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Gandhara Briefing: Afghan Women, Forced Disappearances, IS-K

Afghan women pass by a Taliban fighter on a street in Kabul.
Afghan women pass by a Taliban fighter on a street in Kabul.

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.

Afghan women continue to push back

To mark International Women’s Day this week, RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi provided in-depth reporting about how the Taliban takeover has impacted Afghan women.

An Afghan actress, a businesswoman, and a female sports coach lamented how they have lost their rights and freedom under the militant group.

“Previously, I used to train about 200 girls in volleyball, handball, and cycling,” Maryam, a former sports coach, told Freshta Negah. “Now, not even one of them is practicing.”

Yesmeen Yarmal, an actress, said her country's once vibrant arts community has vanished. “Those artists who have remained are struggling with many problems,” she said.

Women have lost their economic gains, too. Afghan businesswoman Sahar Amani was forced to close her clothing store in Badakhshan, depriving 10 women employees of their livelihoods. “We lost our investments, and we lost our motivation,” she said. “Even if we start from zero again, we can’t be sure about our future.”

(Watch our interview with Shahrazad Akbar, head of the former Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, who said she was “very concerned” about the plight of Afghan women.)

The few women who are allowed to work under the Taliban complain of draconian restrictions.

Sanga Lemar, a university lecturer in Kabul, says the Taliban has enforced gender segregation on public transport, making her daily commute unbearable. "Women are banned from sitting in the front seats, which forces us to wait an hour more to find an appropriate car or bus,” she said.

Women who do work are often employed in low-paid, menial jobs. Razima, a widow in Kandahar, provides for her 14-member family by cooking at a communal kitchen for $3 a day. “We all are struggling against monumental odds,” she said. “All the women working here are widows, or their husbands are disabled or drug addicts.”

In this video report, female activist Fareshta Mohid recounts why she fled Taliban-ruled Afghanistan last month. “When you have something, you don’t know its value,” she said. “When I was crossing the border, I looked at the Taliban border guard and told myself that he is also the son of this soil. It was a difficult moment for me.”

(Listen to Radio Azadi’s Twitter space discussion about the status of women in Dari and Pashto.)

Afghan-Canadian comedian freed from Taliban detention

I write about the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of an Afghan-Canadian comedian and aid worker. Nadima Noor is one of the latest victims of forced disappearances in Afghanistan. She spent nearly a month in Taliban detention without charges or access to a lawyer.

“She was forcefully picked up without any proof of wrongdoing and without any reason,” her brother Dastaan Noor told us. “She was very emotional and very upset about why she was held without any reason.”

Noor is not alone. Dozens of activists and academics, primarily women, have been arbitrarily detained by the Taliban in recent months.

“You just disappear and reappear or not reappear, which is very alarming and very frightening, and it feels like the Taliban are using it intentionally,” Heather Barr, an associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, told me. "It just demonstrates how little rule of law there is in Afghanistan these days."

Pakistan’s growing IS problem

I report on how Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) militants now appear to have turned their guns on Pakistan after recent attacks killed and injured dozens in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.

Experts and officials said IS-K, which has attacked civilian targets, poses a greater threat than the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Sami Yousafzai, a veteran journalist and commentator, told me that IS-K’s mounting attacks inside Pakistan are a sign that the militants want to use violence to remain relevant.

“IS-K has no political agenda, which pushes it to rely on violence as its only instrument," he said.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based researcher who tracks IS-K, says the group's leaders and cadres appear to have fled persecution by the Afghan Taliban into Pakistan.

I hope you found this week’s newsletter useful, and I encourage you to forward it to your colleagues.

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Abubakar Siddique
Twitter: @sid_abu

P.S.: You can always reach us at

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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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