The Azadi Briefing: Is The Taliban Creating A Surveillance State In Afghanistan?


There are fears that the Taliban is planning to use a network of security cameras to stifle dissent and enforce its repressive policies in Afghanistan?

September 01, 2023

There are fears that the Taliban is planning to use a network of security cameras to stifle dissent and enforce its repressive policies in Afghanistan?

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 said it has installed around 62,000 security cameras in the Afghan capital, Kabul, a city of some 5 million people.

The Taliban’s Interior Ministry said on August 30 that it planned to expand the surveillance network to the rest of the country in the next four years.

The ministry did not reveal how it obtained the cameras or if it has received assistance in installing and operating them.

Bloomberg reported that the Taliban is working with Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies to set up the security camera system. Representatives of Huawei and the Taliban met earlier this month in Kabul, Bloomberg reported. Huawei has denied that it is involved.

Why It’s Important: The Taliban has said the surveillance system will help it improve security and combat crime.

Crime is rampant as the country grapples with an economic crisis. The Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) extremist group has also carried out sporadic attacks against the Taliban and religious minorities.

But observers fear the Taliban will also use its network of security cameras to stifle dissent and enforce its repressive policies, including restrictions on Afghans’ appearances, freedom of movement, right to work or study, and access to entertainment and uncensored information.

“Implementing such a vast architecture of mass surveillance under the guise of ‘national security’ sets a template for the Taliban to continue its draconian policies that violate fundamental rights of people in Afghanistan — especially women in public spaces,” said Matt Mahmoudi, Amnesty International’s Researcher and Advisor on Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights.

What’s Next: The Taliban’s move is likely to further anger Afghans, who have seen many of their basic rights eroded since the militant takeover in 2021.

The Taliban’s creation of a vast surveillance system suggests it will rely on heavy policing and repression to maintain its grip in Afghanistan.

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What To Keep An Eye On

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stopped funding 25 hospitals in Afghanistan on August 31.

Due to a lack of resources, the ICRC said it was handing over responsibility for the facilities — which provided services to around 9 million Afghans — to the Taliban’s Public Health Ministry.

Since the Taliban takeover, the ICRC has supported 33 hospitals across Afghanistan. In April, it handed over eight hospitals to the Taliban.

Why It’s Important: When the Taliban seized power, international donors cut off assistance to Afghanistan.

But aid groups funded by Western donors continued their operations in the fields of health, education, and food assistance. Their operations, however, have been hindered by dwindling donor funding as well as the Taliban’s alleged interference in foreign aid and the militants’ ban on Afghan women working for NGOs.

Declining international funding is likely to aggravate the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where millions are on the brink of starvation.

The cash-strapped Taliban government, which is unrecognized and under international sanctions, appears unable to fill the void.

“The backbone of the health sector will depend on an Afghan treasury still hobbled by sanctions, asset freezes, and the cut-off of development aid,” tweeted Graeme Smith, a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

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.