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Gandhara Briefing: Afghan Prosecutors, Central Asia, Pakistan Media Bill


A member of the Taliban watches as Afghan women hold placards during a protest in Herat earlier in September.

Dear Reader,

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.

Prosecutors join persecuted Afghans

I write this week about the plight of the Afghan prosecutors who are being hunted by the murderers and drug dealers they helped convict under their country’s now defunct courts, constitution, and laws.

“Many former inmates are now threatening me and my colleagues to demand that we return their money,” Humayun, a prosecutor in Helmand, told us. “A responsible court [working under a legitimate government and constitution] imposed penalties or ordered their properties confiscated. Yet they are insisting that we are personally responsible for what happened to them.”

Prosecutors are among a long list of Afghans who have been targeted or discriminated against since the Taliban takeover last month. In a violation of the general amnesty the militants had declared soon after they gained power, there are mounting reports of reprisal killings by Taliban members -- something even acting Defense Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqub admitted.

But human rights watchdogs say the Taliban is committing persistent widespread abuses, particularly against women. In a report this week, Human Rights Watch and San Jose State University’s Human Rights Institute found that members of the Islamist movement “have instilled fear among women and girls by searching out high-profile women; denying women freedom of movement outside their homes; imposing compulsory dress codes; severely curtailing access to employment and education; and restricting the right to peaceful assembly.”

Journalists are also dealing with unprecedented pressure and coercion that could possibly lead to the collapse of Afghanistan’s independent media. Reporters Without Borders warned that the new rules the Taliban is imposing on journalists “are spine chilling because of the coercive use that can be made of them.”

The press is now prohibited from covering stories that are “contrary to Islam,” “insult national figures,” or violate “privacy.” Earlier this week, more than 100 Afghan journalists appealed to the international community to protect press freedom in their country.

Girls excluded from education

Afghan girls and women are eagerly waiting to return to school after the Taliban sent boys and male teachers back to the classroom. Their exclusion has raised the specter of the Taliban once again banning women from education, work, and public life.

In a video report, we take you to meet some of the girls left out of school. “I have two brothers: one is in eighth grade; the other in 12th grade. I feel terrible when they go to school [and I am not],” Muzdalifah, a ninth grader in Kabul, told Radio Azadi. “I feel like I have failed in life and I’m falling behind in everything.”

Women are still excluded from the Afghan cabinet despite new Taliban nominations that attempt to diversity ethnic representation among top government leaders.

In another video, we visit Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, where an Afghan school struggles with a lack of funds because the government sponsoring it collapsed. “I don’t know what will happen,” said Abdul Qasim Yousifi, a parent. “We hope that it will continue so that the children of refugees aren’t left in uncertainty.”

Central Asia’s Taliban problem

Central Asian governments are taking different stances on the Taliban-led government. Tajikistan continues to toe a tough line while the others opt for a different approach.

Bruce Pannier writes that Tashkent is keen on working with the Taliban to salvage a 10-year deal for electricity supplies, which is expected to boost the $150 million it already receives annually from exporting power to Kabul.

“Uzbekistan would incur its own financial losses by suspending electricity exports to Afghanistan; other countries also would lose out from not being able to trade with Afghanistan through Uzbekistan,” he notes.

Tiny Kyrgyzstan, which does not share a border with Afghanistan, is also ready to engage the Taliban. Two senior Kyrgyz officials met with senior Taliban cabinet members this week who “welcomed them and thanked them for their assistance.”

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, on the contrary, is doubling down on the path of calling out the Taliban for failing to include Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities, the large Tajik minority in particular, in its government while also posing threats to his country’s security. In a speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday, he called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a "serious threat to regional security and stability."

The Taliban’s diplomatic dilemma

The Taliban covets international recognition and the legitimacy that entails, but it’s still dragging its heels on what the international community is demanding in return.

The Taliban’s bid to address the ongoing session of the UN General Assembly has so far failed to garner support. Instead, a meeting of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members seeks “an Afghanistan where the rights of women and girls are respected, an Afghanistan that is not a sanctuary for terrorism, an Afghanistan with an inclusive government representing all sections of the population.”

While the Taliban-led government isn’t likely to be recognized anytime soon, major powers are vying to engage the hard-line Islamists. Special envoys of Pakistan, China, and Russia met with the Taliban prime minister this week in an apparent follow-up on their call to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets at the Security Cooperation Organization’s leadership summit last week.

Engagement and humanitarian assistance might be the best the Taliban can hope for from the international community for the time being. Despite extending the mandate of its Afghan political mission, the UN still sees the situation in Afghanistan as fluid because of “a fight for power within different groups in the Taliban leadership,” as its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres characterized it this week.

The UN humanitarian arms, however, are desperate for action. The world body released $45 million to the World Health Organization and UNICEF to try to prevent the collapse of health care in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s quest to tame media

Daud Khattak dives into what is behind the angry journalist protests against a proposed Pakistani media law, from which the government has now backtracked because of the backlash from civil society.

“If implemented, this will prove an open-air jail for journalists,” Hamid Mir, one of the country’s most prominent journalists, told us of the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority, which would combine all of the government bodies regulating the print, electronic media, and entertainment industries.

"What they are trying to bring as a new law is unprecedented in Pakistan, and we would oppose it tooth and nail,” Shakil Anjum, president of the national press club in Islamabad, told us.

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

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

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, the editor of RFE/RL's Gandhara website, is a journalist specializing in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. 

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