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Gandhara Briefing: Taliban U-Turn On Girls' Schools, Afghan Widows, Child Labor 


Girls leave their school in Kabul after the Taliban ordered it closed, just hours after it reopened on March 23.

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.

Taliban backtracks on girls' education

I write about why the Taliban made a last-minute U-turn on reopening girls’ high schools in Afghanistan, a move that sparked global condemnation.

Observers said the about-face reflected a rift between the Taliban’s relatively pragmatic political leaders and the hard-line clerics who are bent on imposing their fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law.

“The only way a sudden reversal like this takes place is a decision from the Amir,” said Barnett Rubin, a former U.S. government adviser on Afghanistan.

He said Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada overruled an initial decision to reopen girls’ high schools after encountering resistance from ultraconservatives in the militant group.

Veteran Swedish aid worker Anders Fange said the Taliban is obsessed with retaining power and maintaining internal cohesion. “They are obviously worried about internal tensions, and they try to avoid worsening these internal tensions,” he said.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, female student Safa described her bitter disappointment at the Taliban’s decision. “In the past, I had a lot of hope and dreams," she said. "But, unfortunately, [the Taliban] has shattered our dreams and destroyed our wishes."

(Radio Azadi interviewed an Afghan mother who was banned from receiving an education during the Taliban’s first stint in power in the 1990s. More than 20 years on, her daughter is enduring the same fate.)

Afghan widows struggle amid rising hunger

I write about how Afghanistan’s estimated 2 million widows are struggling to feed their families amid a worsening hunger crisis. Some 95 percent of the country's 38 million people are going hungry.

“Our lives are now so miserable that even death looks better,” said Gul Saka, a widow in Uruzgan. “There is no work. I can’t even get anything from begging.”

Households headed by women are the most vulnerable group among nearly 9 million Afghans who the World Food Program warns are at risk of "famine-like" conditions. Overall, 23 million Afghans face acute food shortages this year.

“Longer-term assistance is needed to help people in standing on their own feet and not be dependent on food aid from outside,” said Afghan scholar Orzala Ashraf Nemat.

Rising child labor in Afghanistan

Radio Azadi reports on the increasing number of child laborers in Ghor, where poverty has forced young children to take on low-income jobs and work in often appalling conditions.

“Our economic situation forced me to work,” said an 11-year-old boy, who earns less than $1 a day working in a blacksmith’s workshop in the provincial capital, Firoz Koh. “I wish I could go to school, but our economic problems prevent me from doing so."

Ex-Afghan policewoman still in Taliban custody

Radio Azadi writes about Alia Azizi, who remains in Taliban custody five months after she was detained by the militants. She has not been formally charged.

“Anyone accused of a crime has the right to be heard fairly in a court of law,” said Amna Mayar, a women's rights campaigner.

Azizi's family has not seen her since she was detained. The Taliban has dismissed calls by rights groups to free her.

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. Please note that I will be away next week, so we will not be sending a newsletter.

Yours,
Abubakar Siddique
Twitter: @sid_abu

P.S.: You can always reach us at gandhara@rferl.org.

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