to educational institutions and are now studying their favourite courses,” he told AFP.

But education is a hugely problematic issue in the country, with secondary school girls barred from classes since the Taliban returned to power — and no sign of them being allowed back despite promises from some in the leadership.

While the earlier curriculum largely remains the same, studies on music and sculpture have been scrapped at schools and universities, which are suffering a paucity of teachers and lecturers following an exodus of Afghanistan’s educated elite.

But some Taliban students, like Jalali, have big plans.

Kabul’s Muslim Institute has a student body of around 3,000 — half of them women — and includes some 300 Taliban fighters, many distinctive with their bushy beards and turbans.

On a recent tour, AFP saw one Taliban fighter retrieve a pistol from a locker room at the end of his lessons — an incongruous sight in a pastel-coloured room adorned with posters of smiling co-ed students.

“When they arrive, they hand over their weapons. They don’t use force or take advantage of their position,” said an institute official who asked not to be named.

 Desire to study

In this photo taken on June 5, 2022, members of the Taliban attend a computer science class at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in Kabul. Since the Taliban swept back to power in August 2021, hundreds of fighters have returned to school — either on their own, or pushed by their commanders. (Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP)

 

Amanullah Mubariz was 18 when he joined the Taliban but never gave up his desire to study.

“I applied to a university in India, but I failed my English test,” said Mubariz, now 25, declining to reveal his current position in the Taliban.

“That’s why I enrolled here,” he said, referring to the Muslim Institute.

Mohammad Sabir, in contrast, is happy to admit he works for the Taliban’s intelligence agency despite also being a student at the private Dawat University.

“I resumed my studies this year after the victory of the Islamic Emirate,” he says, his long hair and eyes lined with traditional kohl eyeliner peeking out from beneath a white turban.

Like Jalali, he paused his education to join the Taliban and also planted bombs and carried out ambushes with his brother in Wardak province.

All the Taliban students AFP spoke to said they wanted to use their education to help develop the country, so how do they feel about girls being deprived of that opportunity?

“Personally, as a young man, a student and a member of the Emirate, I think that they have the right to education,” said Mubariz.

“They can serve our country the way we are doing.”

“This country needs them as much as it needs us,” added Jalali.

-AFP

UN Urges Taliban To Follow Other Muslim States On Women’s Rights

In this picture taken on January 15, 2022, an Afghan woman writes placards ahead of a women’s rights protest march, in Kabul. 
Rouba EL HUSSEINI / AFP

 

 

The UN rights chief urged the Taliban Friday to look to other Muslim countries for inspiration on improving the rights of women and ending their “systematic oppression” in Afghanistan.

Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet decried the “desperate situation” facing women and girls in Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban returned to power last August, she said, “women and girls are experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in the enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades.”

“Their future will be even darker, unless something changes, quickly.”

Addressing an urgent council debate on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, she called for a “more concerted effort” from the international community to push the Taliban to respect their rights.

In particular, she said, “I strongly encourage the de facto authorities to engage with predominantly Muslim countries with experience in promoting women and girls’ rights, as guaranteed in international law, in that religious context.”

A recent visit to the country by an Organization of Islamic Cooperation delegation has been “a significant step.”

Bachelet, who herself visited Afghanistan in March, said that over one million girls have been shut out of secondary school and women widely banned from working and from travelling alone, and ordered to wear face coverings in public.

When the Taliban seized power nearly a year ago, they had promised to pursue a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first period in power from 1996 to 2001.

They said they would honour their human rights obligations, including women’s rights, as far as consisted with Islamic Sharia law.

“Yet, despite these assurances, we are witnessing the progressive exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere and their institutionalised, systematic oppression,” Bachelet said.

She demanded that the Taliban set a firm date for reopening secondary schools for girls and remove the requirement that women wear face coverings and only travel when accompanied by a so-called maharam, or male guardian.

In addition “all acts of gender-based violence must be independently investigated and those responsible held to account,” she said.

Taliban Dismiss UN Concerns On Women’s Rights In Afghanistan

File photo: Taliban fighters stand guard near the venue of an open-air rally in a field on the outskirts of Kabul on October 3, 2021. Hoshang Hashimi / AFP

 

The Taliban on Friday rejected the UN Security Council’s call to reverse heavy restrictions imposed on Afghan women, dismissing their concerns as “unfounded”.

The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Tuesday that criticised the Taliban for limiting girls’ and women’s access to education, government jobs and freedom of movement since seizing power last year.

Afghanistan’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada has also ordered women to cover up — including their faces — when in public, triggering international outrage.

The Security Council’s 15 member states called on the Taliban “to swiftly reverse the policies and practices which are currently restricting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Afghan women and girls”.

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File photo: Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint on a street in Kabul on December 17, 2021. Mohd RASFAN / AFP

 

It also demanded the hardliners reopen all schools to female students.

Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said the government considers the Security Council’s concerns as “unfounded and reaffirms its commitment” to rights of Afghan women.

“Since the people of Afghanistan are predominantly Muslim, the Afghan government considers the observance of Islamic hijab to be in line with the religious and cultural practices of society,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Taliban adhere to an austere interpretation of Islam.

Their last stint in power between 1996 and 2001 was marked by human rights violations, and, despite promising a softer rule this time around, they have increasingly trampled over the freedoms of Afghans.

In the two decades of US military intervention that followed the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, Afghan women and girls made marginal gains in restoring their rights.

UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett on Thursday said the Taliban’s restrictions were aimed at making women “invisible in society”, at the end of a visit to Kabul.

No country has recognised the new Taliban government, and the authorities have so far failed in their efforts to assume Afghanistan’s seat at the world body.

AFP

Taliban Order Afghan Women To Wear All-Covering Burqa


An Afghan burqa-clad woman walks with a child in Kabul on April 28, 2022.
Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

 

The Taliban on Saturday imposed one of the harshest restrictions on Afghanistan’s women since seizing power, ordering them to wear the all-covering burqa in public.

The militants took back control of the country in August last year, promising a softer rule than their last stint in power between 1996 and 2001, which was dominated by human rights abuses.

But they have already imposed a slew of restrictions on women — banning them from many government jobs, secondary education, and from travelling alone outside their cities or Afghanistan.

On Saturday, Afghanistan’s supreme leader and Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada announced a strict dress code for women when they are in public.

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“They should wear a chadori (head-to-toe burqa) as it is traditional and respectful,” said a decree in his name released by Taliban authorities at a ceremony in Kabul.

“Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes, as per sharia directives, in order to avoid provocation when meeting men who are not mahram (adult close male relatives),” it said.

The order was expected to spark a flurry of condemnation abroad. Many in the international community want humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and recognition of the Taliban government to be linked to the restoration of women’s rights.

Akhundzada’s decree also said that if women had no important work outside it was “better they stay at home”.

During their first regime, the Taliban had made the burqa compulsory for women.

Since their return to power, their feared Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has issued several “guidelines” on what women should wear but Saturday’s edict was the first such national order.

The hardline Islamists triggered an international outrage in March when they ordered secondary schools for girls to shut, just hours after reopening for the first time since they seized power.

Officials have never justified the ban, apart from saying the education of girls must be according to “Islamic principles”.

That ban was also issued by Akhundzada, according to several Taliban officials.

Women have also been ordered to visit parks in the capital on separate days from men.

Some Afghan women initially pushed back strongly, holding small demonstrations and protests where they demanded the right to education and work.

But the Taliban cracked down on these unsanctioned rallies and rounded up several of the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.

In the 20 years between the Taliban’s two reigns, girls were allowed to go to school and women were able to seek employment in all sectors, though the country remained socially conservative.

In a deeply conservative and patriarchal Afghanistan, many women already wear the burqa in rural areas.

AFP

Taliban Supreme Leader Urges World To Recognise Government

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani speaks during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the Mujahideen, the 8th of Saur 1371 (28 April 1992) victory over the government of the communist regime, in Kabul on April 28, 2022. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

 

Afghanistan’s supreme leader called again Friday for the international community to recognise the Taliban government, saying the world had become a “small village” and proper diplomatic relations would help solve the country’s problems.

No nation has formally recognised the regime installed by the Taliban after they seized power in August and reintroduced the hardline Islamist rule that is increasingly excluding women from public life.

In a written message ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada did not mention international sticking points — including reopening secondary schools for girls.

Instead, he said recognition should come first “so that we may address our problems formally and within diplomatic norms and principles”.

“Undoubtedly, the world has transformed into a small village,” said Akhundzada, who has not been seen in public for years and lives reclusively in Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual heartland.

“Afghanistan has its role in world peace and stability. According to this need, the world should recognise the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

His Eid message comes as the country has been rocked by a series of bomb blasts — some claimed by the jihadist Islamic State group and targeting the minority Shiite Hazara community.

Akhundzada made no mention of insecurity, but said the country had been able to build “a strong Islamic and national army”, as well as “a strong intelligence organisation”.

Link aid to rights

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani (C) prays during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the Mujahideen, the 8th of Saur 1371 (28 April 1992) victory over the government of communist regime, in Kabul on April 28, 2022.
Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

 

Many in the international community want humanitarian aid and recognition to be linked to the restoration of women’s rights.

Tens of thousands of women lost their government jobs after the Taliban takeover, and they have also been barred from leaving the country — or even travelling between cities — unless accompanied by a male relative.

In March, the Taliban prompted global outrage by shutting all secondary schools for girls just hours after allowing them to reopen for the first time since they seized power.

Several Taliban officials said the ban was personally ordered by Akhundzada.

Akhundzada’s Eid message didn’t touch on girls’ schools, but he did say authorities were opening new centres and madrassas for both “religious and modern education”.

“We respect and are committed to all the sharia rights of men and women in Afghanistan… do not use this humanitarian and emotional issue as a tool for political ends,” he said.

But he said people should willingly embrace the Taliban ideals, and not be forced.

“The relevant authorities should invite people towards sharia with wisdom and avoid extremism in this regard,” he added.

He said also the government was committed to freedom of speech according to “Islamic values”, although hundreds of news outlets have closed, public broadcasts of music banned, and movies and TV dramas featuring women taken off air.

Akhundzada, believed to be in his 70s, has been the spiritual leader of the hardline Islamist movement since 2016 but has remained in the shadows despite the Taliban enjoying largely uncontested power.

His absence from public life has fed speculation he may be dead and his edicts the product of a committee.

Still, in October the Taliban released an audio recording they said was him addressing a madrassa in Kandahar.

AFP

Mosque Blast Kills 33 In Afghanistan

Taliban fighters and medical staff stand outside the gate of a hospital as they prepare to attend to the casualties after an explosion at Imam Sahib district in Kunduz province on April 22, 2022. AFP

 

A blast ripped through a mosque during Friday prayers in northern Afghanistan, killing 33 people and wounding 43 more, a Taliban spokesman said, just a day after the Islamic State group claimed two separate deadly attacks.

Since Taliban fighters seized control of Afghanistan last year after ousting the US-backed government, the number of bombings has fallen but the jihadist and Sunni IS has continued with attacks against targets they see as heretical.

A string of bombings rocked the country this week, with deadly attacks targeting a school and a mosque in Shiite neighbourhoods.

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Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that children were among the 33 dead in the blast on Friday at a mosque in the northern province of Kunduz.

“We condemn this crime… and express our deepest sympathies to the bereaved,” he said, adding 43 more were wounded.

Images posted to social media — which could not be immediately verified — showed holes blown through the walls of the Mawlavi Sikandar mosque, popular with Sufis in the Imam Sahib district, north of Kunduz city.

Jihadist groups such as IS bear a deep hatred for Sufis who they view as heretics and accuse them of polytheism — the greatest sin in Islam — for seeking the intercession of dead saints.

“The sight at the mosque was horrifying. All those who were worshipping inside the mosque were either injured or killed,” Mohammad Esah, a shopkeeper who helped ferry victims to the district hospital, told AFP.

“I saw 20 to 30 bodies,” another local resident said.

Relatives of victims were arriving at hospital to look for their loved ones.

“My son is martyred,” screamed a man, while a woman accompanied by her four children searched for her husband.

A nurse told AFP over the phone that between 30 to 40 people had been admitted for treatment of wounds from the blast.

Kunduz police said they were investigating the type of explosion.

Multiple Bomb Blasts

Friday’s blast was one of the biggest attacks since the Taliban seized power in August last year.

In October, a suicide attack at a Shiite mosque, also in Kunduz, killed at least 55 people and wounded scores — an attack also claimed by IS.

The regional IS branch has repeatedly targeted Shiites and minorities like Sufis in Afghanistan.

IS is a Sunni Islamist group like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals.

The biggest ideological difference between the two is that the Taliban sought only an Afghanistan free of foreign forces, whereas IS wants an Islamic caliphate stretching from Turkey to Pakistan and beyond.

Friday’s blast comes a day after IS claimed a bomb attack at a Shiite mosque in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif that killed at least 12 worshippers and left 58 people injured.

They also claimed a separate attack in Kunduz city on Thursday, which killed four people and wounded 18.

No group has yet to claim twin blasts on a boys’ school in a Shiite neighbourhood of Kabul on Tuesday, which killed six and wounded more than 25.

Shiite Afghans, who are mostly from the Hazara community, make up between 10 and 20 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million.

Sufis, also a minority in Sunni majority Afghanistan, have faced several attacks in the past. In November 2018, a suicide attack at a wedding in Kabul killed dozens, most of them Sufis.

Earlier on Friday, the Taliban authorities said they had arrested the IS “mastermind” of Thursday’s bombing at the mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Taliban officials insist their forces have defeated IS, but analysts say the jihadist group is a key security challenge.

Seven Afghan Men Flogged On Taliban-Run Supreme Court Order

Taliban fighters in armoured vehicles take part in a military street parade in Herat on April 19, 2022. Mohsen Karimi / AFP

 

Taliban authorities flogged seven men Wednesday for crimes including selling and consuming alcohol, an official said — the first such sentence to be handed out by Afghanistan’s courts since the hardline Islamists seized power.

The lashings were a grim reminder of the harsh punishments the Taliban delivered during their first regime between 1996 and 2001.

The seven accused had confessed to their crimes and were sentenced to 35 lashes each, the Supreme Court said in a statement.

“The punishment was carried out today” in the capital, Supreme Court official Abdul Basir Mashal told AFP.

“It is the first time that a court has issued such an order according to the sharia law since the Islamic Emirate was formed in Afghanistan,” he said.

Taliban fighters have reportedly carried out floggings without court orders since taking power, according to social media posts that could not be independently verified.

The seven men had been charged in separate cases for offences such as selling and consuming alcohol, as well as stealing cars, the court statement said.

Five were also sentenced to six months in jail.

During their first stint in power, the Taliban earned notoriety for their strict interpretation of sharia law that punished even petty crimes with public floggings and executions.

The rulings at that time were particularly harsh for women, with those who broke the rules suffering humiliation and public beatings by the regime’s feared religious police.

The Taliban had also carried out public executions, chopped off the hands and feet of thieves, and stoned women accused of adultery.

When they seized power last year they promised a softer version of their previous rule, but insisted it would still be guided by sharia law.

Over the past eight months, the Taliban have cracked down on several freedoms women enjoyed for 20 years under the previous Western-backed government.

Women have been effectively shut out of most government jobs, and ordered to dress according to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of the Koran.

They have also been ordered to stop boarding flights unless escorted by a “mahram”, or adult male relative, and are banned from solo inter-city travel.

AFP

Taliban Ban Afghan Women Flying Alone 

In this file photo taken on January 16, 2022, Afghan women chant slogans and hold banners during a women’s rights protest march in Kabul.  Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

 

The Taliban have ordered airlines in Afghanistan to stop women from flying unless accompanied by a male relative, in the latest crackdown on basic human rights by the country’s new rulers since seizing power.

The hardline Islamists have imposed sweeping restrictions on freedoms, mostly targeting Afghan girls and women, and on Sunday also ordered local television channels to stop broadcasting BBC news bulletins.

Over the weekend, they also decreed that men and women could not visit parks in the capital on the same days.

After returning to power in August the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first stint in power, from 1996 to 2001, but restrictions have crept back — often implemented regionally at the whim of local officials.

Women are increasingly being shut out of public life — barred from high schools and most government jobs, and ordered to dress according to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of the Koran.

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In their latest crackdown, the Taliban ordered Afghanistan’s Ariana Afghan Airlines and Kam Air to stop women from boarding flights unless they were escorted by a “mahram”, or adult male relative.

The decision was taken after a meeting on Thursday between representatives of the Taliban, the two airlines, and Kabul airport immigration authorities, aviation officials told AFP.

“No women are allowed to fly on any domestic or international flights without a male relative,” said a letter by a senior Ariana official to his staff, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s religious enforcers, the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, denied ordering the flight ban, but two travel agents told AFP they had stopped issuing tickets to solo women travellers.

‘God’s Order’ 

The edict was not expected to affect foreigners, although aviation officials reported that an Afghan woman with a US passport was prevented from flying last week.

“Some women who were travelling without a male relative were not allowed to board a Kam Air flight from Kabul to Islamabad on Friday,” a passenger on the flight told AFP.

The Taliban have already banned inter-city road trips for women travelling alone.

The flight ban came as the vice ministry ordered that men and women should not visit parks in Kabul on the same days.

Women are now permitted to visit parks only on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, while the remaining days are reserved for men, a ministry notification said.

“It is not the Islamic Emirate’s order but our God’s order that men and women who are strangers to each other should not gather at one place,” Mohammad Yahya Aref, an official at the vice ministry, told AFP.

The new restriction on women follows Wednesday’s shutdown of all girls’ secondary schools just hours after they were allowed to reopen for the first time since August.

Tens of thousands of girls had flocked back to class, but officials ordered them home just hours into the day, triggering international outrage.

Taliban sources said that the decision was taken after a closed-door meeting of the movement’s leaders last week in Kandahar, the de facto power centre of the group.

 ‘Screws Tightening’ 

Several Afghan women activists have warned of nationwide protests if the schools were not open within a week.

Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch associate director for women’s rights, said the latest restrictions were “scary”.

“We see the screws tightening on women and girls every day now,” she said.

“They have abandoned — at least for now — any effort to reach an accommodation with the international community, and that leaves them with nothing to lose.”

The Taliban appear to have also set their sights on local media networks, which flourished under the previous US-backed regimes.

On Monday, Taliban intelligence agents raided four radio stations in Kandahar and detained six journalists, sources said.

The raids come a day after the authorities ordered the BBC’s television partners in Afghanistan to stop broadcasting its news bulletins.

“Since the foreign TV channels are broadcast from abroad, the Islamic Emirate has no access to control their contents, especially when it comes to journalists’ uniforms and dresses,” government spokesman Inamullah Samangani told AFP.

The Taliban have already ordered women journalists working in Afghan television networks to wear hijabs, and stopped channels from broadcasting foreign dramas.

AFP