The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Using War With Islamic State To Burnish Counterterrorism Credentials 

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, a senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The Taliban has intensified its war with the rival Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) extremist group, killing several senior leaders and commanders in recent months.

Among them, according to the United States, was the alleged mastermind of a suicide bombing outside Kabul airport in 2021 that killed some 170 Afghans and 13 American soldiers.

The White House on April 26 announced that the alleged mastermind, whose identity has not been revealed, was killed in a recent Taliban operation. But it did not say when or where he was killed.

The Taliban has not commented on the reported death of the IS-K member.

Why It's Important: The Taliban has waged a brutal war to eliminate IS-K, the biggest threat to its rule in Afghanistan. The Taliban appears to have weakened the group, whose attacks have waned in recent months.

But the Taliban also appears to be trying to use its campaign against IS-K to burnish its counterterrorism credentials and boost its legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.

Under the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in 2020, the militants pledged to prevent any group from using Afghan soil to attack other countries.

The international community, particularly Afghanistan’s neighbors, considers IS-K a significant security threat because of the group’s global ambitions.

What's Next: Despite its efforts to eliminate IS-K, the Taliban is believed to be sheltering members of Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. That is likely to temper hopes that the Taliban can be a reliable counterterrorism partner.

On April 14, the foreign ministers of China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan said the Taliban has links with some extremist groups based in Afghanistan that “pose a serious threat to regional and global security.”

They include the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, the Baloch Liberation Army, Jundallah, Jaish al-Adl, Jamaat Ansarullah, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The Week's Best Stories

A growing number of teenage Afghan girls, who are banned from attending school, are turning to Taliban-run madrasahs to get an education. The Taliban has allowed girls of all ages to attend Islamic seminaries, which have surged in number since the hard-line Islamist group seized power in 2021.

Afghans are defying a ban on using Iranian rials or Pakistani rupees, as their economy struggles following the Taliban takeover. In Zaranj, Nimroz Province, the Iranian rial is the most common currency. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, Pakistani rupees are widely used.

What To Keep An Eye On

The United Nations will hold a closed-door meeting on May 1-2 that will bring together envoys to Afghanistan from various countries.

Ahead of the meeting in Doha, Amina Mohammed, the UN deputy secretary-general, sparked controversy after she said the participants would discuss the possible recognition of the Taliban.

Many Afghans vented their anger at Mohammed’s comments. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch called for “a firm line that only a reversal of the Taliban’s oppressive policies will open the door to further engagement.”

In an open letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Amnesty International and other rights groups demanded that the world body ensure that Afghan women’s “full, equal, and meaningful participation is central to the international community’s next steps.”

Why It's Important: The meeting will be crucial in crafting a united response to the Taliban’s repressive policies, including its ban on Afghan women working for the UN and foreign NGOs.

It remains unclear if the international community can pressure the Taliban to rescind its restrictions on Afghan women or whether the world body will decide to leave Afghanistan.

In a sign that the UN is likely to take a firm stand, the UN Security Council on April 27 unanimously condemned the Taliban’s ban on Afghan women working for the world body, calling it “unprecedented in the history of the United Nations.”

That's all from me this week.

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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