Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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IS-K attempts to instigate regional war
I report on Islamic State Khorasan's (IS-K) attempts to provoke tensions between Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and its weary neighbors by reportedly launching rocket attacks on neighboring countries from Afghan soil.
The transnational extremist group has also been using fugitive militants from these countries to stir up trouble for the hard-line Islamists' internationally isolated government.
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were reported to have been the latest targets of IS-K attacks. Dushanbe, Tashkent, and the Taliban have denied the incidents.
IS-K "wants to showcase Taliban failures, strain relationships, and possibly provoke retaliatory state-led military operations into Afghanistan," said Andrew Mines, a research fellow tracking extremist groups at George Washington University.
Reccardo Valle, an Italian researcher tracking IS-K, sees the group harboring regional ambitions while remaining a significant threat in Afghanistan.
"IS-K aims to destabilize Afghanistan further both internally and in the regional context," he told me.
Islamabad chases peace with the TTP
In an exclusive, Daud Khattak broke the story of how the Pakistani government has handed over two key jailed commanders of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group to the Afghan Taliban, which has been mediating peace talks between Islamabad and the TTP.
TTP commanders Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan are likely to be officially pardoned by the Pakistani president before they are handed over to the TTP after an expected peace agreement.
The handover follows Islamabad's air strikes against the TTP inside Afghanistan last month. It indicates Islamabad's desperation to revive stalled peace talks with the outlawed group that has stepped up attacks on Pakistani security forces.
While the TTP has welcomed the developments by extending its brief cease-fire, many Pakistanis are wary. Islamabad's previous agreements with the militants have failed to last.
Prohibitive marital costs in Afghanistan
Radio Azadi reports on how mounting marital costs in Afghanistan are preventing some men from tying the knot.
"I think I will stay single for the rest of my life and die single because I cannot pay for the dowry," said Essa Khan, a 43-year-old resident of Ghor.
Khan, who sells socks from a dilapidated shed, has failed to raise the necessary funds to get married. "My youth is over, and no girl will marry me now," he said.
Meanwhile, in the remote Dand-e Patan district in Paktia, a local tribal council has agreed to limit the bride price to 400,000 afghanis (around $4,500). A groom's family must pay the money to the bride's family.
"We have decided that the cost of gold and silver [jewelry] will also be included in this money," said Mullah Ihsanullah Mustafa, a Taliban official in the region. "There will be no additional costs for food or gifts for relatives."
In most Afghan communities, the groom's family is required to pay for a dowry. Some communities expect the groom to pay a bride price in cash so they can buy a dowry for a daughter.
Fired government employees decry Taliban's attitude
Radio Azadi reports on the plight of tens of thousands of former Afghan government workers fired by the Taliban. They accuse the hard-line rulers of first depriving them of their livelihoods and now declining to take steps to address their plight.
"They are refusing to pay us pension or any benefits," said a 60-year-old former government worker who served various governments during four tumultuous decades. "I often wonder, who can we complain to?"
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