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Kabul University, Awami National Party, Taliban: Your Briefing From Afghanistan And Pakistan

Afghan policeman position a heavy machine gun on a pickup truck to target Taliban positions near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
Afghan policeman position a heavy machine gun on a pickup truck to target Taliban positions near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

Dear reader,

Welcome to Gandhara’s redesigned weekly newsletter aimed at bringing you exclusive coverage by our correspondent networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Every Friday, you’ll get the week’s best dispatches from our extensive network of journalists and all the context you need to make sense of the political and cultural trends in the two countries. If you’re new to the newsletter or haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.

Before we get started, I’d like to ask you to please spare a few minutes for this short survey that will help us make this newsletter, and Gandhara, more useful and insightful to you.

Mourning After Massacre At Kabul University

The week began with a horrific attack on Kabul University. Claimed by the Islamic State militants, the attack killed 22 students and faculty and injured dozens more.

My colleague Samiullah Mahdi, Radio Free Afghanistan’s bureau chief in Kabul, taught 16 students killed in the attack. He looks back on the fateful day in this video report.

I profiled Mohammad Rahed, one of the student victims Samiullah taught. The 21-year-old lived by the motto “smile in the face of hardship.” Khatema Sherzad, his mother, told us that Rahed had hoped to become a politician to serve his country.

Afghan Peace Talks Stalled

We continue to follow the impasse at the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar. The two sides can't even agree on a framework and agenda for the talks, my colleague Frud Bezhan reports.

"During that stall the tendency of all parties is to revert back to their 'normal' mode of operations," Andrew Watkins, an analyst told him. "For the Taliban, a militant insurgency, that mode is waging war."

Indeed, the group extended its offensive and has flooded social media with videos and photographs showing captured military outposts and ammunitions.

The militants' ongoing offensive to overrun Kandahar, their former capital, continues, and my colleague found the city's Mirwais Hospital overcrowded with injured civilians.

‘We Will Never Go Back’

A model, a musician, and a poet -- all successful Afghan women – have spoken to my colleagues in Kabul, expressing their determination to resist restrictions on their rights as part of any future peace agreement.

In this week’s episode of our video series Afghan Peace Talks: What’s At Stake For You?, Ghazal Sharifi Mayel, a dentist, echoes similar sentiments. “We are very thirsty for peace, but a peace in which we can feel, as women, like a useful part of society [and fully participate] as citizens,” she said.

Bombs And Blackboards

We visited two remote Afghan provinces to learn about efforts to educate thousands of girls in rural areas. The situation is dire. I invite you to watch their video report from the provinces of Khost and Uruzgan.

“We don’t have water. There are no computers for practical work so we can’t practice our lessons,” one student told my colleagues from Radio Free Afghanistan.

Education Reform In Pakistan

In Pakistan, a single national curriculum is meant to be a major step toward standardizing the quality of education. But in a diverse country where 66 languages are spoken by dozens of ethnic groups, the task is controversial.

Zubair Torwali, the head of Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi, an NGO promoting indigenous languages in Pakistan, argues in a commentary that the effort would “prevent creativity and critical thinking for generations of Pakistanis.”

Another Political Standoff

Members of the Awami National Party, a secular political party, called on Interior Minister Ijaz Shah to resign over his dismissive remarks on the killing of the party’s leaders by the Taliban.

Should he refuse, they threatened to march to Islamabad to force him out of office. Will anything change? Probably not.

I hope you enjoyed this weekly newsletter, and I encourage you to share it with colleagues who might find it useful. Again, if you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.

You can also reach us directly at


Abubakar Siddique

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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.

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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