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Gandhara Briefing: Taliban Religious Police, Afghan Borders, Drug Addiction

The Taliban have ordered shop owners in western Afghanistan to cut the heads off mannequins, insisting that figures representing the human form violate Islamic law.
The Taliban have ordered shop owners in western Afghanistan to cut the heads off mannequins, insisting that figures representing the human form violate Islamic law.

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.

Taliban religious policing revival sparks anger

I write about the Taliban resurrecting the violent religious policing it employed during its brutal regime in the 1990s. Many Afghans are angered by the spate of decrees recently issued by the militants’ notorious Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The orders impose restrictions on citizens’ appearances, behavior, and movement.

The Taliban’s controversial directives range from ordering men to grow beards and attend compulsory congregational prayers to banning women from public baths and traveling without a male chaperone.

The Taliban is “locking out the population from decision-making” and exposing its "tyrannical tendencies," Obaidullah Baheer, a Kabul-based academic, told me.

Rabia, a woman in the city of Mazar-e Sharif who did not reveal her real name, said the Taliban is trying to control the lives of citizens rather than address the acute problems facing the country, including a freefalling economy and a devastating humanitarian crisis. The Taliban “needs to pay attention to many more important issues we are grappling with,” she said.

Afghans say the Taliban is attempting to control every aspect of their lives. Hekmatullah, a resident of the southern province of Uruzgan, said the Taliban should not “interfere in such issues.”

"Ultimately, [each individual] will be accountable and have to bear the guilt or reap the rewards for their actions before God,” he told Radio Azadi.

(In this photo feature, we look back at the events of 2021, a year that saw the unexpected become the reality in Afghanistan.)

Afghanistan’s restive borders

Bruce Pannier looks at what prompted armed clashes between Turkmen and Taliban border guards this week. The militants have also traded gunfire with Iranian and Pakistani border guards in recent weeks.

“Whatever happened, it was sufficient for Turkmen troops to use their weapons -- a clear indication that trust is still very low along the border,” wrote Pannier.

Recent videos of Taliban fighters firing artillery shells at Pakistani forces and destroying border fences have embarrassed Islamabad, a longtime Taliban ally.

Iran, too, appears to be reviewing its relationship with the Taliban after a gunfight between the militants and Iranian border guards last month.

Drug rehabilitation, Taliban style

In this video report, we take you to one of Afghanistan’s largest prisons. The Taliban has turned the facility in the city of Kandahar into a makeshift center for what it claims to be the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

“If you decide to get rid of addiction, you can be cured,” said one man at the facility. He is among the dozens of addicts at the prison, which also houses more than 150 inmates. "If we can't treat them here, we send them to the hospitals," said the Taliban official in charge of the prison.

Educating Pakistan’s child laborers

In another video, we take you to Islamabad, where a group of university students have volunteered to educate child laborers. Many of the children do not attend school because they have been forced to work due to poverty.

“We are teaching them basics such as the alphabet, but also ethics and manners,” said Rohail Ahmad, one of the teachers and a member of Each One Teach One, the organization that runs the classes.

"I [sell things on a hand cart] four days a week and study here the other three days,” said Bilal, one of the more than 60 students who attend the classes. The lessons are held in a public park during the evening.

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

P.S.: You can always reach us at

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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.

Azadi Briefing

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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