Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Taliban’s quest for victory
Frud Bezhan reports on the Taliban’s strategy to militarily take over Afghanistan as it pushes to run over more territory in the wake of the U.S. troops withdrawal. The group already controls as much of the country as the Afghan government and hotly contests the rest.
“The Taliban can mass more forces in the field once U.S. airpower is gone,” Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, which has tracked the Taliban’s battlefield advances for years, told us. “The Taliban is going to push to take large areas of the south and east, secure the passage to Kabul, maintain pressure on provinces surrounding the capital, all the while continuing to fight in the north and west to keep Afghan forces occupied.”
Tamim Asey, a former Afghan deputy defense minister, argued that “once the Taliban has tested government forces and realized that a total military victory is not within reach then it will use violence as leverage to secure further concessions at the negotiation table.” (See our map of the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan).
Pakistan’s authoritarian rule
Islamabad has crossed a major milestone in muzzling dissent and the free press after one of the country’s most prominent journalists, Hamid Mir, was forced off the air. In a fiery speech last week, he had criticized the military while condemning an attack on a fellow journalist.
The move coincides with a new draft law that establishes almost total government control over print, electronic, and even social media. But the government crackdown is meeting a strong pushback from journalists and international media watchdogs, which might persuade Islamabad to step back from the brink.
Standing up to sexual harassment
Monawar Shah brings you the story of one woman who broke a major taboo by standing up for women’s rights after she was allegedly sexually harassed by a professor at Islamia College University in Peshawar. Her campaigning won over students and secured a ruling against the teacher. But the case has pitted students against faculty on campus.
“We would like to create more awareness about this issue,” said Jabir Khan, a male student who has joined female students to protest harassment on the campus. “Our campaigning aims to force the university administration to address this issue.”
India’s Afghan dilemma
In an opinion piece, Raghav Sharma, an India academic who specializes in Afghanistan, weighs in on New Delhi’s dilemmas in Afghanistan as it scrambles to protect its interests during a major transition in which its ally the Afghan government is seen as ceding ground to an ascendent Taliban.
“The rapidly changing political dynamic in Afghanistan leaves little room for complacency,” Sharma concludes. “The onus is on New Delhi to seize the opportunity and ensure its voice is effectively heard and its security concerns are addressed.”
Protecting mothers and children
Afghanistan has one of the highest birthrates in Asia, and yet it also has one of the world’s highest rates of infant mortality. Childbirth there is risky for both mother and baby, and doctors are urging women to take control of their reproductive health and wait longer between pregnancies.
Many women who want to plan their pregnancies, however, have no access to contraception, which is considered taboo by some Muslims. In a video report this week, we visit a maternity hospital in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan Province, where we speak with mothers who have suffered tremendous loss due to poverty, malnutrition, and limited access to health care.
“I have given birth 15 times, but many of my babies have died,” one mother, named Gul Seka, tells us from the waiting room, adding that “only God knows” why some lived and some did not.
Trash or treasure?
We also travel to Bush Market, which was named after the U.S. president who ordered troops into Afghanistan in 2001. Here you can buy what the Americans didn’t take with them when they handed over their base in Kandahar to the Afghan military in mid-May. As U.S. troops leave the country, there’s a thriving market for the things they left behind.
There are computers, fridges, radios, body armor, and even vehicles and military equipment. Some claim that weapons and munitions are also being sold at the market, something that local officials have been quick to deny.
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