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Gandhara Briefing: TTP Extortion, Afghan Journalists In Pakistan, Defiant Afghans


Many Afghans have been defying the Taliban by protesting the recent closure of schools for teenage girls in Paktia. (AFP)

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.

This week's Gandhara Briefing highlights our reporting on the devastation caused by the floods in Afghanistan, an Afghan woman accusing a Taliban official of rape, and the militants holding their first film festival.

Rising Pakistan Taliban Extortion

I report on the growing The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, extortion campaign in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The TTP began raising money in this way to increase its control in the region after hundreds of its militants returned there amid a standstill in peace talks with Islamabad.

"The TTP is demanding extortion from everyone they think can pay," Jamshid Khan, a businessman in Peshawar, told me after paying a big shakedown to the militants. "Most, if not all, wealthy individuals have paid it already."

Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistan security expert at the University of London, sees Islamabad as unwilling to go after the militants without Western funding.

"What will start in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will not end in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," she warned. "It will extend all over the country."

Defiant Afghans Demand Girls' Education

RFE/RL's Radio Azadi reports on why Afghan elders, schoolgirls, and parents defy the Taliban by protesting the recent closure of schools for teenage girls in Paktia.

Their activism on the ground and online proves wrong the Taliban claim that Afghans don't want their teenage daughters to get an education.

"We are 100 percent in favor of opening schools," said Aminullah, a father of three teenage daughters who would go to the eighth, ninth, and 12th grades if schools were open. "We want the girls to have a better future."

Matiullah Wisa, an Afghan education activist, said people are disappointed by the school closures in Paktia.

"People expect schools from the government," he said. "It's an unfair decision. People are left in the dark."

(Read the charticle by Giovana Faria showing the dramatically curtailed rights of Afghan women and girls a year into the Taliban's rule)

Exiled Afghan Journalists In Limbo

Majeed Babar reports on the nearly 200 exiled Afghan journalists in Pakistan whose lives are in limbo as they see little prospects of finding a permanent home despite promises by Western governments and nongovernmental organizations.

"You work to tell the truth only to face death threats and find there is no one to protect us," said Nasrin Shirzad, who fled to Pakistan after the Taliban takeover.

The 42-year-old mother of three covered sensitive issues often clashing with the Taliban's hard-line views. She has so far been unsuccessful in convincing Western embassies that she needs asylum abroad.

"I don't know where to go," Sodaba Nasiry, a young journalist with the former Afghan parliament's television channel, told us.

Her e-mails and applications to the global press freedom watchdogs and the German, French, Italian, and Canadian embassies have so far not given her any hopes of settling abroad.

No Relief In Turkey

Radio Azadi reports on the plight of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey, which has deported nearly 43,000 Afghans this year.

Ankara has ignored international calls to protect Afghans fleeing Taliban persecution and the economic collapse in their country.

"I see Afghans being rounded up every day and sent back to Afghanistan," said Faridoon, 39, who made a perilous journey to Istanbul through Iran with his four children.

"I worry about myself and my family," he said of the constant fear he lives under. "One day they will force us to leave, too."

Taliban's Faith Test

The Taliban's Finance Ministry is testing whether its employees have extensive knowledge of Islam to qualify as good Muslims entitled to keep their jobs.

All ministry employees are required to take the test outlined in a 10-page booklet. It addresses 53 topics ranging from testing an employee's knowledge of the five pillars of the Islamic faith to recognizing the signs that judgment day is imminent.

"When there is a lot of sin on Earth [and] when people disobey their parents," are two of the options listed to answer the question: "What are the signs of Judgment Day?"

That's all from me this week.

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You can always reach us at gandhara@rferl.org.

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