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Gandhara Briefing: Islamic State-Khorasan, Tolo TV, Eid al-Fitr

Taliban fighters stand guard outside a mosque during Eid al-Fitr prayers in Kabul on May 1.
Taliban fighters stand guard outside a mosque during Eid al-Fitr prayers in Kabul on May 1.

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.

IS-K attacks bust Taliban’s security claims

I report about how a recent surge in deadly attacks by the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) militant group targeting religious minorities has busted the Taliban’s claims that it has established security in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has repeatedly claimed that it has defeated IS-K, but the rival militant group remains resilient and has regularly launched attacks against Taliban fighters and officials.

“The IS-K’s primary aim is to prevent the Taliban from transitioning into a [functional] government from an insurgency,” Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based researcher tracking the group, told me.

Experts say that IS-K is trying to undermine the Taliban-led government while bolstering its own credentials.

"They are also trying to use their status as the most potent militant group operating against the Taliban inside Afghanistan," said Zia Ur Rehman, an independent journalist tracking militant groups.

Afghanistan's leading broadcaster muzzled

Mike Scollon reports on how the Taliban’s crackdown on independent media outlets has forced Afghanistan's leading broadcaster to water down its programming.

Sister networks Tolo News and Tolo TV have radically altered their offerings following a Taliban ban on foreign soap operas and music shows. And their once hard-hitting political debates have been overshadowed by the arrests and disappearances of guests who had voiced their dissent on air.

Lotfullah Najafizada, a journalist who once oversaw news operation at Tolo, sees the Taliban engaging in systematic attacks against the media.

"We've got dozens of incidents since last August where the Taliban have been pressuring and harassing at times, arresting and also torturing journalists and media professionals," he told us.

Eid under the Taliban

Radio Azadi reports on Afghans complaining about their first Eid al-Fitr festivities under Taliban rule. Afghans say the Taliban’s restrictions and the dire economic conditions in the country have prevented them from celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

“During past Eid festivals, we used to go to parks and other recreational places for picnics but this year we only went to the houses of a few relatives because of our economic difficulties,” said Maryam, a Kabul resident.

The Taliban’s ban on music also put a damper on the festivities. Afghan musicians, who often release new songs during Eid, were prevented from performing on TV.

"I told musicians to come to my show without their instruments, but they didn't show up," one television presenter told us.

Worshipers avoid mosques after attacks

Radio Azadi reports on the residents of the northern province of Parwan being too scared to attend prayers in mosques following devastating attacks against Shi’ite and Sufi worshippers that killed scores in three Afghan cities last month.

“My family is reluctant to let me go to mosques because they fear bomb blasts, particularly the suicide attacks,” said Ghulam Saeed.

The 26-year-old is a follower of Sufism and frequented a local Sufi mosque in Parwan’s provincial capital, Charikar. But he said the Taliban has closed some of the mosques for fear that they will be targeted.

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

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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.

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