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.
Pakistan’s Hindu ‘conversion factory’
In a special investigative report from Pakistan, Daud Khattak traveled to Sindh Province, where he spoke with Hindu families who say their daughters have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam. They are then quickly married off to Muslim men and cut off from their families.
As part of a mini-documentary about the issue, Khattak spoke with families, authorities, clerics and rights organizations. Activists say around 1,000 Hindu girls are the victims of forced conversions in Pakistan each year, but that coercion is often difficult to prove.
“If a girl converts to Islam, she is free to see her family. But there is no question of whether the Hindu community will get her back and reconvert her to Hinduism,” influential cleric Mian Mitha said of the way out he offers to many Pakistani Hindus born into a life of bonded labor. “We protect them,” the Muslim cleric accused of running a ‘conversion factory’ added.
"They issued a video [showing] that she converted to Islam and that she was married, all within two hours," says Sunny Kumar of his sister Simran. His is one of the families whose daughters suddenly refuse their calls and whose visits are only allowed under supervision. “She was being pressured.”
Another civil war for Afghanistan?
Afghans remember the Taliban’s emergence in the 1990s as a response to the anarchy and lawlessness that followed a fratricidal civil war among mujahedin factions of warlords. Today, there are signs that civil war could break out again after the departure of U.S. and NATO forces.
Frud Bezhan writes about how the unconditional withdrawal of all international troops has empowered the Taliban. “The Taliban has achieved its most important goal without having to give up much at all,” Michael Kugelman, an analyst in Washington, told us. “That's how it's been all along in this very flawed U.S.-sponsored peace process.”
In another piece, Bezhan and Mustafa Sarwar track the reemergence of former warlord militias across Afghanistan. “Certain communities will rely on these figures for protection in a scenario in which the peace process falls apart and the state apparatus breaks down,” said Ali Adili, an Afghan researcher. “Ethnic communities also want to maximize their leverage -- either in negotiations over a peace settlement or on the battlefield if the Taliban attempts a military takeover of the country.”
Afghan security vacuum
Despite its president’s brave face following the news of the U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan is bracing for a potential security vacuum once U.S. and NATO troops leave the country by September 11.
Ron Synovitz delves into whether the Afghan security forces, which have largely overseen security in the country since 2014, will buckle under Taliban pressure. Security reports have deemed the possible situation “catastrophic” without the support of the U.S. military and its contractors -- and the morale that leaves with it.
“History has shown us that [government forces] lack the will, the commitment, and the disciple the Taliban have,” security analyst Ted Callahan tells us. “That intangible factor gives the Taliban an edge over the Afghan security forces.”
Pakistan gives in to anti-French protests
Pakistanis are wondering where exactly their country is headed after Islamabad accepted every demand of Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist group that has held vocal protests against alleged blasphemy, a week after banning the party.
In return for ending the TLP’s weeklong crippling protests in major cities across the country, the government agreed to debate the expulsion of the French ambassador in the national parliament. The government also released hundreds of TLP supporters whose violent protests resulted in the killing of four police officers and the abduction of dozens more.
Afghanistan’s illegal gold mines
One of our video reports this week takes you to Badakhshan Province, where Afghans are driven by poverty to risk their lives illegally mining gold in the mountains. The backbreaking work, often done with the most primitive of tools, is the only source of income for desperate families. The only other option, one miner tells us, is to join the army and be killed.
It’s estimated that Afghanistan has almost $1 trillion in untapped mineral reserves, but officials say it’s often militants like the Taliban who profit from the illegal trade. Safar Mohammad, a 65-year-old miner, says he sometimes earns $4 or $5 a day but sometimes “we go home empty-handed.”
I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, and I encourage you to forward it to colleagues who might find it useful.
If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here. Until next week, I encourage you to visit our website and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.