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Gandhara Briefing: Deadly Earthquake, Afghan Sikhs, Impoverished Widows


Afghan boys carry the body of a child victim of the earthquake in Golam Kot on June 23.

Dear Reader,

Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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This week's Gandhara Briefing brings you insights into Afghanistan's deadly earthquake, the fear among the tiny Sikh community, and the suffering of Afghan widows.

Earthquake Heaps More Misery On Afghans

Radio Azadi reports on the aftermath of the deadly earthquake that struck southeastern Afghanistan on June 22.

The tremor killed over 1,150 people and injured 1,600 in the remote, impoverished region. The death toll is expected to rise further as the area is hit by aftershocks and rescuers reach remote villages.

"Entire families were wiped out," said Adil Khan, a university student who lost 27 members of his extended family in Paktika's Gayan district. "All the survivors are busy burying their dead."

The disaster came as millions of Afghans are already facing hunger and poverty following the Taliban's seizure of power.

(Watch our video about rescuers trying to reach remote communities devastated by the earthquake)

The Sikh Who Refused To Leave Afghanistan

Radio Azadi spoke to a family member of Sundar Singh, who was killed in an attack on a Sikh temple by the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) militant group on June 18.

Singh's wife and children were among the hundreds of Sikhs who fled Afghanistan following a deadly militant attack targeting the tiny religious minority in 2020. But the 55-year-old herbalist had refused to leave his homeland.

"He stayed back because he loved Afghanistan," Arjit Singh, his brother-in-law, told RFE/RL.

The attack has prompted many of Afghanistan's remaining Sikhs to emigrate to India. New Delhi has announced that it will grant visas to more than 100 Afghan Sikhs.

"We have no political affiliation or rivalry with anyone, yet we are being attacked mercilessly," said Narendra Singh Khalsa, a former Afghan Sikh lawmaker whose father was killed in a militant attack in 2018.

Struggling Afghan Widows

Radio Azadi reports on the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Afghan widows who have seen their incomes disappear since the Taliban takeover.

Since seizing power, the Taliban has imposed a series of restrictions on women, including on their appearance, access to work and education, and freedom of movement.

"During the past three days, I only gave some stale bread to my children," said Sonia, an unemployed former teacher who lost her husband to the coronavirus a year ago.

Muzdalifah, a widow in Kandahar, lost her husband and eldest son to the war in Afghanistan a several years ago. She now feeds her four daughters and four sons by sewing clothes.

"Our lives are very tough," she said. "All of Afghanistan is being pushed deeper into mourning."

Taliban Forces Families Out Of Government Housing

Radio Azadi reports on the Taliban evicting the families of 70 former government soldiers from their homes inside a military garrison in Farah.

Some of the families had lived at the complex for years. Many are unemployed and struggling to feed their families.

"We cannot even buy food because our economic situation is so desperate," said Faridun, whose father was a former military prosecutor. "We don't know where to go and what to do."

Taliban Destroys Illicit Crops

In this video, Radio Azadi reports on Taliban fighters destroying poppy and marijuana crops in Farah. The Taliban recently imposed a sweeping ban on illicit drugs.

"We had planted marijuana before the order was issued," an elderly farmer, surrounded by a group of Taliban fighters, told us. "Now that the decree has been issued, we want to plant corn."

The opium poppy has flourished in the country despite years of eradication efforts and attempts to sow alternative crops.

I hope you found this week’s newsletter useful, and I encourage you to forward it to your colleagues.

If you haven't subscribed yet, you can do so here. I encourage you to visit our website and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Yours,
Abubakar Siddique
Twitter: @sid_abu

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