Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Economic dire straits
Afghanistan could face a worsening financial crunch as U.S. and allied forces head for a final exit later this year. Western donor funding still accounts for some 80 percent of its budget, and without it the Afghan government could collapse.
Frud Bezhan reports that the country is on its way to a full-blown humanitarian crisis: Afghanistan’s population of 35 million already faces rapidly rising displacement and a whopping 72 percent poverty rate.
A withdrawal of funding will have dire implications for women, in particular, in their attempt to access health care. And for the embattled Afghan Army, it could spell the difference between successfully subduing the Taliban and the alternative.
"A stoppage or sharp cutback in security aid would grievously damage the Afghan security forces -- and on the civilian side could lead to fiscal collapse," William Byrd, a developmental economist at the United States Institute of Peace, told us.
The ghost of bin Laden
This week I looked into why Pakistan still struggles to rein in Islamist militant groups a decade after the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and how its inability to come down on one side of the fence now puts its relationship with the United States in question.
Islamabad has found it hard to portray itself as a victim of terrorism rather than a perpetrator. And it’s the Pakistani people who end up paying the price for their country’s covert support for groups like the Afghan Taliban as homegrown militants threaten the daily lives of many.
“Pakistan has acted against some militant groups that specifically target the state but has allowed groups that are key to its regional [ambitions] to remain active,” Hussain Haqqani, a scholar and Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, told me, alluding to how the security establishment has long employed asymmetric warfare through Islamist militant groups to leverage its regional foreign policy against India and Afghanistan. “There is still a long way to go,” he said of Islamabad’s continued struggle with terrorism.
Taliban looks to divide and rule
Frud Bezhan reports on a sinister Taliban tactic to bolster its newly invigorated attacks with an aggressive political ploy to divide Afghan elites.
In addition to gaining key territory this week in a bold military push, the Taliban has been busy writing letters to political, ethnic, and tribal leaders requesting more personal peace negotiations. The militants are hoping these correspondences will further alienate Ghani in his already fractious relations with other power brokers.
“The Taliban cannot attain victory in a war of attrition,” Davood Moradian, an Afghan analyst in Kabul, told us. “But its chances are much higher if it can prompt the political disintegration of the Afghan government followed by or in synergy with inflicting a major military blow.”
Relocating the Pamir Kyrgyz
In a striking portrait of Afghanistan’s most remote ethnic community, Ron Synovitz writes about the Pamir Kyrgyz who live in Pamir valleys of northeast Badakhshan Province.
Their pastoral lives, given testimony in this photo series, are a constant struggle with harsh winters, few resources, and one of the shortest life expectancies in the world. Scores of Pamir Kyrgyz died last winter of illness and malnutrition.
Now Kyrgyzstan’s president, Sadyr Japarov, wants to relocate 1,500 of the nomads to his country’s Osh region. But many of the remaining nomads have reservations about the move.
“Our request to the Kyrgyz government is that if they take us, it should be near a city,” says 28-year-old Rakhmankul. “They should not put us in an isolated mountainous place like the Pamirs. The children must be able to study and be educated there.”
Afghan baby’s hopeful recovery
In a video report, we take you to meet baby Amena, who was shot and lost her mother just hours after her birth in a horrendous attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul nearly a year ago.
“When she arrived at our hospital, her condition was very complex,” recalled Najibullah Bina, a surgeon treating Amena. “I and surgeons around the world had never faced such a patient before,” he added. “But I am optimistic that we saved her leg from amputation.”
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