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Taliban, North Waziristan, COVID: Your Briefing From Afghanistan And Pakistan

The aftermath of an attack on an Afghan Army base in the southeastern city of Ghazni this week.
The aftermath of an attack on an Afghan Army base in the southeastern city of Ghazni this week.

Dear reader,

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

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Afghanistan debates next steps as talks stall, Taliban advances

Expectations for progress in peace talks are low before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office next week. The Pentagon announced today that it has brought its force levels in the country down to the lowest number in nearly two decades.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is conducting a steady campaign of violence against its enemies. We profiled some of its most recent victims. The intent is to “further disable and discredit the current government but also to decrease the number of people who might stand in their way post-settlement,” Jonathan Schroden, a security expert at the think tank CNA, told us.

Afghan officials are debating whether an interim government could reduce the violence. The debate has prompted many to ask why their country has to begin statecraft from scratch and is unlikely to gain traction.

And in a sobering video dispatch, we introduce you to some of the more than 6,000 families that have been displaced by the fighting in Faryab and Jawzjan provinces.

Protest and clashes in North Waziristan

In an often-repeated tale, we report from Pakistan’s North Waziristan district where yet another protest on January 13 demanded the authorities end the alleged “illegal” detentions of locals accused of having links with militants who target Pakistani forces in the restive region.

A social worker told my colleagues that the authorities have filed cases against people who raised their voices against mounting insecurity after local elders were killed in targeted attacks.

A day later, three soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire with militants there, the military said.

Pakistan’s unemployed academics

We talked to some of the thousands of Pakistani doctorate degree holders who are unemployed amid a recession. “I see no hope of getting a job,” one of them said. “The economy has shrunk because of COVID.”

“It is a tremendous travesty -- and a waste of resources, human and capital -- if students go through 20-plus years of education, end up with a PhD, and still cannot find jobs when universities are desperate for [qualified] faculty,” said Faisal Bari, a professor of economics and education at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Afghan primary education at mosques

Two scholars, Said Sabir Ibrahimi and Pashtana Durrani, wrote an op-ed for us this week questioning the Afghan Education Ministry’s plan to move primary education to mosques, arguing instead that Afghanistan’s current secular education system should be strengthened and reformed.

“The idea of moving education to mosques raises a set of questions,” they write. “Is this a measure to bring secular education into mosques or the other way around?”

Leaked identities and threats against journalists

Islamabad’s efforts to silence journalists by invoking security fears have again garnered international criticism. Reporters Without Borders urged Islamabad to “disown” an ongoing "hate and defamation campaign" against the BBC Urdu and the Independent.

The statement came after the identities, jobs, and Twitter account details of 10 BBC Urdu journalists were posted online, leading to threats.

Finally, an unwanted number

The Afghan government is set to retire the number 39 from car license plates because of its association with pimping. The taboo is said to be linked to a notorious pimp in Herat whose car registration plate contained the number.

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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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