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.
Violence overshadows prospects for peace
The Taliban is more committed than ever to remaking Afghanistan through violence, which is a likely death knell for any negotiated peace with the Afghan government. Frud Bezhan reports on how the alarming spike in violence as the United States withdraws is further evidence of its long game.
"Intransigence at the negotiating table or a wholesale refusal to engage with the Afghan government and a sharp uptick in attacks on the grounds tell us that [the] Taliban is still pursuing a maximalist strategy," Muska Dastageer, a lecturer at the American University of Afghanistan, told us.
Afghan pay the price
As always, it’s Afghan citizens who pay the highest price for the relentless attacks by hard-line Islamists. Even a three-day cease-fire between the Taliban and the Afghan government to mark the Muslim holy festival of Eid al-Fitr barely made it several hours without violence.
The carnage continues. This week, the country’s beleaguered Shi’ite minority Hazaras suffered a devastating blow when a suicide bomber killed dozens of teenage girls in a horrific school attack.
“We studied under the sun on the ground [because of a lack of classrooms],” Hameeda, 16, one of the injured students, told us. “What did [the perpetrators] want from us?” she asked. “We had committed no sin.” (Watch our video of the aftermath of the attack).
EU presses Pakistan on rights
Pakistan received a public warning from the European Union that its draconian blasphemy laws, poor human rights record, and failure to protect workers could cost its coveted special trade status with the 27-member bloc. Ron Synovitz takes a look at what this would mean for a country of 224 million people that’s already on the verge of economic crisis.
“Hopefully, they will take on board some of the criticism,” Shada Islam, an independent Brussels-based analyst, told us about the possible impact of the European Parliament’s call to reviewing Islamabad’s multibillion-dollar exports. “If they want to maintain their exports to the EU, they will have to start working quite hard to meet some of the demands.”
The pressure is on. Shaukat Tarin, the country’s new finance minister, recently criticized the International Monetary Fund for pressing Islamabad to increase tariffs and taxes for a nation hard done by hyperinflation. It’s still unclear whether Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia succeeded in restoring Riyadh’s largesse, which his country badly needs.
Former fighters hope for peace
In a video report, Radio Free Afghanistan takes us to meet a former Afghan Army commando and an ex-Taliban commander who hold out hope that their country could see peace if Afghans find a way to reconcile among themselves.
“Both sides, parties to a conflict, must compromise to an extent,” Niaz Muhammad, a former Taliban commander in Ghazni, told us. “I urge President [Ashraf Ghani] and the Taliban to leave their differences aside and respect the deal [that brought them to the talks].”
Afghan migrants in Romania
In another video, Afghan migrants in Timisoara, Romania, told RFE/RL’s Romanian Service of how they fled the local asylum center, where conditions are squalid and some claim abuse. With nowhere else to go, dozens are now sheltering in the city’s abandoned buildings, living rough among the ruins.
Romania has seen a record number of migrants crossing its border this year, with more than 3,000 applying for asylum in the first three months of 2021. Few are willing to lodge official complaints about their treatment, which they maintain could jeopardize their already tenuous chances of making it to Western Europe.
“It’s a jail here. It’s not a camp. It’s a jail,” said one migrant who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “All the people who work here are so racist,” he added, saying that just that day a 15-year-old boy had been beaten by guards.
Capturing America’s war in photos
Historian Brian Glyn Williams had a ringside seat to the early years of America’s war in Afghanistan. As he tracked Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s suicide bombers for the CIA across the country, hedocumented in photos the hope, optimism, and resilience of the war-ravaged country.
“The day the Americans leave, the Taliban will return and execute us girls if we try to learn to read and write," one teenage student told him as she recalled how they were denied the right to an education under the Taliban’s rule.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, and I encourage you to forward it to colleagues who might find it useful.
If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here. Until next week, I encourage you to visit our website and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.