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.
Violence overshadows next round of Afghan peace talks
Days before the U.S. presidential inauguration, talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are set to resume in the Qatari capital, Doha, on January 9.
Hopes for progress in the drawn-out talks is overshadowed by an increase in violence. Among the dozens of Afghan security forces, civilians, and Taliban fighters killed in attacks across Afghanistan this week, another journalist, Bismillah Adel Aimaq, was killed in a targeted attack in Ghor Province.
In telling remarks, Najia Anwari, a spokeswoman for the Peace Affairs Ministry, conceded that the negotiations were “a complicated process.” U.S. forces spokespeople in Afganistan publicly voiced their intention to defend Afghan forces from Taliban attacks and suggested such murders are part of a Taliban assassination campaign.
Hazara killings reverberate in Pakistan
In Pakistan, the Shi’ite minority is protesting the killing of Hazara coal miners in an attack claimed by the Islamic State militants. In Quetta, hundreds of Hazara mourners have joined a sit-in protest in sub-zero temperatures since January 3. They are refusing to bury the 11 victims until Prime Minister Imran Khan guarantees their protection.
"No one slaughters animals as fearlessly as they cut off the necks of our people. This is the murder of all humanity,” one Hazara protester told my colleagues from Radio Mashaal.
Allegations of murder follow Toronto death
My colleague Frud Bezhan looks into the mysterious death of Karima Baloch, an exiled separatist activist who died in mysterious circumstances in Toronto last month. Like other members of Pakistan’s long-oppressed ethnic Baluch minority, she had sought asylum in the West after threats were made to her life.
Her home province of Balochistan is home to a simmering insurgency by separatists, and the two-decade insurrection and Islamabad’s harsh response have frequently bred tragedies.
The lack of a definitive explanation of her untimely death has led to a suspicion of foul play among exiled activists, who are demanding a thorough probe by the Canadian authorities.
Islamabad quickly responds to Hindu temple destruction
In some optimistic news for minorities, the authorities in northwestern Pakistan acted quickly by arresting the clerics and politicians who incited a mob to destroy a Hindu temple in Karak.
The Pakistani government announced plans to rebuild the temple but, in the words of one rights activist, the destruction “is yet another example of persistent discrimination faced by the beleaguered Hindu community in Pakistan."
Identity theft generates profits in Pakistan
The proliferation of digital technology in Pakistan has its downsides, too. In an insightful piece, my colleague Anisa Ajmal reports on how women are increasingly becoming the victims of identity theft as vendors use their ID cards to profit from selling illegal mobile phone connections across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“If police discover that a SIM card used for a crime belongs to an innocent or illiterate person whose ID card was wrongfully used, it’s extremely hard to [find the real perpetrator],” a journalist in Peshawar told her, addressing the far-reaching consequences of identity theft.
Pakistani reporter turns to construction work to survive
In a revealing video report this week, we bring you the story of Shakirullah, who turned to menial labor after his reporting career ended amid mass layoffs.
He is among thousands of Pakistani media workers who have lost their jobs in recent years because of shrinking revenues and cost-cutting measures. Censorship and an increase of media ownership by industry tycoons with partisan agendas has also undermined press freedom in the country.
“The owners tell us that they can’t afford to pay workers,” says Fida Khattak, the head of a journalist union in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “But if we look at the TV and newspapers today, there is no shortage of advertisements.”
Afghan calligraphers preserves ancient art
In another video report, we bring you the inspiring efforts of Afghan calligrapher Abdul Hakim Karimizada, who is seeking to preserve and promote traditional Islamic calligraphy.
While living on support from patrons, Karimzada’s contributions might see his form of calligraphy registered with UNESCO, which would help preserve the centuries-old tradition.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, and I encourage you to share it with colleagues who might find it useful. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.
You can also reach us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.