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Gandhara Briefing: Afghans Brace For Brutal Winter, Chinese Influence In Pakistan, Malnourished Afghan Children

Internally displaced Afghan children warm up around a fire outside their temporary mud house on the outskirts of Herat on December 6.
Internally displaced Afghan children warm up around a fire outside their temporary mud house on the outskirts of Herat on December 6.

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

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This week's Gandhara Briefing brings you our reporting on Afghans preparing for another brutal winter under Taliban rule, rising malnutrition among Afghan children, and Pakistan ranking first in a new index measuring Chinese influence.

Second Winter Under The Taliban

RFE/RL's Radio Azadi and I report about Afghans bracing for another brutal winter under Taliban rule. With hunger rising and food and energy prices surging, aid groups warn that many Afghans face a choice between buying firewood to warm themselves or food to feed themselves.

A growing number of Afghans have been forced to sell their possessions to survive through the winter in the mountainous country where temperatures can plunge below -25 degrees Celsius.

"I sold our carpets and kitchen utensils to buy food and fuel for the winter," said Mahmood, a father of five who lives in Parwan.

Afghanistan is already one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. Aid groups warn that the situation is set to further deteriorate this winter. The UN estimates that more than 28 million Afghans, or two-thirds of the country's population of 39 million, now require humanitarian assistance. That is a 16 percent increase from last year.

"Severity levels remain at unprecedented levels, with 6 million people [in Afghanistan] a step away from famine," said Tapiwa Gomo, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Growing Chinese Footprint In Pakistan

Reid Standish writes about Pakistan ranking first in a new database measuring Beijing's influence around the world.

The China Index, launched by Taiwan-based research organization Doublethink Labs, says Pakistan's links to and dependency on Beijing in terms of foreign and domestic policy, technology, and the economy makes it particularly susceptible to Chinese influence.

"One can only hope that this will encourage Pakistanis to debate the pros and cons of the relationship and what it could mean for the future," said Shahzeb Jillani, a veteran journalist who helped compile research on Pakistan used for the database.

The South Asian country is home to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a centerpiece of Beijing's globe-spanning Belt and Road Initiative in which Chinese entities have funded and built hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of infrastructure projects in the last decade.

But many projects under the CPEC have run into problems or been scrapped due to financial and political concerns.

Starving Afghan Children

Radio Azadi reports on the sharp rise in malnutrition among Afghan children. In this video, the service visits a hospital in Kandahar, where around 240 undernourished children were admitted in November alone.

They are among the 875,000 Afghan children the United Nations deems to be at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

"It is because of hunger. No one can guess this child is 10 months old," said Zarmeena, whose daughter is being treated at Mirwais Hospital.

Mohammad Sediq, who administers the hospital, says mounting poverty brings hundreds of starving children to the hospital each month.

"Many people are jobless," he said. "When there are no jobs, there is no income."

Taliban Ban Hits Businesses

Radio Azadi reports on the financial impact of the Taliban banning women from entering public parks and funfairs.

"We have lost more than 80 percent of our customers," said Habibullah Zazi, the owner of a large private amusement park in Kabul.

Zazi said over 100 people working in restaurants or food stalls inside his park have lost their jobs.

Restaurants around Qargha Lake, a popular picnic spot in western Kabul, are also feeling the impact of the ban. "I could not pay the staff, rent, and electricity bills," said the owner of one restaurant, which closed last month.

That's all from me this week.

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.

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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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