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The Azadi Briefing: The Taliban’s War On Music


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

I’m Frud Bezhan, regional desk editor for Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Here’s what I’ve been tracking and what I’m keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The Taliban this week burned scores of musical instruments it claimed to have recently seized across Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice on July 19 released photos of the blaze. The ministry declared music is un-Islamic and promotes “immorality that has caused the youth to go astray and society to be destroyed.”

Widely condemned by Afghans on social media, the move is seen as part of the Taliban’s war on music.

The extremist group banned music soon after seizing power in 2021 and has burned instruments and beaten musicians. That has led hundreds of musicians to flee the country in fear of their lives.

Why It’s Important: The Taliban also banned music during its brutal regime in the 1990s.

At that time, many musicians fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran, where they could practice freely and pass their knowledge on to the next generation. Most musicians who remained in Afghanistan either played secretly in their homes or hid their instruments.

Now, a new generation of Afghan musicians have decided to escape their homeland.

“Music is ending in Afghanistan,” a musician, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “We [musicians] will go to Pakistan or anywhere else [where we are safe].”

Ahmad Sarmast, the self-exiled founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, told Radio Azadi that Afghanistan is the only country where music is prohibited.

“The people of Afghanistan have been deprived of all their musical rights, which includes access to music education, listening to music, participating in musical programs, making a living through music, and access to facilities for publishing, reproducing, and sharing music with society.”

What’s Next: Great strides were made in reviving Afghanistan’s musical traditions after the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban’s first regime in 2001.

Those gains have now been reversed, and more musicians and artists are likely to flee Afghanistan or abandon their musical careers if they remain in their homeland.

The Week’s Best Stories

Afghan women demonstrated in Kabul on June 19 to demand the Taliban back down from its decree ordering the closure of beauty salons. The women say the shutdown would leave their families with no income. Taliban officials say beauty salons are forbidden under Shari’a law and demanded they be closed by July 25.

The Taliban has suspended the activities of a major Swedish aid group operating in Afghanistan. Afghans fear the move will aggravate an already devastating humanitarian crisis that has pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

What To Keep An Eye On

The family of Afghan journalist Irfanullah Bidar said he has been missing since July 12.

A source close to the family who did not want to be named for fear of retribution told Radio Azadi that Bidar was detained by unknown gunmen outside a mosque in the eastern city of Jalalabad. The men put a bag over Bidar’s head before whisking him away in a car, the source said.

The source said Bidar, a reporter for Radio Safa, had no known enemies.

The disappearance of Bidar, a father of four, has been widely blamed on the Taliban’s notorious intelligence service. The militant group has not publicly commented on his disappearance.

Why It’s Important: Bidar is the latest journalist to be arrested or disappear in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has intensified its crackdown on independent reporters and media outlets.

In its annual report issued in May, the Afghanistan Journalist Center, a media watchdog, said cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, threats, and intimidation of journalists rose around 60 percent in the past year.

Since seizing power, the Taliban has waged a brutal crackdown on dissent that has targeted human rights defenders, women activists, intellectuals, and journalists.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org.

Until next time,

Frud Bezhan

If you enjoyed this briefing and don’t want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.


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