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Commander Kaftar, Taliban, COVID: Your Briefing From Afghanistan And Pakistan

Fighting in the northern province of Takhar has displaced some 2,500 families.
Fighting in the northern province of Takhar has displaced some 2,500 families.

Dear reader,

Welcome to Gandhara’s redesigned weekly newsletter aimed at bringing you exclusive coverage by our correspondents in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In this newsletter, sent every Friday, I will share the week’s best dispatches and provide the context you need to make sense of the political and social developments in the two countries. If you’re new to the newsletter or haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.

I’d like to kindly ask you to complete this short survey that will help us make this newsletter, and Gandhara, more useful for you.

Afghan victims raise their voices

As intra-Afghan peace talks with Taliban are stalled, my colleagues Frud Bezhan, Mujib Rahman Habibzai, and Nimatullah Ahmadi report from remote corners of Afghanistan to show that a peace deal won’t be sustainable without addressing past crimes -- a key driver of over 40 years of conflict. Afghan war victims say they want a voice in any peace deal with the Taliban.

This week we launched a video series asking Afghan women what they have at stake in the peace talks. In our first installment, the educator Atefa Tayeb seeks to draw a "red line" when it comes to education for girls and women, and says access to schooling should not be negotiable.

Fighting intensifies amid Taliban offensive

There were more Taliban attacks in the provinces of Takhar and Ghor. Officials couldn’t agree if the 12 casualties of an air strike on a mosque in northern Takhar Province were children or Taliban fighters, and Human Rights Watch condemned what it said were efforts to silence news of the controversial attack.

More than a dozen people were killed and 100 wounded after a car bomb detonated outside a police headquarters in Ghor. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad warned that rising violence could threaten the peace process.

Fifteen other Afghans, mostly women, were killed in a stampede in the eastern city of Jalalabad as they sought visas for Pakistan.

Afghan female warlord joins the Taliban

This week, Gandhara broke the story of a famed female warlord joining the ranks of the Taliban. Commander Kaftar or The Dove, nom de guerre for the 70-year-old Bibi Ayesha Habibi, surrendered to the Taliban late last week after a long career fighting the Soviet occupation, the Taliban regime, and its insurgency.

Tracking land disputes in Pakistan

Radio Mashaal journalist Pamir Sahill and I unpacked land ownership disputes in seven districts of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which were merged into the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018. “Even sectarian conflicts have land disputes at their heart,” a lawmaker told us.

The COVID gap

In a video report, Radio Mashaal showcases the marked contrast in how Pakistan's private and state schools are implementing government measures to fight the coronavirus. Our colleagues found state schools in rural regions to be woefully unprotected.

Political intrigue in Pakistan

The opposition’s antigovernment drive has reached a fever pitch. In a twist, more than a dozen top police officials in Sindh Province applied for leave following the controversy over the arrest of the son-in-law of exiled ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. With more protests planned, Pakistan heads into a political crisis revolving around civilian opposition to the military’s political interference.

Up close with Pakistani Hindus

Finally, I want to share with you this photo gallery about Pakistan’s Hindu minority in the country’s southern Sindh Province. “Life is hard here, but we are happy to stay because this is the land of our forefathers,” one shop owner told my colleagues Daud Khattak and Zaland Yousafzai.

I hope you enjoyed this weekly newsletter, and I encourage you to share it with colleagues who might find it useful. Again, if you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.

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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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