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Gandhara Briefing: The Taliban's War With IS-K; A Pakistani Women-Only Park Closes; Afghans Deported From Tajikistan 

Taliban fighters stand guard outside a mosque during Eid al-Fitr prayers in Kabul. (file photo)

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 brings insight into the killing of top Pakistani Taliban commanders, the brain drain from Afghanistan, and why private schools are shutting down in the country.

Clerics Caught In The Crosshair

I report on how senior religious clerics supporting the Taliban and the rival Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) have recently become the primary targets in the widening conflict between the two militant groups.

IS-K militants have been accused of killing prominent pro-Taliban clerics, while the Taliban has been blamed for targeting religious figures with alleged links to IS-K.

"In the coming months, we might see more assassinations of religious figures, claimed by IS-K or unclaimed," Riccardo Valle, an Italian researcher tracking the group, told me.

Journalist Sami Yousafzai said the war between the two militant groups will not be easy to contain.

"Both sides have their sectarian vision, which they want to impose on the other," he said.

No Women Allowed

In a sign of creeping Taliban influence in neighboring Pakistan, authorities closed the only park reserved for women in Bannu this week following protests by Islamists.

Women in Bannu see the closure of the Jinnah Family Park as an effort by religious hard-liners to deny them their fundamental rights.

"This is an inhuman and unconstitutional act," Natasha Suman, a local activist and lawyer, told us.

"Whatever happens in Afghanistan directly impacts Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," said Ihtesham Afghan, a local political activist.

He argues that increasing restrictions on women are part of a Talibanization effort by Pakistani Islamists to copy the Taliban's harsh policies in Afghanistan, where women are mostly banned from public life.

Afghans Forced To Return From Tajikistan

RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports on Tajikistan forcibly deporting Afghan refugees despite calls by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to halt the expulsions and to protect Afghan nationals fleeing conflict and persecution.

During the past week, at least nine Afghan nationals have been deported by Dushanbe. It is unclear why they were expelled. But the move has instilled fear among the more than 8,000 Afghan migrants residing in Tajikistan.

"[The Tajik authorities] told us that they would take us to Dushanbe, but they took us directly to the border," said an Afghan woman claiming to have been deported.

Passports And Taliban Bribes

Radio Azadi reports on the complaints by Afghans of the hurdles they face in getting a passport from the Taliban government. Issuing identity documents is a significant revenue stream for the militants.

"We don't have any money and do not know any Taliban officials," said Shakila, who has been trying to get a passport for her family members since the Taliban takeover a year ago. "We have been knocking on the doors of the passport office every day."

A Kabul resident says he has been trying to get a passport for a sick relative so he can travel outside the country for treatment. But he has been waiting for more than one month.

"Only people who have $1,000 or $1,500 [to pay in bribes] can get passports," he said. "The rest of us just queue up with no luck."

Female Pakistani Student Drives For A Living

In this video report, Radio Mashaal interviews Alishah, an 18-year-old student from Karachi who supports her family by driving a rickshaw.

Her diabetic father taught her to drive before his death six months ago. Since then, she has taken on his role while continuing her studies.

"I have to pay [$75] in rent for our home," she said.

Alishah recalls what her late father often said: "My daughter is my son. She will drive the rickshaw and support the family."

That's all from me this week.

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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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