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Gandhara Briefing: Balochistan, Beijing Olympics, Tamana Paryani

A railway official puts out a fire after a bomb blast on a train at the Sibi railway station in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan. (file photo)
A railway official puts out a fire after a bomb blast on a train at the Sibi railway station in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan. (file photo)

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.

Old conflict rekindled in Balochistan

I delve into how the recent uptick in violence in Balochistan has revealed Pakistan's failure to craft a political solution to the 20-year separatist insurrection in the strategically important and resource-rich province.

The lack of a clear political track exposed Islamabad to interference by rival neighbors, who appear to be taking turns supporting shadowy separatist groups that have suffered from internal squabbling and leadership changes.

"The surge in violence is a continuation of politics by other means," said Mohammad Ali Talpur, a writer who fought during a previous Baluch nationalist insurgency in the 1970s.

Anwar Sajidi, editor of the daily Intikhab in Balochistan, argues that Islamabad's strategy of incorporating some of the region's political elites has backfired because of their inability to address the root causes of resentment in the province. "In its absence of a political settlement, violence will continue, and it will end when one side is defeated utterly," he predicted.

In another piece, I look at why Baluch separatists are losing their safe havens in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. They were once the most prominent foreign group seeking shelter in Afghanistan after thousands of militants and activists fled Balochistan amid a Pakistani military crackdown in 2006.

"The [Baluch] refugees I have talked to are in hiding and desperately looking for an escape," said Kiyya Baloch, an exiled journalist covering Balochistan. "Definitely, concerns about the safety of the Baluch are increasing."

Khan gains little from China's Olympics diplomacy

Reid Standish reports on how the autocratic Communist Party of China has used the Winter Olympics in Beijing to boost its global status, with Chinese President Xi Jinping leading a diplomatic flurry.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was one of the leaders who met with Xi, yet he appears to have achieved little to revive the stalled China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. "Khan left Beijing without any new agreements and instead used his visit to discuss his country's longstanding ties with China," Standish wrote.

Picking up the pieces in remote Afghan district

I recap Radio Azadi's reporting from Farah, where residents of the remote Bala Buluk district see little prospect of rebuilding their ruined houses and shattered livelihoods. These civilians are among the more than 3.5 million Afghans displaced by years of fighting between the forces of the fallen Afghan republic and the Taliban.

"The [former Afghan] government destroyed my house because they claimed the Taliban shot at their forces from it," said Mohammad Ismail, a farmer in the Bala Buluk village of Shamalgah.

Thousands in the region now have little hope of rebuilding their lives as Afghanistan reels from increasing poverty and hunger amid an economic collapse. "Rebuilding the house will cost up to 400,000 afghanis ($4,000)," Ismail said. "I am penniless and do not have that kind of money."

Female Afghan activists disappear following protests

In a video report, we take you to meet the relatives and supporters of Afghan women activists reportedly detained or forced into hiding after protesting the Taliban-led government's hard-line policies.

"The Taliban brought terror," said one women activist in Kabul after activist Tamana Paryani disappeared. "The Taliban say they have changed but, unfortunately, that is not true."

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.

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