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Gandhara Briefing: Afghan Diplomats, Refugees In Indonesia, Taliban Commandos 

Taliban special forces fighters take position at the airport in Kabul. (file photo)
Taliban special forces fighters take position at the airport in Kabul. (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.

Afghan diplomats holding out

I write about Afghan diplomats appointed by the fallen Afghan government resisting the Taliban's attempts to take over their diplomatic missions.

Five months after the Taliban takeover, many of Afghanistan's 65 diplomatic missions remain in limbo with most staff still loyal to the previous Western-backed government.

"We represented the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We cannot just switch over to representing the Islamic Emirate," an exiled ambassador in Europe told me.

Even as they run out of funds, many embassies are still offering consular services for Afghans abroad and foreigners seeking to travel to Afghanistan.

Another ambassador told me that it was unclear how long they could hold out. "Our main problem is financial,” he said. “It will be difficult to operate the embassies in the long run.”

In recent weeks, the Taliban has ramped up its efforts to wrest control of Afghanistan’s foreign posts. The move comes as the Taliban seeks international recognition for its regime.

Taliban’s ban on music

Ron Synovitz writes about the outrage over a recent video showing the Taliban’s religious police humiliating local musicians and burning their instruments.

For many Afghan artists, the incident confirmed their worst fears. Despite claims of being more moderate than its previous regime, the Taliban is treating musicians with the same disdain it had shown them in the 1990s when it banned music as "un-Islamic."

“I could not look at the scene,” said Afghan singer Goodar Zazai. “Tears were rolling down my eyes as I watched it. I felt like it was my own body crumbling.”

Some observers have described the incident as an attack on Pashtun culture.

"This is tantamount to killing off our songs, our music, and our identity," said Afrasiab Khattak, a politician and Pashtun rights activist from neighboring Pakistan.

Afghans have spoken out about heavy-handed Taliban policing and their lack of respect for Afghan culture.

This week, Taliban leaders in Uruzgan Province ordered male employees to stop trimming their beards and wear a turban at work.

Afghans languish in Indonesia

Radio Azadi reports on the plight of thousands of Afghans who have been stuck in Indonesia for years. The refugees are making a last-ditch plea on social media to change their situation.

Indonesia is not a signatory to any international conventions on the rights of refugees and has no asylum law of its own. The responsibility for determining who gets refugee protection and is allowed to resettle in third countries has fallen to the United Nations.

The result is that thousands of Afghan refugees are living in limbo in the archipelago, some for more than a decade, with no livelihood or security.

"Refugees in Indonesia are tired, many of them suffer from mental and physical illnesses," said Mohammad Juma Mohseni, a 37-year-old who has spent more than half of his life away from his family in exile.

Afghan passport woes

In a video report, we take you to Khost Province, where people are facing long waits to get new passports.

For migrant laborers who work abroad in Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, the delay is hurting them financially.

“There are no opportunities to work in our country. We must go abroad,” said Shakirullah.

Authorities in Khost can only process 80 applications per day. But that has not prevented hundreds of people queuing up outside the passport office daily.

(Listen to an Afghan street vendor describe his struggle to feed his large family amid the worsening economic crisis in the country.)

Taliban building an army

In another video from Khost, we look at how the Taliban is working on turning their insurgent forces into a modern, standing army equipped with U.S.-made military gear that was seized during their takeover of Afghanistan.

About 150 Taliban fighters recently graduated from commando training in Khost. Apart from advanced aircraft, the Taliban has shown it can operate and maintain a lot of its new military hardware.

A new Taliban army could eventually pose a challenge to Afghanistan's neighbors, observers say.

"They could establish a conventional-looking army in relatively short order,” said Jonathan Schroden, a security expert with the U.S.-based Center for Naval Analyses. But whether the guerilla force will fight like a modern army remains in question. "That's the biggest transformation they’ll have to make,” he noted.

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

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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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