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Gandhara Briefing: Forced Afghan Marriages, Taliban Hudood Punishments, And Jobless Women Soldiers

An Afghan judge whips a woman in front of a crowd in Ghor Province in 2015.
An Afghan judge whips a woman in front of a crowd in Ghor Province in 2015.

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 provides insight into why fear of the Taliban is prompting some Afghan parents to marry off their daughters early; the questioning of Taliban corporal punishments; and the struggles of Afghan Army women.

Forced Afghan Matrimony

I write about why the forced and early marriages of teenage girls are rising across Afghanistan 15 months after the Taliban shut secondary schools for girls.

Human rights activists and teenage brides we spoke to say some parents believe that marrying off their daughters protects them from being sought by Taliban members for marriage. Some fighters and leaders of the group are even seeking their second or third wives.

"I didn't want to marry," Khatira, a 12-year-old seventh-grader in Ghor, told us. "But my father warned me that if I refused to marry, the Taliban would force him to marry me to one of their fighters."

Nicolette Waldman, a researcher for Amnesty International, said child, early, and forced marriages are a result of sweeping Taliban restrictions on Afghan women, depriving them of education, work, and any societal role.

"These policies form a system of repression that discriminates against women and girls in Afghanistan in almost every aspect of their lives," she told me.

(Watch a group of Afghan women and girls holding secret taekwondo sessions in Kabul.)

Taliban's Corporal Punishments Questioned

Radio Azadi reports on why Afghans are skeptical of the motives behind the Taliban's drive to impose Islamic Hudood punishments for what Islamic Shari'a law considers serious crimes because they encroach on the "boundaries of God."

Religious and legal experts are questioning whether the Taliban has the spiritual authority, legitimacy, and Afghanistan's best interests in mind in imposing harsh punishments such as flogging for drinking, the amputation of limbs for theft, and stoning to death for adultery.

"This is just a propaganda stunt because the Taliban lacks the capacity to implement complete justice outlined in Islam," said Salahuddin Saeedi, an Afghan religious scholar.

He argued that Hudood can only be implemented under strict conditions outlined by Islamic law.

"The Taliban government lacks the legitimacy to implement Hudood," he said.

Even the commentators sympathetic to the Taliban think that handing down Hudood punishments without securing domestic legitimacy and international recognition is not a good idea.

"It is not important to flog people," said Hatef Mukhtar, a political commentator. He added that the Taliban's first priority should be gaining international recognition and ending Afghanistan's current isolation.

(Watch the hefty price Afghan children are paying for living in a war zone where more than 100 people are maimed by unexploded ordnance every month.)

Afghan Women Soldiers

In a video report, we take you to meet some women members of the defunct Afghan National Army.

They are struggling to survive after the Taliban stopped paying their salaries following its seizure of power in August 2021.

"The children don't understand if I tell them there is no food today," said a former army major struggling to feed her four children.

"As soon as they realize that I have a military background, they turn me away," she said of her efforts to find work.

Afghanistan's Last Sikh

In a video report, we meet Charin Singh. The middle-aged shopkeeper in Jalalabad is believed to be the only Sikh remaining in Afghanistan.

"Some were taken by their relatives to Canada, some went to London, but most went to Delhi," he said of the last 300 Sikh families, who left the country after a militant attack killed more than 25 community members inside a Sikh temple.

"Everyone is afraid to return," he said of fellow Sikhs whose businesses and properties were appropriated by their Muslim neighbors.

Forbidden Lamb Testicles

Radio Azadi reports on why the Taliban authorities have banned lamb testicles in Herat restaurants. They consider the local delicacy un-Islamic.

"I'm surprised that the Taliban are focusing on small issues such as banning the sale of sheep testicles. It is a really small issue," a Herat resident said of the ban. "We have many bigger problems in Afghanistan, such as poverty and the closure of girls' schools."

Restaurants are losing a significant part of their business as they can no longer serve kalpura -- the local Kabab dish believed to improve virility in men.

"Every day, 20 to 50 customers used to eat 'sheep egg' kebabs for breakfast," said Khair Mohammad, a restaurant owner. "Now we reject all who come to buy 'sheep eggs,' and if we sell them, we will be punished."

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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