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 battle for Afghan cities
The Taliban is attacking major Afghan cities in a bid to consolidate control over the countryside and deprive the Afghan government of major population centers that the insurgents see as key to Kabul’s legitimacy and primary support base.
For more than a week, Lashkar Gah, Herat, and Kandahar have been under siege, which has cut them off from the rest of the country and sent residents running to safety.
“My children were left behind. We have lost them,” Nek Bibi, a displaced mother in Kandahar, told us of her husband and two children, who are still missing. “Bullets were flying everywhere. I’m worried about what happened to them.” (Also watch our video about civilians displaced by the Taliban attacks in Kunar)
As the Taliban warns Afghan officials of more attacks, the United States and Britain have accused the Taliban of carrying out war crimes in the strategic border town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar. The deteriorating situation has prompted the UN Security Council to discuss the latest developments in Afghanistan later on August 6.
Who are the Taliban's leaders?
Ron Synovitz reports on the Taliban's leadership structure, which reveals that the senior political leaders in Doha have little control over battlefield commanders who now control large swaths of Afghan territory and appear bent on conquering the whole country.
"There are a large number of ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks, even Turkmen -- and, in some cases, even ethnic Hazara -- who are Afghans and are part of the Taliban today, " Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told us. "The Taliban has made deep inroads into these communities in recent years. That's a big difference between the Taliban today and the Taliban before the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States."
Afghan media and the Taliban
Frud Bezhan reports on how the Taliban is wasting no time in dismantling Afghanistan’s independent media, which the international community and the Afghan government have lauded as a major achievement of the past 20 years in the country.
The group has already closed dozens of radio stations and newspapers in the scores of districts it has overrun since the final departure of international forces began on May 1. (Check our interactive map for the regions controlled by the Afghan government and the Taliban and the territories they contest).
"We are currently broadcasting agricultural, health, and literary programs, but we are censoring music programs,” Nasir Ahmad Akhgar, the director of Sedaye Kokcha Radio, a private station in the Jurm district of Badakhshan, told us. “Only men are working at the station now.”
Hazara fear the Taliban's return
Farangis Najibullah reports on why the Hazara, Afghanistan’s historically persecuted Shi’ite minority, is fearing the return of the Taliban, which committed numerous atrocities against the group when it first overran their homeland in the 1990s.
“I don’t believe the Taliban’s stance toward the Hazara has changed,” Zakiya Alemzada, an office worker in her 30s, told us. “They haven’t stopped targeting the Hazara all these years,” she said, adding that she has no answers for her daughters when they ask her what will happen to their education and future if the Taliban comes to power again.
Khalilzad urges reconciliation
In an interview with Radio Azadi this week, Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s point man for facilitating Afghan peace, still urges reconciliation among Afghans as the only path toward ending the war in Afghanistan even as the government and the Taliban settle scores on the battlefield.
“Both sides must understand that there is no military solution in Afghanistan,” he told us. “The Taliban is a reality that the government cannot eliminate. Likewise, the Taliban cannot establish by force a government that would be accepted by the majority of Afghans and the international community.”
The exploding violence in Afghanistan, however, has already prompted Washington to bomb the advancing Taliban. Events on the ground might prompt Western allies to look for a new approach to ending the war in the country.
Shouting defiance from the rooftops
In a video, Radio Azadi reports on how war-weary Afghans have adopted the Islamic slogan of Takbir. This week, Allahu Akbar, or “God is the greatest,” emerged as a unifying Afghan chant to support their republic and defy the fundamentalist Taliban closing in on their cities.
“The nation of Afghanistan will not allow the destruction of this country,” Imran Mujahid, a Kabul resident, told us as thousands of his compatriots gathered on rooftops and in the streets of major cities to declare their opposition to the Taliban. “We will not let this country be ruined.”
I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, and I encourage you to forward it to colleagues who might find it useful.