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Vaccines, Durand Line, Iran Smuggling: Your Briefing From Afghanistan And Pakistan

Pakistani soldiers patrol the newly fenced border by Afghanistan's Paktika Province in Angoor Adda in Pakistan's South Waziristan district. (file photo)
Pakistani soldiers patrol the newly fenced border by Afghanistan's Paktika Province in Angoor Adda in Pakistan's South Waziristan district. (file photo)

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.

The ghost of Durand haunts border region

My colleagues Frud Bezhan and Daud Khattak took a closer look at the fence along the nearly 2,700 kilometers of border between Afghanistan and Pakistan that is scheduled to be finished by June.

Pakistan claims its vast construction effort has already dramatically reduced attacks by Pakistani militants sheltering across the border.

Others see different motives. “You can be flexible with a fence,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on the Pakistani military. “You can allow your friends to cross over but not allow others who are your enemies.”

The border, often called the Durand Line, has long been a matter of dispute, and the fence hinders the free movement of millions of Pashtuns whose clans live on both sides. “If there is a funeral or a marriage ceremony, we cannot join them,” Zohaib Wazir, said of being separated from his kin.

What’s in the pipeline for Turkmenistan and the Taliban?

My colleague Bruce Pannier and I delved into the mystery surrounding a recent trip by a Taliban delegation to Turkmenistan in which the emissaries reiterated support for a quarter-century-old proposal for a pipeline connecting Turkmen gas fields to consumers in India and Pakistan.

The pipeline might not be the full story. Perhaps one of the main topics of discussion between the Taliban delegation and the Turkmen government was not gas but electricity. Turkmenistan is looking to export electricity through Afghanistan to Pakistan after the construction of a proposed major power transmission line.

Fuel smuggling fuels livelihoods in Balochistan

Smuggling cheap fuel from Iran provides a dangerous livelihood for thousands of men who have few other options in Balochistan, one of the most underdeveloped parts of Pakistan. “My father was a good smuggler," one such trader told us. “I am a diesel smuggler, and my child will be a smuggler, too.”

It is not clear how much Iranian fuel is smuggled into Pakistan, but a 2015 estimate suggested it could be some 700,000 liters daily. Last year, Iranian officials estimated up to 11 million liters of fuel is smuggled out of their oil-rich country each day.

Pakistani universities ban fashion

No earrings, no jeans, no shorts – and that’s just the men. Students at some public universities in northwestern Pakistan are speaking out against increasingly restrictive dress codes.

Two of my colleagues found exasperation among the students and lecturers they talked to in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. “They ban debates and attempt to police our thinking, then they discuss such petty issues [as what people wear],” said Noreen Naseer, a politics lecturer.

Pakistan rolls out vaccination campaign

Faisal Sultan, the special adviser on national health services to Pakistan’s prime minister, was optimistic in an interview this week with Radio Mashaal after the country started its vaccination drive earlier this month.

“Our intention is to have enough vaccines available in the country over the next year or so to allow coverage of about two-thirds or 70 percent of the eligible population,” he said, citing Chinese manufacturers and AstraZeneca as major vaccine suppliers.

Legal precedents in Pakistan

Pakistan’s Supreme Court took steps to better protect the rights of some of the country’s most marginalized communities. It commuted the death sentence of two mentally ill convicts and ordered the provincial government to rebuild a Hindu temple in Karak.

Islamabad, however, still has a long way to go. Scores of disabled Pakistanis rallied at a border crossing in South Waziristan this week to demand jobs, free health care, and education for their children.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, and I encourage you to share it with colleagues who might find it useful. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.

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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.

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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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