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Gandhara Briefing: Afghan Women Protest, Russia-Taliban Trade, Poppy 'Ban'

Afghan women protest against the recent attack in Kabul on October 1.
Afghan women protest against the recent attack in Kabul on October 1.

Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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This week's Gandhara Briefing brings you insights into Afghan women protesting Taliban rule, the militants' trade deal with Russia, and the Taliban's unenforced ban on poppy cultivation.

Afghan Women Protest

I write about Afghan women staging some of the largest and most sustained protests against Taliban rule following a deadly attack on an education center in Kabul that killed dozens of women and girls.

Afghan women demonstrated in major cities, demanding that the Taliban lift restrictions imposed on women and provide security to minorities. In many places, the militants responded with brute force.

"The Taliban grabbed the girls and dragged and beat them with the butts of their guns," Nahid, a female protester in Herat, told us. "I still have bruises on my back from the beating I endured."

Heather Barr, associate director of the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch, says despite the "extremely frightening" risks, Afghan women have "nothing left to lose."

Taliban's Trade Deal With Russia

Michael Scollon reports on the Taliban's trade deal with Russia, which along with Iran and Pakistan is one of the few countries willing to do business with the hard-line group.

Under the deal, Moscow will export fuel and wheat to Afghanistan. It is unclear what Moscow will get in return from the cash-strapped Taliban government.

The agreement could pave the way for Russia to eventually invest in Afghanistan's vast mineral wealth, analysts say.

"This is the beginning of something," said Narendra Taneja, an Indian economist tracking the energy industry. "This something may grow into bigger things, such as mining of rare minerals in Afghanistan, or maybe mining of natural gas."

Taneja views Moscow's wheat shipments to Afghanistan as a positive development.

"The people are not Taliban, the rulers are Taliban," he noted. "And the people are starving. So, they should be helped by every country."

Pubescent Girls Expelled In Kandahar

Radio Azadi reports on the Taliban expelling hundreds of pubescent girls from primary schools in Kandahar Province.

The expulsions are part of the Taliban's enforcement of its ban on girls who are 13 or over from attending school.

The Taliban's ban has contributed to more than 3 million Afghan girls not getting an education.

"I'm not alone," said Razia, 14, who was expelled from a school in Kandahar because she was "too old" to study. "Many girls my age have been forced out of school."

The Taliban's restriction on girls' education has attracted protests across the county during the past year.

"All Afghans support education," said Ahmad Shah Spar, an activist in Kandahar. "This has been proved by the protests and the campaigning of thousands of women and men."

Taliban Forcing Students To Grow Beards

Radio Azadi reports on the Taliban forcing male students in grade 9 and above to grow beards, cover their heads, and refrain from trendy haircuts in Kandahar.

Male students must sign a pledge stating that they will dress in line with the Taliban's extremist interpretation of Islamic Shari'a law.

The move is part of a broader Taliban effort to control how Afghans appear in public.

"This is an irrational step and must be discouraged strongly," said a student in Kandahar. "I want the Taliban to stop curbing our freedoms."

Taliban's Poppy 'Ban'

Radio Azadi reports that the Taliban is not enforcing its blanket ban on narcotics, often turning a blind eye to poppy cultivation.

Farmers in southern Afghanistan have opposed the April ban because the Taliban government has failed to provide alternative livelihoods to them.

"No one has told us anything about not planting poppies," said Abdul Qayyum, a farmer in Kandahar's Maiwand district who recently planted poppies. "I support the ban on poppy cultivation if we get some aid to enable us to buy food and medicines for our families."

Naqibullah, a farmer in Uruzgan, says that he heard about the ban on poppy cultivation. But he says it is not being enforced on the ground.

"We need help with planting alternative crops," he said. "If I don't plant poppies, I will get nothing."

That's all from me this week.

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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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