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Gandhara Briefing: Imran Khan, Beauty Parlors, Forced Confessions

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

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.

Khan’s Kremlin trip overshadowed by Ukraine

I write about how Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s long-planned trip to Russia was overshadowed by President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on the day Khan met with the autocratic leader.

Islamabad had hyped the visit as part of its effort to chart a new course in foreign policy by adding Moscow to its allies by cultivating security cooperation on Afghanistan and attracting Kremlin investment for a vital gas pipeline. Pakistan is already a close partner of China even as its economy and military benefit from Western largess.

"It remains an ill-timed visit, which is not necessarily going to get Pakistan into trouble. But the country will have less sympathy in the West," Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistan expert at the University of London, told me.

Marvin Weinbaum, the Afghanistan and Pakistan studies director at the Middle East Institute, argued that despite Pakistan's quest for new alliances, it will remain dependent on relations with the West.

“For all that China can do for Pakistan, the country cannot succeed economically and perhaps strategically without also retaining its close ties with the West,” he told me.

Forced confessions under the Taliban

Golnaz Esfandiari recapped Radio Azadi’s reporting about how the Taliban authorities are allegedly forcing women activists to confess on camera that their protests against the hard-line government were instigated by activists outside the country.

This new tactic, which is widely employed by authoritarian regimes against critics and dissidents, follows months of Taliban crackdown on women activists who have challenged the Islamists on the streets, online, and even in protests at their homes.

“If you pay attention to the video, the mental state of the protesting women [shows] that they’re under pressure,” Samira Hamidi, deputy regional director at Amnesty International, told us.

Afghan beauty parlors take a hit

I write about how Afghanistan's economic collapse after the Taliban takeover has destroyed the country’s once-thriving beauty salons.

Business owners in Kabul and Herat told us how Taliban persecution and the economic crisis are keeping patrons away.

"We women are terrified of the Taliban and worried about our future," Nida, a salon owner in Kabul, said. "Now, we often wait for just one customer to show up during an entire day," she added. Beauty parlors have lost more than 90 percent of their business since the Taliban seized Kabul in August.

Flogging for alleged adultery

We take you to Uruzgan, where the Taliban whipped a man for alleged adultery this week. The public punishment is part of a Taliban push to return to the draconian public penalties for alleged criminals that characterized its first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

"The accused was humiliated and I do not think he would be able to live a dignified life like anyone else in society after this," said Sultan Muhammad, an elderly resident of Uruzgan who witnessed the beating in the provincial capital.

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.

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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