Welcome to Gandhara’s weekly newsletter after the Thanksgiving break. This briefing aims to bring you the best of our exclusive reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Every Friday, you get select dispatches from our extensive network of journalists and all the context you need to make sense of the political and cultural trends in the two countries.
If you’re new to the newsletter or haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.
Procedural progress at Afghan peace talks
After months of deadlock, the Afghan peace talks finally marked progress when the Afghan government and the Taliban agreed on the ground rules and procedures for their negotiations for brokering permanent peace and stitching together a shared political system.
But no matter the outcome, the country will continue to rely on international aid to survive -- something Kabul has done for most of its recent history. My colleague Nilly Kohzad explored the extent of that dependency, and the benefits it brought.
“When Afghanistan was not dependent on foreign aid of some kind, like in the ’90s, the civil war, or under the Taliban regime, those were disastrous times for the country,” noted William Byrd, senior Afghanistan expert at Washington’s U.S. Institute of Peace think tank.
The victims of war crimes speak out
Afghans are reeling from the personal tragedies they’ve endured during more than four decades of war. Our reporting from Uruzgan shows that victims and relatives of alleged atrocities by the Australian forces still await justice even after Canberra has owned some of them and apologized to Kabul.
“My heart burns whenever I recall my son’s killing,” says Mariam, whose 22-year-old son Rozi Khan was allegedly killed by the Australian forces a day before his wedding eight years ago.
Pakistan’s opposition showdown
The opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is ratcheting up its anti-government campaign in Punjab with plans for a rally in Lahore. The province is a crucial battleground in its efforts to force the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“When a political position finds an audience in Lahore, the rest of the country usually follows suit,” a key confidant of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told me. “This is why the December 13 rally will be a practical step toward ending the current government.”
Will Pakistan get a fifth province bordering china?
Even as Islamabad faces mounting domestic political pressure, Pakistani policymakers are moving toward tuning the vast region of Gilgit-Baltistan, part of the disputed Kashmir region with India and bordering China, into their country’s fifth province.
“The Chinese state prefers to keep greater control over border areas,” a scholar in Washington told my colleague Frud Behzan of the rationale behind Islamabad’s move while it has historically kept some of its borderlands as “ungoverned spaces.”
Land disputes on the rise in Pakistan’s tribal areas
We report on a violent land dispute between two Pashtun clans stemming from vague and conflicting ownership claims. Such disputes, a constant source of conflict, have recently turned into a major threat to stability in the tribal areas as the state is increasingly unwilling or unable to mediate.
“We want the state machinery to do its job. We want to see the government’s authority and rule of law established,” one activist in North Waziristan told us.
Iranian draft law imperils millions of Afghan migrants
Frud Bezhan reports on an Iranian draft law that will make life difficult for an estimated 3.5 million migrants and refugees in the country.
The bill, which proposes a 25-year prison term for undocumented migrants, is the latest chapter in a long history of discrimination against Afghans in Iran, where millions have lived since early 1980s.
Afghanistan’s own narcotics problem
In Kandahar, there are an estimated 300,000 drug addicts and only one treatment center. It offers no places for women.
In this video report we want to introduce you to a heroin addict who desperately needs treatment and listen to her story of Afghanistan’s own narcotics problem.
How a book ban backfired
A recent book ban in Pakistan has highlighted the question of whether banning books in the digital age can work. Alamzaib Khan Mahsud, a civil rights campaigner, told us how the ban on his book I Am Not The Accused, I Am The Complainant has piqued interest in his work.
“They oppress us and then try to silence us, too,” he said of the ban on his book, which details his time in prison last year and his campaign for demining and victims of forced disappearances in Pakistan’s western tribal areas.
Meet Quetta’s welding artist
Unable to support his six children through painting and sculpture, the Pakistani artist Munir Ahmad opened a welding shop in the city of Quetta where he repairs water heaters.
In the back of his store, he pursues his real passion -- painting vivid portraits and crafting small sculptures. Watch him tell his story in this video.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, and I encourage you to share it with colleagues who might find it useful. Again, if you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so here.
You can also reach us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I talked to Al-Jazeera’s The Take podcast about the assassination of my late colleague Mohammad Ilyas Dayee and the challenges and dangers Afghans civilians and journalists face. I invite you to listen, and read some of his best work.