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Gandhara Briefing: Taliban Rift, Afghan Musicians, People Smuggling

Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul on May 30.
Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul on May 30.

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

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Taliban divisions exposed

I report on the widening rifts within the Taliban as it tries to transition from an insurgency into a functional government. Those divisions were laid bare recently when a senior official publicly criticized the leadership for its ban on girls’ education and urged it to win “the hearts of our people rather than ruling over them with batons.”

Michael Semple, a veteran analyst, said the rifts between rival Taliban factions run deeper. “The more serious differences are squabbles over the division of powers and privilege,” he told me.

Semple has documented an increasing number of “Talib on Talib” violence in Afghanistan. “Any idea that they are so united that they could never fight against each other is complete nonsense,” he noted.

Plight of Afghan musicians in Pakistan

I write about the hundreds of Afghan musicians who have fled Taliban persecution to neighboring Pakistan, where they now face arrest and deportation. Since seizing power, the militant group has banned music and publicly beaten and humiliated musicians in Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities recently arrested four Afghan musicians who didn’t have valid travel documents. "The Afghan artists who have arrived here live in fear and great misery,” said Zaryali, an Afghan singer based in Peshawar. He said many Afghan musicians in Pakistan had expired passports or visas.

Pakistani musicians and activists have campaigned for the authorities to grant the Afghans asylum. “Music is the only passion and livelihood for these people, and they cannot live without it,” said Rashid Khan, a singer whose NGO has appealed to Islamabad and the United Nations for help.

Afghanistan’s booming people-smuggling trade

Radio Azadi reports on the one sector of Afghanistan's collapsing economy that is thriving: the smuggling of people trying to escape the country.

The Taliban has banned the transit of undocumented migrants across the border to Pakistan and Iran. But smugglers have overcome the ban by bribing corrupt Taliban border guards.

"We fit about 20 people in each vehicle, and the Taliban charges 1,000 afghanis (about $11) per car," said Mahmud. He earns $800 a month smuggling up to 150 people weekly from Zaranj in Nimroz into Iran.

New displacement in Panjshir

Radio Azadi reports on the thousands of Afghans who have been forced to flee their homes in Panjshir and Baghlan provinces, the scene of fighting between the Taliban and resistance forces.

"The Taliban forced 25 families out of their homes without explanation,” said a resident of Pul-e Hisar district in Baghlan, adding that the militant group turned their houses into security posts. The Taliban has denied forcibly displacing civilians.

“We fled our homes because of fighting and walked over mountains to make it to Kabul with just the clothes on our backs," said Anisa, a 35-year-old woman.

Her family of six fled their home in Panjshir’s Shutol district and now share a three-room rented house in Kabul with five other families.

Determined Afghan women activists

Radio Azadi interviewed a women’s rights activist in Kabul. Like dozens of other women, she has been holding rallies for months to demand their right to work and education.

The women have faced beatings, harassment, and detentions by the Taliban. But they have vowed to continue to campaign for their rights.

“I am ready to sacrifice my life to fight for the rights of women and girls,” the activist told us.

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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.

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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