Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan. This week, we are publishing a day earlier than usual because of local holidays.
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Pakistan’s Afghan Dilemma
Pakistan takes great pride in having facilitated the Taliban’s deal with the United States, but Islamabad has a contentious track record of attempting to shape the Afghan state and its maneuvering could backfire.
It’s essentially “an economically impoverished country seeking to project its powers beyond borders through nonstate actors under the umbrella of nuclear capability,” former Pakistani lawmaker Farhatullah Babar told me of Islamabad’s reliance on the Afghan Taliban.
For Pakistanis, the aftershocks of their country’s involvement in Afghanistan can still be felt. Residents of Jani Khel ended an angry eight-day protest after the government promised action against rival Taliban factions that have plagued the area for two decades. The protest followed the discovery of the bullet-riddled corpses of four teenagers.
Such complications loom over U.S. efforts to accelerate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban ahead of the May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani revealed the details of his peace plan that the Taliban rejected. He said Kabul would agree to an interim government if the Taliban would honor a cease-fire and fast-track elections.
Preserving Afghan Tatar identity
Frud Bezhan wrote about the quest of Afghanistan’s small Tatar community to reclaim its cultural roots by relearning its native language and reconnecting with Tatars in Russia and the global diaspora.
Ethnic Tatars in Afghanistan have long been classed as Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, or Pashtuns, but the government has finally recognized the minority as a separate ethnolinguistic group.
"We Afghan Tatars have forgotten our language because of geography and environmental influences,” Zabihullah Tatar, an activist, told us.
Afghanistan’s vanishing religious minorities
With reporting by the Afghan service, I write about the plight of Afghanistan's declining non-Muslim minorities. Afghan Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities now risk complete annihilation from their homeland if the hard-line Taliban returns to power.
Afghanistan’s once-thriving Jewish community consists of a sole member, but he, too, plans to leave. Zablon Simintov says he’s decided to pack up and move amid the specter of increased intolerance and hostility in a country that cannot find peace.
“After our important festivals [Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in September], I will leave Afghanistan,” Simintov told us.
Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis
Several Afghan and international watchdogs have called this week for a probe into civilian killings in Afghanistan, where three female polio workers, a policewoman, and several other women and children were killed in targeted attacks and fighting between the Taliban and government forces.
A controversial Afghan intelligence raid in Khost that allegedly resulted in the killing of women and children prompted the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to investigate after the Taliban said such attacks prevented them from agreeing to the reduction in violence sought by the government.
But Human Rights Watch accused the Taliban of engaging in “a pattern of threats, intimidation, and violence” against journalists in Afghanistan who have been targeted in attacks that have killed nearly a dozen media workers since November.
In a dire warning of a looming humanitarian catastrophe, Amnesty International called on the Afghan government and the international community to accelerate assistance to Afghanistan’s 4 million internally displaced persons, who are extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.
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