Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Balochistan’s dangerous highways
Fresh evidence suggests that more residents of Balochistan are killed and injured in traffic accidents than by the separatist violence and Islamist attacks plaguing the resource-rich region for more than two decades.
The numbers are staggering. In the past 18 months alone, more than 16,000 people were killed or injured on Balochistan’s highways. According to a study, five times more people died in traffic accidents than suicide bombings over the 10-year period of 2006 to 2015, when terrorist violence peaked in the region.
“His blood-soaked body was soon brought back home,” Ghazi Khan, a farmer, said of his 16-year-old son who was killed in a head-on collision last month. “He left home happy and was on his way to break the Ramadan fast with his friends.” Just today, 18 pilgrims were killed when their bus overturned on a highway in southern Balochistan.
Third COVID wave in Afghanistan
Mustafa Sarwar reports on the mounting toll a third wave of COVID-19 infections is taking on Afghanistan’s estimated 35 million people, who are already reeling from increased violence amid the withdrawal of international forces.
Despite having one of the youngest populations in the world, a lack of vaccines and hesitancy among people are making matters even worse in a country that has few ICU beds and acute shortages of oxygen.
“The third wave of the coronavirus outbreak in Afghanistan could spiral out of control if people do not observe the health measures,” warns Fereydoun Zadran, a physician who treats COVID-19 patients in Kabul.
Pakistan’s ties with China
Reid Standish looks at how Beijing has adapted its flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project to suit the evolving ambitions of Pakistan’s rulers.
Many of the planned $62 billion projects have unraveled amid changes in leadership since CPEC, which is part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), rolled out in 2015. With the current civilian government ceding authority, the military has established even greater control over energy and infrastructure investments.
“[CPEC] has many problems, but it is still going ahead,” Filippo Boni, one of the report’s authors, told us. “China has invested money and credibility in Pakistan and progress on [CPEC] sends an important message about the wider state of the BRI.”
Hamid Mir apologizes
Daud Khattak and Frud Bezhan report on how Pakistan has become one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. The most recent example is Hamid Mir, the country’s most popular TV host, who was taken off the air after an emotional speech against the military.
“We fought in the past, and we will continue fighting,” Mir told us. “What is clear is that we will not flee, and we will stay put.”
But Mir later apologized to a committee of three journalist groups. "I respect the army as a [national] institution," he was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the committee. "My intention was not to cause harm or torment someone," he added. "I apologize from the bottom of my heart for the pain my words have caused."
Eradicating poppy crops
Afghanistan’s poppy fields produce a majority of the world’s heroin, which pours hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of the Taliban and other militants.
Officials are making a new push to eradicate the crops before they can be harvested and processed into opiates. So far, they’ve cleared almost 100 acres across Uruzgan, Jowzjan, Khost, and Nangarhar provinces. But it’s an uphill battle as many farmers are unwilling to change crops.
In this video report, we speak to farmers who say they have no other option. “They [the government] offer one sack of wheat a year, which can only reach us if God inspires kindness in the hearts of our representatives,” says farmer Abdul Qudoos. “Otherwise, they take it all and [we] get nothing.”
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