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The Azadi Briefing: Taliban Increasingly Turning To Harsh Islamic Punishments

In November, Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada ordered the return to qisas and hudood punishments, which essentially allow "eye-for-an-eye" retribution and corporal punishments. Since then, hundreds across the country have been publicly flogged, stoned, or had body parts amputated. (file photo)

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 with 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 carried out another execution as it continues to implement strict Islamic punishments the group sees as central to its drive to enforce Shari'a law.

Under the concept of qisas, or retributive justice, a man was publicly killed in the eastern province of Laghman on June 20 for allegedly killing five members of a single family.

The killing of the man -- identified only as Ajmal, a resident of Guldara, near Kabul -- was the second retributive execution carried out by the Taliban in the past seven months. The group has sought to recreate its infamously brutal emirate of the 1990s, when such punishments turned its government into an international pariah.

In November, Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada ordered the return to qisas and hudood punishments, which essentially allow "eye-for-an-eye" retribution and corporal punishments for offenses considered to be in violation of the boundaries set by God. Since then, hundreds across the country have been publicly flogged, stoned, or had body parts amputated for crimes such as theft and adultery.

These punishments, however, have met strong criticism and skepticism from both human rights watchdogs and Afghans. Islamic scholars have questioned whether the Taliban has met the stringent conditions required by Islamic law in implementing such harsh punishments.

Why It's Important: The Taliban has defied international criticism in implementing capital and corporal punishments, which its leaders see as a key benchmark of their commitment to impose Islamic Shari'a law.

But in the absence of an overall governance framework capable of addressing the economic, social, and political challenges and grievances of Afghans, such punishments alienate the Taliban from the people it rules and the international community alike.

The Taliban's failure to establish a professional judiciary makes selling the implementation of qisas and hudood punishments as a symbol of justice difficult. The Taliban's courts are comprised of Taliban members or pro-Taliban clerics, most of whom are not formally trained for the roles.

Meanwhile, international human rights watchdogs, the United Nations, and the wider international community have opposed the use of capital and corporal punishments by the Taliban. Some campaigners advocate for international sanctions to remain in place as long as the Taliban metes out these punishments.

What's Next: The Taliban is unlikely to give up on Islamic punishments. But the rapid rise of executions, stonings, amputations, and other penalties will continue to overshadow the group's second stint in power.

For Afghans, these punishments underscore the Taliban's excesses and oppression. At the same time, the world will see them as symbols of the group's cruelty and misrule.

Given that the Taliban is unlikely to reform, some Afghans are bracing for mounting instances of capital and corporal punishments as the group fails to address the continuing economic and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan.

The Week's Best Stories

Afghanistan's Taliban rulers are trying to control thousands of rural classrooms. These are part of the Community Based Education program funded by Western donors through the UN and international NGOs. The Taliban's efforts have left the future of more than 500,000 Afghan children enrolled in these education centers hanging in the balance.

What To Keep An Eye On

In a briefing to the UN Security Council, the UN envoy to Afghanistan warned that the Taliban's restrictions on Afghan women and girls have made it "nearly impossible" for the international community to recognize the ruling group's government.

On June 21, Roza Otunbaeva, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told the UNSC that the restrictions against Afghan women "cost the Taliban both domestic and international legitimacy."

Since returning to power in 2021, the Taliban has banned women from education and employment, effectively denied them any public role in society, and imposed strict limitations on their mobility and appearance.

Why It's Important: The damming assessment will dampen the Taliban's hopes that its isolated hard-line government will soon be recognized. The group has gradually extended its control over Afghan diplomatic missions in neighboring countries as it continues to press for recognition.

Yet no country or international organization has recognized the Taliban government.

Otunbaeva's statement lays out that the Taliban's only path to international recognition starts with rescinding its harsh restrictions on Afghan women.

While the Taliban had promised more moderate policies in the years leading up to its return to power, its leaders have doubled down on the recreation of a totalitarian clerical regime since seizing power.

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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    Abubakar Siddique

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

Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.