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.
This week’s Gandhara Briefing brings you insights into the Taliban turning a blind eye to the opium trade; the militant group banning women from many university courses; and the return of the Pakistani Taliban to the Swat Valley.
Unenforced Taliban Drug Ban
I write about the Taliban turning a blind eye to poppy cultivation despite announcing a blanket ban on illicit narcotics.
Some farmers in southern Afghanistan, where most of the world’s illicit opium is produced, say they are planting their crops openly.
The Taliban has been unable to provide alternative livelihoods for the tens of thousands of farmers who are dependent on the drug trade for survival.
“I support the ban on poppy cultivation if we get some aid to enable us to buy food and medicines for our families,” Abdul Qayyum, a farmer in Kandahar’s Maiwand district, told us.
Naqibullah, a farmer in Uruzgan, said that a wheat crop could not even pay for the labor and investment in fertilizers it requires to grow. “If I don’t plant poppies, I will get nothing,” he said.
“An effective ban on drugs production in the midst of a failing economy is a recipe for disaster,” said David Mansfield, a researcher who tracks drugs and human smuggling in Afghanistan.
TTP Returns To Swat
Daud Khattak reports on the return of the Pakistani Taliban to the Swat Valley, where the militants shot and wounded Malala Yousafzai a decade ago.
In recent weeks, residents of Swat have staged protests to highlight Islamabad’s indifference to the return of the militants. Across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the militants have engaged in extortion and targeted assassinations.
“We don’t want insecurity here because we fear being displaced again,” said Ali Rahman, who was forced to give up his education and flee Swat during a major military offensive in 2009. “That would destroy our business and life.”
Lawyer Ali Sher says the residents of Swat are determined to protect their areas from the militants.
“If the government continues to remain indifferent, the people will block the Taliban from reentering our areas,” he said.
Afghan Women Banned From University Courses
RFE/RL's Radio Azadi reports on the Taliban banning women from applying for many university courses, including journalism, engineering, and economics.
The move came as tens of thousands of Afghan men and women took part in university entrance exams.
“I was heartbroken and disillusioned, so I walked away,” said Fatima, 20. She left the exam after learning that she could not study journalism.
Shamila, a high-school graduate in Kunduz, cannot pursue her dream of becoming a doctor because medicine is not offered in her province. The Taliban has barred women from applying for universities outside their home provinces.
“No one has been able to explain to us why we are deprived of studying our preferred subjects,” she said.
(Watch Radio Azadi’s report on Kabul’s female-only library, which has turned into an oasis for Afghan girls and women.)
Taliban Bans The Hookah
Radio Azadi reports on the Taliban banning hookah smoking, a move that has dealt a blow to cafes in Herat.
The Taliban considers hookah smoking un-Islamic. Cafe owners say the ban will affect their earnings and lead to job cuts.
“How can I run a cafe when I have no income?” asked Omid, who was forced to lay off seven workers after customers stopped visiting his cafe following the Taliban ban. “How can I pay workers when we have no customers?”
Mohammad Qasim, 23, says he plans to leave Afghanistan after losing his job in a cafe.
“I have been forced to go to Iran to look for work,” he said, adding that without his $100 monthly salary, he will not be able to provide for his family of five.
That's all from me this week.
Until next time,
You can always reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: The Gandhara Briefing will not appear next week but will return on November 4.