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Gandhara Briefing: Climate Change, Economic Collapse, Women’s Exclusion  

A Taliban fighters sits guard in the backdrop of a Russian plane transporting aid relief donated by Russia for the Afghan people, at Kabul Airport on November 18.
A Taliban fighters sits guard in the backdrop of a Russian plane transporting aid relief donated by Russia for the Afghan people, at Kabul Airport on November 18.

Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

If you’re new to the newsletter or haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.

Afghanistan’s climate catastrophe

Afghanistan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Wracked by war and poverty, it is also one of the least equipped to handle its impact.

“Various data shows that the country is facing food insecurity, water scarcity, drought, and flash floods,” said Ahmad Samim Hoshmand, a former member of Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency.

Farmers such as Qudratullah, who lives in Jowzjan Province, are bearing the brunt. The 58-year-old lost his farm due to a severe drought. “We had no other income. Our field became barren and the crops we had planted were destroyed. We had no water and nothing to eat,” he said.

Afghanistan’s economic collapse

In this video report, we take you to Ghor Province, where desperate residents are selling off their belongings to buy food amid a worsening economic crisis.

“My husband’s family is very poor,” says newlywed Homaira, whose husband went to Iran in search of work. “They sold everything I had brought, including my necklace, furniture, dishes, pots, pressure cooker, and kettle.”

Deborah Lyons, the UN's special envoy for Afghanistan, warned the UN Security Council that with 60 percent of Afghanistan's 38 million people now facing hunger, the country is poised for a potential "humanitarian catastrophe."

In a letter to U.S. lawmakers, Taliban acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi again called on Washington to release the around $9 billion in Afghan assets held in the United States.

Meanwhile, the national currency, the afghani, fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar this week. This prompted a sharp rise in food and fuel prices, a blow for many Afghans who are already battling mass unemployment and a cash crisis.

As Afghanistan’s formal economy crashes, the illegal narcotics trade is taking off. According to a report released this week by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, illicit opium production in Afghanistan increased 8 percent this year compared to 2020.

(Watch our video about farmers in Afghanistan who are planting a bumper poppy crop in anticipation of a possible Taliban ban)

Diplomats slammed for excluding women in Taliban talks

I write about Afghan women and international rights activists calling out foreign governments and organizations for sending male-only delegations to meet with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The move has provoked a backlash from campaigners who accuse foreign diplomats and agencies of hypocrisy.

“It is shocking that in 2021, after decades of work on why it is necessary for women to be full participants in all peace processes, countries, UN agencies, and aid groups would send men-only delegations to meet with the Taliban,” Heather Barr, a women rights campaigner at Human Rights Watch, told me. (Her hashtag #sausageparty catalogues men-only meetings between Taliban leaders and foreign diplomats).

Since seizing power, the Taliban has reimposed many of the repressive laws against women that were a hallmark of its brutal regime in the 1990s, including severely curtailing girls’ education and banning many women from working.

“Accommodating the Taliban's idea of woman-less political negotiations is grotesque and wrong,” Maryam Baryalay, the head of the Organization for Social Research Analysis, a research organization that was formerly based in Kabul, told me.

Preventing Talibanization in Uzbekistan

Bruce Pannier reports on Uzbekistan rounding up hundreds of suspected Islamist militants and their sympathizers in the wake of the Taliban's seizure of power in Afghanistan.

“The Uzbek government has reasons to be nice to the Taliban,” he writes, in reference to Tashkent’s willingness to do business with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

“But Tashkent does not want Taliban influence or inspiration inside its country. And the more concerned Uzbek officials are about such possibilities, the more frequent the detentions and possible imprisonment of members of ‘suspect’ Islamic groups.”

I hope you found this week’s newsletter useful, and I encourage you to forward it to your colleagues. Please note that next week, due to a local holiday, we will not be sending a newsletter.

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Abubakar Siddique
Twitter: @sid_abu

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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.

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