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Gandhara Briefing: Afghan Women, Uzbeks And Turkmen, TTP


Taliban soldiers patrolling a street in Panjshir on December 9.

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.

Afghan dispossession continues under the Taliban

Zarif Nazar and I report on why ethnic Uzbek and Turkmen farmers are accusing the Taliban of forcibly evicting them from their homes and farms. They allege the Taliban is helping Pashtun nomads settle on their land in a remote region of Jowzjan Province.

"This has been our land for hundreds of years," one of the displaced, Abdullah, told us. "We have cultivated it and it belongs to us."

The forced evictions are only the latest to occur under the hard-line Islamist government, which has also faced criticism for evicting members of the minority Shi'ite Hazara communities from their properties in five provinces, and Pashtuns from their homes in Kandahar.

Over the past four decades of war and political upheaval, many Afghan communities have faced collective punishment in the form of land seizures and forced displacement.

"The Taliban should cease forcible evictions and adjudicate land disputes according to the law and a fair process," recommends Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Afghan women protest at home

I write about women's rights activists in Afghanistan who have been forced to take their protests home after a brutal Taliban crackdown made street demonstrations extremely dangerous.

"Rising threats eventually forced us to adopt an alternative way to protest," said Arifa Fatimi, one of the outspoken activists organizing the protests.

Such protests typically consist of several dozen women gathering at private homes. They are disseminating their demands about rights and inclusion by way of photos and videos shared on social media. Some journalists are also invited to witness the events.

In a video, we take you to meet some of the activists. "We have been threatened. That's why we are organizing our protests at home," Zahara Mohammadi, a physician and rights activist, told us.

In a further sign that protections for women are disappearing, Amnesty International issued a report this week detailing how essential services for survivors of gender-based violence have been "decimated" in Afghanistan since the Taliban's seizure of power.

Working Afghan women losing careers

In a video, we meet Mohadese Mirzaee. Less than a year before the Taliban takeover, the 23-year-old became the first female airline pilot in Afghanistan.

But her dreams were shattered after her career came to a halt when the Taliban takeover prompted her to flee to Bulgaria.

"If the Taliban has really changed, as it claims, and if it will respect women's rights and let us work as we did in the past, I will surely return home," she said, explaining that her wish is to encourage other Afghan women to pursue a career in aviation.

In another video, we take you to meet Freshta Mowahid, an Afghan woman entrepreneur who lost her businesses and freedom after the Taliban takeover.

"It is like a gardener who has worked hard to grow fruit trees, but the fruit is destroyed right as it's time to harvest," she said, alluding to how she had no choice but to lay off all 50 female workers from her three businesses amid Afghanistan's economic turmoil.

We also take you to meet two sisters, Massoma and Shogoofa Amiri, who are continuing their painting classes by telephone after the arts center in Kandahar they attended was shuttered.

Escape from Afghanistan

A former Radio Azadi journalist recounts the tense days after the Taliban takeover when he made the fateful decision to flee his native Kabul in a perilous late-night drive to Pakistan.

"My real dream is to one day return to Afghanistan when it is peaceful and show the world our nature and our people," wrote the journalist, whose identity is being withheld for security. "We have a beautiful country."

Afghan students struggle with chaos

In a video report, we take you to the southeastern Afghan province of Khost, where high schoolers are wondering about their future amid disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic and the return to power by the Taliban, which still deprives most teenage girls of an education.

"The entrance exam has difficult questions, and most students taking the exam come from grade 11 and 12, but our studies were disrupted during those two grades," said Rahman Ullah, who is preparing to compete with tens of thousands of students for placement at a university or professional college after graduating from high school.

Pakistani Taliban truce is over

Islamabad's attempt to end a 14-year insurgency by the Pakistani Taliban through reconciliation is in shambles after the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, as it is also known, declared an end to its monthlong cease-fire with the government days after the its first prisoners were freed.

The rupture in the delicate and much criticized talks comes at a time when Islamabad is under fire for being too soft on Islamic extremists after a mob at a factory in the eastern industrial city of Sialkot immolated their Sri Lanken manager after accusing him of blasphemy. The mob attack followed a disagreement over the removal of an Islamist party's posters from the factory's premises.

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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