Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Ex-Afghan official on why government fell
Radio Azadi had an exclusive interview with Afghanistan’s former national security adviser. In the hourlong interview, Hamdullah Mohib revealed why President Ashraf Ghani and his closest aides fled Kabul on August 15.
“We had lost control of our army, police, and intelligence forces,” he said. “It would have only created another tragedy for Afghanistan.”
Mohib rejected claims by U.S. and former Afghan officials that Ghani’s escape and reluctance to peacefully transfer power led to the Taliban takeover.
“The Taliban refused to engage in any [serious negotiations] for three years,” he said. “How could they have agreed to such an agreement when they knew that the U.S. withdrawal was almost complete?”
Central Asia’s fragile truce with the Taliban
Bruce Pannier reported on how the Taliban takeover has reverberated around Central Asia.
In the 1990s, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan had strenuous ties with the Taliban.
This time, Pannier wrote, the Central Asian states have wagered a truce of sorts with the Taliban, albeit a fragile one.
“The Central Asian governments are even looking beyond Afghanistan, to the subcontinent, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean, while the Taliban has its attention fixed on Afghanistan’s internal affairs,” he concluded. “At the moment, it appears both sides are getting what they want.”
Pakistan’s enforced disappearances
Pakistan continues to grapple with the issue of enforced disappearances. Throngs of demonstrators turned out in Islamabad this week to protest the practice, which critics say has been used by authorities to stifle dissent.
Rights groups allege that more than 8,000 people have been arbitrarily detained by Pakistan's security agencies over the past two decades.
A high-profile example is prominent human rights activist Idris Khattak, who disappeared two years ago when Pakistani intelligence agents bundled the 58-year-old into a car in broad daylight and whisked him away to an unknown location. He was a vocal critic of Pakistan’s powerful military.
Now, following a secret trial, a military court has convicted Khattak of espionage and leaking sensitive information to a foreign intelligence agency, sentencing him to 14 years in prison, his family and lawyer say. His whereabouts are still unknown.
His daughter, Talia, told Radio Mashaal that they are extremely worried about him. “First they took my father and then they disappeared him,” she said. “Now they have found him guilty but haven’t said what evidence they have against him.”
Afghan boxers choose exile over Taliban rule
Radio Azadi reports on why nine Afghan boxers have refused to return home after they traveled to Serbia last month to compete in an international tournament.
“We are waiting in Serbia until we can move to a country where our future athletic activity and our education will be guaranteed,” said Silab Nouri, one of the boxers.
“If the Taliban find us, they will kill us,” said another team member, Hasibullah Malikzada. “We hope we will receive visas from European countries for the sake of our sport and our lives."
Mounting evidence of Taliban atrocities
Rights groups have documented the Taliban’s escalating campaign of extrajudicial killings.
The UN said it has received credible reports of the militants killing more than 100 members of the former Afghan security forces and others associated with the ex-government between August and November. Amnesty International said the killings amounted to war crimes.
Taliban fighters have “tortured and killed ethnic and religious minorities, former ANDSF [Afghan National Defense Security Forces] soldiers, and those perceived as government sympathizers in reprisal attacks,” Amnesty said in a report issued on December 15.
The evidence shows that “far from the seamless transition of power that the Taliban claimed happened, the people of Afghanistan have once again paid with their lives,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general.
A spiraling humanitarian crisis
In a bid to address the worsening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the World Bank announced that donors have approved the transfer of $280 million from a frozen trust to two UN aid agencies operating in the country.
Britain alone has pledged a further $100 million in aid to Afghanistan. Donors and aid agencies are scrambling to prevent widespread starvation as winter sets in in Afghanistan. For months, the UN had warned that nearly 23 million people are facing extreme levels of hunger, and as many as 1 million children are at risk of starvation.
It is unknown how these funds will be distributed or whether they will reach the neediest.
Ehsanullah and his wife, a couple in Kandahar who recently had triplets, are among the millions of Afghans who need urgent support.
With no money to feed their newborns in addition to their three older children, the couple say they might be forced to sell one of their triplets.
“Last night we were unable to feed them,” Ehsanullah told Radio Azadi in a video report. “We have money problems.”
(Watch Afghan asylum seekers in Serbia recount the horrors they faced en route to Europe.)
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