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Gandhara Briefing: Afghan Interpreters, Jani Khel, Brawling Politicians

Turkish soldiers take pictures of a vehicle at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul. (file photo)
Turkish soldiers take pictures of a vehicle at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul. (file photo)

Dear reader,

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.

The Afghans who helped U.S. forces

Mustafa Sarwar and Frud Bezhan report on the plight of tens of thousands of Afghans who now face possible Taliban reprisals for having helped the U.S. and allied Western militaries that the hard-line group accuses of occupying Afghanistan during the past two decades.

With some 18,000 Afghans still awaiting a decision on their U.S. Special Immigrant Visa applications, others are facing similar holdups with the countries they served.

Many are getting desperate. “The Taliban is growing stronger every day,” Abdul Karim, who has worked for U.S. forces for more than five years, told us. “That means our lives are becoming more perilous every day.” Wasel, another interpreter, said they risked their lives to help the now departing foreign forces. “It’s their turn to help us,” he said.

A Pashtun clan clamors for protection

Members of the Jani Khel Pashtun clan are refusing to bury their assassinated tribal leader and threaten to march on Islamabad if Pakistani authorities fail to rid their homeland of rival Taliban factions.

“We will dig up the graves of the four teenagers [whom we buried in March] along with the corpse of Malik Naseeb Khan and march toward Islamabad,” tribal leader Gul Alam said of their final desperate move years after the 60,000-strong community suffered deaths, destruction, and displacement.

“We will march toward Islamabad with these five corpses,” Alam said. “We will keep on marching even if they shoot us or arrest us all.” Their march might begin on June 20.

U.S. ‘still committed’ to Afghanistan

In some hopeful news for Afghanistan this week, two senior American diplomats indicated Washington’s continued robust support for Afghanistan even after the expected U.S. military withdrawal completes next month.

“The thrust of the U.S. policy in Afghanistan is to try to do all we can to improve the odds for the [Afghanistan’s] Islamic Republic,” U.S. Charge d'Affaires to Afghanistan Ross Wilson told us. “Our forces are leaving Afghanistan, but the United States is not leaving Afghanistan,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for the country.

Turkey’s maverick move

Ankara is eying a major security and diplomatic role in post-withdrawal Afghanistan as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for continued U.S. support to secure Kabul’s international airport after the withdrawal of other NATO troops.

There are signs that Erdogan’s offer will be accepted. During a major summit this week NATO leaders agreed to maintain funding for Kabul’s civilian airport while Jake Sullivan, U.S. national-security adviser, hailed Ankara’s promise.

The Taliban, however, staunchly opposes the proposal and is pushing for Turkey to withdraw its troops. Unlike next-door Syria, distant Afghanistan might prove a tougher challenge for bullish Erdogan.

Pakistan’s parliament brawl

Daud Khattak reports on Pakistanis’ response to witnessing their lawmakers hurl abuses, epithets, and heavy budget books at each other on the floor of the parliament this week.

The speaker banned seven government and opposition MPs from the building, but the move didn’t garner much praise. The nasty episode was declared yet another attempt to undermine Pakistan’s fledgling democracy.

"What happened on June 15 was something pre-planned,” Mohsin Dawar, an independent MP, told us. “Those people were involved who are imposed on us by the invisible forces," he added. At the very least, the skirmish will prevent the government and opposition from cooperating on anything in the near future.

Drones, privacy, and surveillance

Radio Mashaal reports on the increasing opposition to Pakistani military quadcopters in parts of South Waziristan, where locals view their use as a means of violating their privacy rather than an effective instrument in identifying Taliban insurgents.

"We take this an insult to capture pictures of our houses where our women live," said Osman Maseed, a tribal leader. "Even in this hot weather, people sleep inside their rooms due to the hovering of the military drone cameras over our houses," he said. Many people in the mountainous region sleep outside during cool summer nights.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, and I encourage you to forward it to colleagues who might find it useful.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here. Until next week, I encourage you to visit our website and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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 also writes 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, the Azadi Briefing, correspondent Abubakar Siddique shares his analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.

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