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Gandhara Briefing: Taliban Volunteers, Usman Kakar, Vaccine Shortage

Afghan National Army soldiers patrol during fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces in inthe noreastern city of Kunduz on June 24.
Afghan National Army soldiers patrol during fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces in inthe noreastern city of Kunduz on June 24.

Dear reader,

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.

Pakistan’s Taliban volunteers

Abdul Hai Kakar and I write about how networks of Pakistani supporters of the Afghan Taliban are aiding the war effort in Afghanistan by supplying a steady stream of volunteers and donations as the group gathers military momentum in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.

“His father did not mourn,” a pro-Taliban cleric told us of Hafiz Naimatullah, who was recently buried in Quetta. Like dozens of other Pakistani volunteers, he was killed in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban. “He insisted on being congratulated because Naimatullah is not dead. Martyrs never die.”

Despite allowing volunteers and donors to bankroll the Taliban offensive, Islamabad might not be happy if the Taliban returned to power as it would embolden Pakistan’s own militant groups. “A re-established Islamic Emirate would give strategic depth to the [Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan], not the Pakistani military,” said Barnett Rubin, a former Obama administration adviser on the region.

More Taliban gains

Frud Bezhan reports on how the Taliban’s swift takeover of dozens of rural Afghan districts since the beginning of the final international military withdrawal eights weeks ago has heightened fears that the group could topple the Afghan government.

“The strategy centers around capturing key strategic districts and provinces, making highways insecure, isolating major cities, and targeting the power and transit infrastructure leading to these major urban centers,” Tamim Asey, a former Afghan defense minister, said of the Taliban’s strategy, which he says is reminiscent of the anti-Soviet mujahedin’s “attritional warfare augmented by a military chokepoint strategy.” The Taliban continued its conquest this week by besieging the northern city of Kunduz after overrunning much of the countryside in the province by the same name.

The Taliban’s advances prompted Deborah Lyons, UN special envoy on Afghanistan, to warn that its takeover of more than 50 districts since May will lead to “increased insecurity for many other countries, near and far." The militants’ gains have prompted popular uprisings and the rearming of factional militias, which raise the specter of an all-out war in the country.

Afghan leaders in Washington

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, are currently in Washington, where they’re expected to make the case for continued military and financial assistance amid a rapidly deteriorating situation back home.

But hopes for successful talks between Kabul and the Taliban have eroded despite Washington’s commitment to supporting the Afghan people with diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian assistance. Without a priority of Afghanistan’s security, the U.S. intelligence warning about the fall of the Afghan government might prove true.

Who killed Usman Kakar?

Radio Mashaal reports on how the family of Usman Kakar, a secular Pashtun political leader from Balochistan, are crying foul after his death from head injuries last week.

“It seemed that he was grabbed by one person and hit on the head by another," his son Khushal Kakar told us, saying the family found him lying on the floor in a guest room on June 17, bleeding from his head. His June 23 funeral attracted tens of thousands of mourners, and the saga is likely to loom large over Balochistan and the rest of the Pashtun region in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s vaccine shortage

In a video report, we take you to meet people in Karachi who haven’t been able to get a COVID shot despite waiting for hours at vaccination centers in the scorching heat. The shortage of mostly Chinese Sinopharm shots is alarming in the country of 220 million where thousands have died in the pandemic.

Authorities in Sindh Province have blamed the federal government for the shortages, while Islamabad maintains it will “address all supply issues” in the coming days. Whether significant progress can be made in vaccinating a majority of the population, however, remains to be seen.

Empowering women in Kandahar

In another video report, we take you to Kandahar to meet women displaced by fighting who are learning to sew, knit, and other marketable skills so that they can support their families.

“This is very important for women, because many women who come here haven’t received an education,” Shamisa, a trainee, told us. “Some of them are widows or orphans.” Her teacher Bibi Roshan says that women can see that their training can help them earn a steady income. “For example, I make one outfit for 1,500 afghanis [about $19].”

I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, and I encourage you to forward it to colleagues who might find it useful.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here. Until next week, I encourage you to visit our website and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Abubakar Siddique
Twitter: @sid_abu

P.S.: You can always reach us at

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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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