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.
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Taliban Data Snooping
Here is a glimpse of life under the Taliban: The militants are combing through the smartphones of thousands of Afghans stopped each week at makeshift checkpoints on highways across the country to enforce their strict social norms.
“I was grilled for half an hour after they discovered some music and dial tones on my phone,” one witness told us.
The Taliban’s Return To Pakistan
With the Taliban ascendant in Afghanistan, Radio Mashaal reports that the dreaded Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group has returned to a key district of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
Disappointment with the government over its inability to protect civilians is widespread in the district. “How can the terrorists get here when there are check posts everywhere?” a local politician asked.
Pakistan’s Perennial Political Discontent
We’ve been closely following the opposition protests in Pakistan, and this week there have been even more.
My colleague Frud Behzan notes that the mass rallies by the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an opposition alliance, represent the biggest challenge to the country’s powerful army in years.
“This is a longer-term battle that will likely drag on for months,” author and analyst Ayesha Siddiqa told him.
What's At Stake For You In The Afghan Peace Talks?
In this week’s video dispatch from Kabul, we spoke with Ahoo Shahidi, a tattoo artist who learned the craft in Turkey and Iran.
She says she refuses to live in fear. “If that’s the mentality we have, we can’t expect any progress.”
Scaling Mount Noshaq
A growing number of young Afghans, including women, are turning to mountaineering to celebrate their country’s natural beauty and tourism potential.
My colleague Nilly Kohzad spoke to some novice devotees who told her of the unique obstacles they face.
“When planning a mission, we first reach out to demining companies in the area to make sure the mountains are free of land mines and are safe to hike,” said one mountaineer.
“We then contact local government officials and local police, so they know what we’re planning. They let us know whether the area houses any insurgents, since they often hide out in the mountains.”
Embassy Wall Corruption
The controversy over the high cost of rebuilding a wall surrounding the Afghan diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C., continues.
This week, Radio Free Afghanistan reports on an Afghan parliamentary probe that confirms the 70-meter wall around the Afghan Embassy ended up costing $1.8 million -- multifold times the market rate for such a project.
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