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Gandhara Briefing: Afghan Exodus, Ali Wazir, Taliban Phone Inspectors


Afghans arriving in Pakistan through the border crossing in Chaman.

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.

Exodus from Afghanistan

I write about the mass exodus in Afghanistan, from where thousands of people are fleeing each week to escape the Taliban’s rule and the devastating economic and humanitarian crisis.

Even as Afghanistan's neighbors have closed their borders to Afghans seeking to flee their homeland, more than 300,000 people have left the country since the Taliban seized power in August. Many have paid smugglers to take them westward to Iran, from where some hope to reach Europe.

(Watch our video about Afghan refugee children collecting garbage and cleaning cars in Tehran)

“It is clear the border closures did restrict the number of people departing at the official crossings, but people continue to leave via the most difficult and circuitous routes and in large numbers,” said David Mansfield, an independent researcher who tracks smuggling networks in Afghanistan.

The UN refugee agency has urged Afghanistan’s neighbors to open their borders to all Afghans seeking safety even if they do not have travel documents. UN agencies are seeking $4.5 billion to provide lifesaving assistance to more than 24 million vulnerable Afghans who make up 64 percent of the country’s estimated 38 million people. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says around 9 million Afghans could soon be on the brink of starvation.

Lawmaker’s incarceration in Pakistan

Radio Mashaal’s Bashir Ahmad Gwakh writes about the heavy toll that Pakistani lawmaker Ali Wazir’s nearly year-long detention has had on his family.

“Our family has been shattered,” Saira Wazir, his wife, told us as she opened up about her family’s ordeal. “My children are always asking me when their father will be freed.”

Wazir is a lawmaker from Pakistan’s tribal belt and a leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a group campaigning for the rights of the country’s Pashtun minority.

He has been charged with sedition over his criticism of Pakistan’s powerful military during a rally in December 2020. Other PTM leaders have faced similar charges for publicly speaking out against the country’s generals.

The Supreme Court granted Wazir bail this week. But he was not released as he waits for a ruling on another bail plea in a separate case.

Taliban tightens grip on justice system

The Taliban has tightened its grip on the justice system after it put Afghanistan’s Independent Bar Association under the control of its Justice Ministry.

The Taliban also declared that only Taliban-approved lawyers can work in their courts, effectively revoking the licenses of some 2,500 lawyers in Afghanistan.

The move has blurred the lines between judge, jury, and executioner and raised deep concerns about the impartiality and fairness of criminal trials under the Taliban regime.

“They don’t have a pinch of due process at all,” Haroun Rahimi, an exiled Afghan legal expert told us. “If you don’t have a strong state apparatus where you can actually control the population, more violent and spectacular public forms of punishment become a mechanism of control.”

The Brussels-based Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe said the Taliban’s decision will make “the protection of human rights in Afghanistan practically impossible.”

Allegations of human rights abuses against the Taliban are mounting. In a new report, Human Rights Watch documented the cases of more than 100 members of Afghanistan’s former security forces who were “summarily executed or forcibly disappeared” by the Taliban in just four of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

We bring you the story of an Afghan shopkeeper from Helmand Province whose family says he was “tortured from head to toe” and then killed by the Taliban after he criticized the group on Facebook.

(Watch our video on alleged Taliban atrocities here)

Taliban phone inspectors

Radio Azadi reports about Afghans complaining that Taliban fighters are prying into the personal photos and videos, contacts, and social media accounts on their smartphones.

If the Taliban finds music or videos that it deems to be violating its strict moral code, the militant group resorts to violence and harassment, residents told us.

“They slapped me and then kicked me for having music on my phone. I could do nothing but wonder what crime I had committed,” Yasir, a shopkeeper in Kabul, said.

Some Taliban officials have spoken out publicly against the practice. “Why are you infringing on people’s privacy by searching their pockets and snooping through their phones?” asked Mufti Lutfullah Hakimi, the head of a Taliban commission tasked with purging the Taliban ranks of “undesirable” individuals.

Afghan teachers go hungry

Radio Azadi covers the plight of teachers in Afghanistan, where instructors have not been paid their salaries for months. As they struggle to survive by other means, many Afghan schools now lack enough teachers to instruct boys or girls.

“I had to start this watch-repair business so I could provide some small scraps of bread for my family and try to ease our misery,” said Sayed Abdul Rahman, a teacher in Almar, a remote district of Faryab, who has not received a paycheck since the Taliban takeover.

Afghan women losing hope

In a video report, Radio Azadi interviews Afghan women who lost their freedoms and livelihoods after the Taliban takeover.

The vast majority of women have been banned from working, while many girls and women have been deprived of the right to an education.

“I see no future,” said Azadeh, who used to employ more than 40 women as seamstresses at her workshop. “I had hopes that my workshop would generate enough money to build an independent life.”

Today, the Taliban issued a decree calling for the enforcement of certain women’s rights that are already enshrined in Islamic law, but failed to mention key areas of concern such as education and work.

I hope you found this week’s newsletter useful, and I encourage you to forward it to your colleagues.

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

Yours,
Abubakar Siddique
Twitter: @sid_abu

P.S.: You can always reach us at gandhara@rferl.org.

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