Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Balochistan, the thorn in Pakistan’s side
Each one of the thousands of those who have been forcibly disappeared in Balochistan over the past decade has a story to tell, and their relatives are doing everything in their power to make sure those stories are heard. Dozens of them protested in Islamabad this week to demand answers from the government.
One of the protesters was Haseeba Qambrand. She is seeking information about the whereabouts of her brother and cousin who disappeared last year. We met her at a protest camp outside the parliament building on Tuesday: “If my brothers committed any crimes, please bring them before a court of law because we recognize this country, its constitution, and laws.”
The disappearances have moved parts of the government to push for change. Shireen Mazari, the human rights minister, wants “to move a bill [in the parliament] so that we can make a law criminalizing forced disappearances,” she told Naya Daur, a news website.
But this doesn’t address the underlying conflict. Abdullah Abbas, an exiled activist, paints a picture of cyclical violence, saying the military’s “hard-line approach has led to a spike in militant attacks,” alluding to attempted attacks on Chinese targets. In contrast, lawmaker Anwar ul Haq Kakar, a leader of the ruling Balochistan Awami Party, says he sees fatigue setting in within the insurgency.
Ahmed Rashid: The Taliban ‘gets away with murder’
The Taliban’s love affair with violence is endangering its deal with the United States and weighs heavily on U.S. allies trying to decide their future course in the country. NATO defense ministers deferred a final decision on their troop presence in Afghanistan despite the Taliban’s insistence that Washington honor the Doha Agreement to withdraw all forces by May.
To shed light on the ongoing stalemate in the peace process, I turned to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, whose best-sellers have documented the various cycles of war in Afghanistan: “We need an international alliance that will place the Taliban at the table and keep them there till there is an agreement,” the Lahore-based writer told me. (I’d also recommend you read the interview for his take on the Pakistan Democratic Movement.)
For many, tribal law trumps Afghan law
This week we reported from Loya Paktia, Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribal heartland, to understand why residents prefer community councils administering tribal law over state courts. “We decide more than 90 percent of our cases in the light of tribal traditions and laws,” Kausar Zadran, a tribal leader in Paktia, told Radio Free Afghanistan.
Many consider the official courts corrupt or, at best, inefficient. “The judges asked me for a Toyota Corolla car and a $20,000 bribe to favor me in the case,” said Mohammad Ayaz, a resident who got caught up in a violent land dispute. “I am too poor to pay such money.”
Afghan women begging on the streets
We tried to understand why we have been seeing more women begging on the Afghan streets. Many shared tales of extreme hardship. “We often go hungry,” one widow of a slain soldier in Ghazni told us. “I go out and beg or send my children out to beg.”
Even officials blame the patriarchal inheritance system and the government’s lack of interest in helping soldiers’ widows. “Women who beg on the streets of Sheberghan make more money than the government can provide,” said Hussain Karimi, who oversees a government-run vocational training program there.
Targeted killings continue in Afghanistan
The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan said at least 65 journalists and human rights activists have been killed in the country in the past three years in targeted killings. The report did not blame the Taliban specifically.
One telling episode: In January, a Muslim cleric in Kunduz incited a mob to ransack the offices of Radio Zohra, a local FM station. “The attack left us paralyzed because [before] we only worried about being attacked by terrorist groups, but now we fear fellow citizens, too,” Haseebullah Hasas, a radio journalist for a station also called Kunduz, told Radio Free Afghanistan.
Violence disrupts life in Waziristan
We report on the how residents of South Waziristan are paying a high toll after a recent Taliban attack killed four soldiers in its main town, Wana, and a curfew that followed. The region’s residents have suffered for alleged Taliban crimes, and yet the authorities failed to prevent two tribes from resorting to fighting in a land dispute.
The Pakistani state can’t seem to establish lasting stability in the borderlands following years of Taliban control and military operations to combat terrorism.
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