Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Taliban's hostile relations with Tajikistan
I write about the already tense relations between the Afghan Taliban and neighboring Tajikistan worsening in recent weeks.
In the latest incidents, the Taliban closed the border with Tajikistan and seized dozens of Tajik trucks that transported goods to Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban seized power, Dushanbe has repeatedly highlighted the militant threat emanating from Afghanistan, where Tajik militants are allied with the Taliban and the rival Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) extremist group. Meanwhile, Dushanbe has been accused of hosting leaders of the National Resistance Front, an armed anti-Taliban group in Afghanistan.
Tajikistan has held military drills and called on the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization to respond to what it sees as rising threats from Afghanistan. The Taliban, meanwhile, has stationed additional fighters, including a battalion of suicide bombers, on the border with Tajikistan.
"Under the Taliban's current rule over Afghanistan, Tajikistan is arguably the most vulnerable of the Central Asian neighbors," Hameed Hakimi, an Afghanistan expert at the Atlantic Council, told me.
He said Russia, an ally of Tajikistan, was trying to reconcile the two sides. "The Taliban cannot afford the costs of any cross-border clashes that force Moscow's intervention in support of Tajikistan," he said.
Alleged Taliban war crimes in Panjshir
Radio Azadi reports on allegations that the Taliban is committing war crimes in Panjshir Province, the scene of fighting between the militants and resistance forces.
Residents told Radio Azadi that Taliban fighters had killed, tortured, and beaten civilians in the mountainous region, a traditional hotbed of anti-Taliban resistance.
"There are dead bodies in every corner," said Mullah Mahad, a resident of Panjshir's Abdullah Khel Valley. "But they [locals] don't have the right to bury their dead."
Another resident of the valley claimed that Taliban fighters threw a man off a cliff because he had been photographed alongside a poster of Ahmad Shah Masud, the former mujahedin commander who fought the Taliban in the 1990s. The resident added that the Taliban cut the ears off the man's 16-year-old companion.
IS-K attacks alarm Afghan Sufis
Radio Azadi reports on the fears of Afghanistan's Sufi community, which was the target of two recent deadly attacks claimed by IS-K militants.
Sufis, who follow a mystical and moderate form of Islam, said the unprecedented attacks have forced them to stop congregating at their shrines and monasteries.
"What happened that day constantly flashes before my eyes," said Mansur Sikandari, who was singing Islamic hymns inside the Khalifa Sahib monastery in Kabul when a powerful blast ripped through the building and killed up to 50 worshippers last month. "Nothing like this had happened before under any government."
Afghan women pay dearly for forced Taliban veils
Radio Azadi reports on how the Taliban's burqa decree has increased domestic abuse in Afghanistan.
The Taliban decree, the latest restriction against women, orders women to cover their faces in public by wearing an all-encompassing burqa or niqab. If a woman violates the new order, the Taliban says it will punish her male relatives.
"Since the Taliban has imposed this ban, men in my family are mistreating us," said a housewife in Kabul. "They tell us that if we leave the house, we will create a headache for them."
"Now, we frequently face violent and aggressive behavior by [male] family members," another woman in Kabul said.
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