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Gandhara Briefing: U.S. Support, Central Asia, Pakistan Suicides

U.S. President Joe Biden and his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, during a meeting at the White House on June 25.
U.S. President Joe Biden and his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, during a meeting at the White House on June 25.

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.

Afghanistan’s uncertain future

I write about how despite the United States’ assurances of continued support in the wake of the final international military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Kabul faces an uncertain future with the prospect of a widening Taliban offensive toppling the Afghan government.

“If the Kabul government and its security forces are able to hold on, there will be some obligation to provide continued assistance, at least at currently promised levels,” Marvin Weinbaum, a former intelligence analyst for the U.S. State Department, told me. “Should the regime begin to unravel, assistance will depend on what follows.”

Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia specialist, argues that U.S. President Joe Biden’s meeting with his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, and his top political rival Abdullah Abdullah is a good omen for Kabul. “For now, Washington’s only viable policy option is the republic,” he noted. “If the Biden administration was looking to abandon the Afghan government, it wouldn’t be making this effort to shore up and steer the fractious republic.”

Troop withdrawal nears completion

The withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan is gathering speed ahead of the September 11 deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden despite the worsening situation on the ground.

Germany, Italy, and North Macedonia announced that all of their troops have left the country as officials said it was only a matter of days until the final withdrawal of U.S. troops. The United States also officially handed over Bagram Airfield to the Afghan government.

But many are worried the accelerated pullout could lead to an all-out civil war.

"The security situation is not good right now," General Scott Miller, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, noted this week. “A civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized if this continues on the trajectory it’s on right now, that should be of concern to the world,” he added in comments that set off alarm bells for many countries.

The alarming trend of self-immolation

Rimal Farrukh reports on why some married, illiterate women are setting themselves on fire in Pakistan. The phenomenon also helps some abusive in-laws portray murders as suicides.

“When women get so desperate and traumatized, they think this is the only option,” Mehnaz Rahman, a women’s rights advocate in Karachi, told us. “There have been cases where women jumped into a lake or canal and committed suicide with their children.”

The war at Central Asia’s door

Bruce Pannier evaluates the likely response of Afghanistan’s northern Central Asian neighbors as they deal with the fallout of intense fighting in the Afghan border regions where hundreds of Afghan troops have fled to avoid surrendering to the advancing Taliban.

To fend off the possible impact of the fighting in their backyard, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are brushing up their respective bilateral and multilateral security agreements to make sure they can protect themselves from what might snowball into an all-out war in the wake of NATO’s final withdrawal from Afghanistan.

For Central Asian leaders, mounting instability in Afghanistan could quickly turn into a major domestic security threated as thousands of radicalized Islamists might again try to use Afghanistan as a sanctuary against their authoritarian governments.

New COVID wave in Afghanistan

In addition to the intensifying campaign of the Taliban to overrun the country, Afghanistan is now facing yet another deadly wave of COVID-19 that it is unable to cope with. Critical shortages of oxygen, trained medical staff, and vaccines are snowballing into a deepening crisis likely fueled by the Delta variant.

The issue is compounded by the instability wrought by the current conflict. As thousands of Afghans have fled their homes because of the fighting, the virus runs rampant in the overcrowded housing for displaced persons in regional capitals. Many of those who fall sick are left to fend for themselves and hope for the best.

“My daughter-in-law has been sick, she has a fever, but [instead of getting treatment] all of us had to flee when bullets started spraying,” says 70-year-old Amanullah, whose family of seven now shares a house in Pul-e Khumri with dozens of other displaced people.

Teaching trades for inmates

This week’s video report takes us to Herat in western Afghanistan, where inmates are given the opportunity to fill their long days by learning trades that will help them integrate into society upon their release. Prison officials hope that being able to learn a living will keep former inmates from reoffending.

About 60 people are learning skills in carpentry, leatherworking, and other trades at the vocational center inside the prison in Herat.

“The objective is to train and educate them so that they return to society as useful citizens,” says Mahboob Shah Pazhman.

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

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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.

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