January 3, 2024 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1737

Afghan Taliban Leaders Silent After Reports Of Secret Visit To North Korea By Official Taliban Delegation Seeking Nuclear Weapons

January 3, 2024 | By Tufail Ahmad*
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1737

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA, i.e., the Afghan Taliban) is caught in an international controversy after it has come to light that an eight-member official Taliban delegation secretly visited North Korea to discuss cooperation on nuclear weapons technology.

Unnoticed by the world, Afghanistan has a long-standing nuclear energy program that was taken over by the Taliban mujahideen when they took control of Afghanistan in August 2021.[1] Afghanistan is a founding member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was founded in 1957, and a nuclear laboratory was later established at the Kabul University.[2]

"I have reports indicating that a group of the Taliban is looking into how to access tactical nuclear weapons. Whether they can get them from Pakistan or pay engineers to get them. That is going to be a disaster," Rahmatullah Nabil, the former chief of the Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said at the Herat Security Dialogue, the annual conference on the situation in Afghanistan that was held on November 27-28, 2023, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.[3]

The Taliban have taken over Afghanistan's nuclear energy program.

Since Nabil belongs to the camp of the Taliban's political opponents, his comments were not taken seriously by many. However, on December 26, 2023, Sami Yousafzai, a senior Afghan journalist known for authoritative reports on Afghanistan and Pakistan, tweeted that the Taliban rulers are attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, and several Western intelligence agencies, alerted by Nabil's comment, have launched investigations into the Taliban's connections to North Korea.[4]

It is important that in his tweet, Yousafzai identified that Maulvi Abdul Rasheed Munib, the security chief of Kandahar and head of foreign relations for the Afghan Taliban intelligence, was on the eight-member delegation, which included six leaders from the Taliban's Ministry of Defense, on the secret visit to Pyongyang.[5]

The Taliban officials are known for making extensive use of social media networks such as Twitter and YouTube. However, since the allegations about the secret visit by the official Taliban delegation, all Taliban officials have maintained total silence, not denying the reports. A pro-Afghan Taliban account on Twitter even taunted the international community: "We are recognized by North Korea. We do not care about others."[6]

Sometime in February or March of 2023, the nuclear issue in Afghanistan attracted news headlines after the assassination of the head of the Bamyan Nuclear Energy Department, while one employee was injured.[7] At the time it was dismissed as part of a rivalry among Taliban officials, but due to a gag order from the Taliban governor of Bamyan province, all civil and military employees were barred from disclosing the incident to anyone, especially to media, and the name of the assassinated official was also not revealed.[8]

Afghanistan is surrounded by four states, all of whom are friendly with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, that have nuclear weapons: Iran, Russia, Pakistan, and China. The region is known for nuclear proliferation involving Pakistan, with Pakistan's rogue nuclear scientist Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan admitting in February 2004 that he shared Pakistan's nuclear technology with Iran, Libya, and North Korea for more than a decade.[9]

A screenshot of Sami Yousafzai's tweet naming one member of the delegation

In September 2021, just weeks after seizing power in Kabul, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA, i.e., the Afghan Taliban) appointed Engineer Najibullah as the chief of the Atomic Energy Agency, according to a Russian media report,[10] prompting a journalist covering Afghanistan to tweet: "Mullahs [clerics] are so keen on having nuclear weapons..."[11]

Now that Sami Yousafzai has named at least one member of the Taliban delegation, the Taliban officials' silence on the issue remains suspect. Sooner or later, the names of other delegation members will be revealed along with the fact that such a delegation must have gone via China, which has maintained long-standing ties with the Taliban since their fight against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

* Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative.


[1] (Afghanistan), accessed January 2, 2024.

[2] (Afghanistan), accessed January 2, 2024.

[3] (UK), November 30, 2023.

[4], December 26, 2023.

[5], December 26, 2023.

[6], December 26, 2023.

[9] (U.S.), February 4, 2004.

[10] (Russia), September 21, 2023.

[11], September 21, 2023.

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