Context & Culture

AAN’s most-read dispatches in 2018: So much war… and a little peace and justice


After a difficult and violent 2018, in which AAN publications on the war featured strongly, the author wanted a more positive image to start 2019. Here, Taekwondo students train in a gym in Injil district, Herat province. (Photo: Hoshang Hashimi/AFP, 2018)

Here at AAN, we have been looking back at what we published in 2018, in English and Dari and Pashto. We have also been considering what you, dear readers, have been most interested in. Compiling the list of our most-read dispatches in 2018 was a sobering task, says AAN Co-Director, Kate Clark (with data from Sudhanshu Verma): the continuing war appears to have been uppermost in AAN and readers’ minds.

AAN’s dispatches – our term for our longish ‘every day’ publications – include both relatively quick responses to current events and pieces based on weeks or months of field research. All are substantial, going through several rounds of editing, with a focus on facts, analysis and language. We published more than a hundred dispatches in 2018 and they covered a wide variety of topics from granular accounts of schooling and health care in a single district under Taleban control or why a particular Afghan Local Police unit was successfully protecting the population, to broader topics – water scarcity, sexual harassment, and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. There were also series, for example on the elections and the 1978 coup, the start of so much bloodshed and unhappiness in the country.

At AAN, each researcher generally writes about what interests them, which we hope keeps our writing lively and fresh. We also try to make sure we cover a broad range of topics, so set ourselves to cover seven key themes. These are listed below with the percentage of dispatches published and how many dispatches from each category appeared in the twenty most-read dispatches of 2018.

  • War and Peace: 12 in the top twenty, 41 per cent of dispatches
  • Economy and Development: 3 in the top twenty, 8 per cent of dispatches
  • Rights and Freedoms: 3 in the top twenty, 8 per cent of dispatches
  • Context and Culture: 1 in the top twenty, 7 per cent of dispatches
  • The Political Landscape: 0 in the top twenty, 31 per cent of dispatches
  • International Engagement: 0 in the top twenty, 4 per cent of dispatches
  • Regional Relations: 0 in the top twenty, 4 per cent of dispatches

The weight of the conflict and the hope for peace are clear. More than half of our top-twenty best-reads were about the war. Not all of those 12 dispatches were about the fighting: three were about peace and two of these were somehow positive; one examined the glimpse of a peaceful Afghanistan provided by the Eid ceasefire and the other reviewed a practically-minded publication exploring how peace could be secured. Several of the ‘war and peace’ dispatches also sought to explain particular aspects of the conflict, rather than just being straight reporting: why did ISKP arise in Nangrahar province? why was there a peak in urban attacks? what is the Taleban’s ideology?

The last time we took a look back, reviewing what was most-read in 2014 to 2016 , we found a three-way split between war and peace, the political landscape and culture and context. (1) This year, the war dominated. However, while coverage of the elections boosted our ‘political landscape’ dispatch numbers, it was only towards the end of the year. They had less time to get into the top twenty. Yet, several published in October were hovering just outside the most-read list. (2) Also, in terms of ‘tags’ – the words which we associate with dispatches when we post them to the website and which get picked up by search engines – ‘election’ was by far the most searched-for tag. The next, a distant second, was the ‘ISKP’ tag. So, it seems there is still an appetite for understanding how the dynamics of power in Afghanistan play out in the electoral arena.

Various styles of dispatch appear to go down well with you, our readers. The three most-read dispatches in 2018 all pull together data from the whole of 2017, on migration, poverty and violence. Other popular dispatches looked at rare, but interesting topics using material gleaned from diverse sources – the history of opium in Afghanistan and drone warfare (from 2016 and 2017 respectively). It was good to see two of the economy and development dispatches in the top twenty, given that both dealt with complex, weighty topics – the budget and the tax system. We were not expecting to see them in a list of most popular dispatches. However, we did work hard to ‘translate’ economics-speak into every day English and place economics in the wider context of politics and society. It was good to see these more technical dispatches getting a wide audience. Other dispatches in the top twenty tapped into wider interests, reaching an audience beyond our normal Afghanistan watchers. An example of this would be the piece about the (actually what we thought was a non-existing group of Uyghur militants in Badakhshan who had been bombed by the US and reported as posing a threat to China.

The top twenty best-read AAN dispatches in 2018

Pressure and Peril: Afghan refugees and Europe in 2017 Rights and Freedoms (published 2017) The number of Afghan refugees arriving on Europe’s shores this year was significantly lower than in 2015 and 2016, but the arrivals have not stopped.

More violent, more widespread: Trends in Afghan security in 2017 War and Peace, Continuing our look back at key developments in Afghanistan in 2017, after migration and peace talks, we come to security. Tracking trends in security has become more difficult, as more areas suffering conflict have become inaccessible and those fighting – both Afghan and international –less transparent.

The State of Aid and Poverty in 2018: A new look at aid effectiveness in Afghanistan Economy and Development, Two new reports have found that despite improvements in some sectors, aid delivery in Afghanistan is still largely ineffective and poverty has risen.

On the Cultural History of Opium – and how poppy came to Afghanistan Culture and Context (from 2016) Mention drugs or Google the word ‘opium’ and the link to Afghanistan will never be far away. No wonder, since over the last few decades, Afghanistan has become the largest opium producer in the world. But where did opium come from, how did it spread and what are its cultural expressions?

The 2018 Afghan National Budget: Confronting hard realities by accelerating reforms Economy and Development, Afghanistan’s budget for the next financial year, 1397/2018, is markedly different from previous ones. This is a budget written to ‘international standards’, giving more information, both on 2018 and earlier years, as well as future projections, with detail at the level of ministry, project and province. The Ministry of Finance has tried to be realistic in allocating money according to what ministries actually spend and has abandoned the practice of carrying over unspent funds to the next year.

Battle for Faryab: Fighting intensifies on one of Afghanistan’s major frontlines War and Peace, An intense battle is under way near the city of Maimana, the capital of Faryab. In this northern province, the Taleban gained control over a majority of districts over 2017, including all of those close to the provincial capital, which is practically under siege.

Tilting at Windmills: Dubious US claims of targeting Chinese Uyghur militants in Badakhshan War and Peace, In early February 2018, US forces conducted airstrikes in Afghanistan’s north-eastern province of Badakhshan, supposedly targeting ‘support structures’ of the ‘East Turkistan Islamic Movement’ (ETIM), allegedly a group of Uyghur extremists hailing from China’s far west said to be focused on attacking the Chinese state.

How much do I need to pay? Changes to Afghanistan’s Tax Law cause chaos and confusion Economy and Development (published 2017) What are the tax obligations of citizens, residents and investors in Afghanistan? This question is much harder to answer today than it was 18 months ago.

Who shall cease the fire first? Afghanistan’s peace offer to the Taleban War and Peace, The second meeting of the Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation that was held in the Afghan capital on 28 February 2018 marked a change in the peace rhetoric. The Afghan government presented some very concrete proposals for peace talks with the Taleban.

10 The Killing of Razeq: Removing the Taleban’s strongest foe in Kandahar, an indirect hit at elections War and Peace, An attack in Kandahar city has left the province’s governor, NDS chief and police commander, the unrivalled strongman of southern Afghanistan, General Abdul Razeq, dead.

11 The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How it began and where it stands now in Nangarhar War and Peace (published 2016) Judging by the group’s turbulent past, which saw it cornered in Nangarhar (in contrast to its ambitions of a nationwide expansion), it seems ISKP is now possibly more bent on striking in places like Kabul for the sake of gaining attention and boosting its fighters’ morale.

12 The Eid Ceasefire: Allowing Afghans to imagine their country at peace War and Peace, Ceasefires by the government, Taleban and United States over the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr has partially ended with the Taleban ordering their fighters back to “normal operations.” However, the three-day truce resulted in an unprecedented peaceful movement of fighters and soldiers into territories controlled by the other.

13 Deciding to Leave Afghanistan (1): Motives for migration Rights and Freedoms (published 2016) AAN has carried out a series of twelve in-depth interviews with families of Afghans who recently travelled to Europe. The conversations provide a fascinating insight into the practicalities of both the decision-making processes and the journey, the complex interplay between economic and security considerations and the mixed feelings families often have once their loved ones have finally, safely, reached Europe.

14 Ideology in the Afghan Taliban: A new AAN report War and Peace (published 2017) The Taleban’s ideology has transformed over the past two decades. While the movement once typified a ‘traditionalist’ Islam – that is, it sought to articulate and defend a particular concept of Islam found in southern Pashtun villages – it is now, in its insurgency phase, closer to forms of political Islam espoused in the Arab world.

15 Drone warfare 1: Afghanistan, birthplace of the armed drone War and Peace (published 2017) Using drones to carry out targeted killings has become an integral part of the United States’ ‘war on terror’. Afghanistan in the late 1990s was the laboratory where the US developed armed drones as it searched for a way to deal with Osama bin Laden who was then ordering attacks on American targets from his safe haven in Kandahar.

16 How to End the Afghan War? A new publication on peace reviewed War and Peace A new short book-length report, “Incremental peace in Afghanistan” looks at what is needed to end the Afghan conflict.

17 Climbing on China’s Priority List: Views on Afghanistan from Beijing Regional Relations, Since the never completed withdrawal of NATO troops in Afghanistan, China has become more involved in one of its most conflictive neighbour’s affairs.

18 Five Questions to Make Sense of the New Peak in Urban Attacks and a Violent Week in Kabul War and Peace Between 20 and 29 January 2018, there were five high profile attacks in major cities and districts in Afghanistan. Altogether, almost 250 people, most of them civilians, were killed in these attacks. Three of them (and half of the attacks countrywide) have been claimed by the Islamic State and two by the Taleban, but with the changing dynamics of the Afghan conflict is it becoming increasingly difficult to trust the claims of responsibility or to attribute responsibility.

19 Harassment of Women in Afghanistan: A hidden phenomenon addressed in too many laws Rights and Freedoms, Afghan women and girls often quietly endure harassment, including sexual harassment. Speaking out brings with it the possibility of their honour being called into question, and could lead to further restrictions being placed on their lives.

20 Precarious Consolidation: Qari Hekmat’s IS-affiliated ‘island’ survives another Taleban onslaught War and Peace, Qari Hekmat, a self-proclaimed IS commander in control of parts of Jawzjan, has survived another Taleban attempt to oust him from the area in January 2018.

Peace activists shout slogans demanding an end to the 40-year old war as they march from Helmand to Kabul, here in Ghazni province. Nine of AAN’s most-read dispatches were on the war. Three looked at how to get peace. Photo: Zakeria Hashimi/AFP, June 2018

What AAN’s readers in Dari and Pashto are interested in – a very different list

AAN translates some of our dispatches for publication on our Dari and Pashto website. Translation of these very detailed, often nuanced and often technical publications takes time and care, but we currently translate more than a third of them – publishing just over 40 in Dari or Pashto, compared to just over 100 in English. Below, we categorise the ‘top ten’ most-read AAN dispatches published in Dari and Pashto in 2018 into our seven thematic areas and give the total percentage of dispatches published for each of those themes. 

  • War and Peace 4 in top ten, 18 per cent of dispatches
  • Rights and Freedoms 4 in top ten, 23 per cent of dispatches
  • Context and Culture 1 in top ten, 10 per cent of dispatches
  • The Political Landscape 1 in top ten, 38 per cent of dispatches
  • Economy and Development 0 in top ten, 10 per cent of dispatches
  • International Engagement 0 in top ten, 0 per cent of dispatches
  • Regional Relations 0 in top ten, 0 per cent of dispatches

 Readers accessing our dispatches through the Dari and Pashto AAN website were focussing on very different topics from the English-language readers. War also featured strongly, but so did dispatches in the rights and freedoms category. Two dispatches appeared in both lists – on sexual harassment of women and the emergence of ISKP in Nangrahar. Also noticeable were that six of the dispatches were published before 2018 (one from 2012), indicating that publications in Dari and Pashto may have a longer shelf life or there is a scarcity of solidly-researched material published on these topics in Afghan languages (legal aid, the International Criminal Court and how Uzbeks are portrayed). Curiously, one of the best-read dispatches in the top-ten is a ‘look ahead’ to events in 2017.

The top ten best-read AAN dispatches in Dari and Pashto in 2018

1 Afghan Exodus: The re-emergence of smugglers along the Balkan route (published in 2016) Rights and Freedoms

2 From ‘Slavers’ to ‘Warlords’: Descriptions of Afghanistan’s Uzbeks in western writing (published in 2014) Culture and Context

3 The ICC’s Planned Visit to Afghanistan: Crimes, capacities and the willingness to prosecute (published in 2016) Rights and Freedoms

4 Harassment of Women in Afghanistan: A hidden phenomenon addressed in too many laws, Rights and Freedoms

5 The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How it began and where it stands now in Nangarhar (published in 2016) War and Peace

6 Legal Aid in Afghanistan: Contexts, Challenges and the Future (published in 2012) Rights and Freedoms

7 Non-Pashtun Taleban of the North (2): Case studies of Uzbek Taleban in Faryab and Sar-e Pul (published in 2017), War and Peace

8 Inside and Outside the System: New AAN report on Afghanistan’s political parties published, Political Landscape

9 What to Watch? Key issues to follow in Afghanistan in 2017 (published in 2017) Political Landscape

10 The 2016 Insurgency in the North: Beyond Kunduz city – lessons (not taken) from the Taleban takeover (published in 2016) War and Peace

Ongoing research to watch out for in 2019

Not featuring in either our top-twenty or top-ten reads, were dispatches that are forming interesting bodies of research in series which will carry on into 2019

Coverage of the elections. Dispatches published ahead of election day were brought together in a dossier, Electoral reform and the preparations for the 2018 elections. Dispatches published on the day itself and since are published in the ongoing series: “The 2018 Election Observed”. We fully expect to start a further series as the presidential elections approach.

A research project looking into local defence forces, such as the Afghan Local Police, uprising groups and the now-mobilising Afghan Territorial Force. When local defence forces work, they have proved highly effective in defending people and territory ­– one reason why the Taleban see them as ‘enemy number 1’, more dangerous than foreign or regular Afghan troops. When they fail, though, it can be catastrophic, with abuses of civilians and the co-option of units by ethnic, tribal and/or criminal interests. In this series of dispatches, we have been investigating the factors behind what makes for a successful local defence force.

One Land: Two Rules is a series of case studies looking at how services are delivered in districts under the control or influence of insurgents, focussing on schools, healthcare, power and communications. This research is already bringing insights into how communities negotiate with the Taleban to keep services running, how the insurgents differ in what they allow or promote or are flexible about, and how district-level contacts between insurgents and government officials are maintained.

You, our readers

Finally, we have also been getting a little information about our readership. We saw a 17 per cent rise in visits to our website in 2018, along with a slight rise in the number of readers (about 1%). In other words, we have a steady number of readers who last year visited the website more frequently. As to where you live, the largest number – unsurprisingly – are in Afghanistan, 40 per cent of the total – a steady proportion since 2014. The statistics for where our readers in 2018 lived are:

  1. Afghanistan 40 per cent of readers
  2. United States 29 per cent
  3. UK seven per cent
  4. Germany five per cent
  5. India five per cent
  6. Pakistan five per cent
  7. Canada four per cent
  8. Australia four per cent
  9. France two per cent

Compared to 2017, we saw sharp rises in the number of readers in the US (up 10%), Pakistan (up 13%), Canada (up 23%) and Australia (up 27%). There was a sharp fall in visits to our website from those living in Germany (down 19%). We saw numbers of readers in Germany increase markedly when large numbers of Afghan migrants were arriving there in 2016, so the fall in readers this year may represent migrants and/or native Germans interested in Afghanistan checking websites like ours less frequently, now the peak of arrivals is well over. We are not sure.

So, as 2018 has drawn to a close and at the start of 2019, we would like to wish our readers a very happy year ahead and express a hope that peace will feature more than war in this year’s most-read dispatches.

(1) Our last look back was of the best-read dispatches of 2014-2016. It was quite a different list. Many more political and cultural dispatches appeared in the top fifty, along, of course, with the perennially interesting –­ or important ­– topic of the war and how to end it..

(1) The best-read dispatches 2014-2016 were:

  1.  The Park Palace Attack: More losses for Afghanistan (updated with a list of the dead)
 – 14 May 2015: 
The Taleban attack on a Kabul guesthouse which killed 15 people (not 14, as earlier reports said) on 13 May 2015 was aimed, the Taleban claimed, at “invaders”, specifically an “important meeting” of “important people from many invading countries, especially Americans.” In this update of our earlier dispatch, AAN’s Kate Clark identifies all the dead: all were civilian and eight were aid workers, five, Afghans from the regions who had been visiting Kabul for training.
  2. Finally Towards a Complete Afghan Cabinet? The next 16 minister nominees and their bios (amended)
 – 24 March 2015: 
Six months after the inauguration of the National Unity Government and two months after the last attempt to introduce cabinet members to the parliament, there is now a new list of nominees.
  3. The Shadows of ‘Islamic State’ in Afghanistan: What threat does it hold?
 – 12 February 2015
: The Islamic State (IS) group, also known by an Arabic acronym, Daesh, has gained a toehold in Afghanistan, although with the loss in a drone strike of its most prominent and recently appointed commander, Rauf Khadem, that toehold is looking precarious.
  4. New Faces Versus Old Structures: Afghanistan’s national unity cabinet (amended)
 – 12 January 2015: 
Finally, Afghanistan has a cabinet, pending parliament’s approval of course, three and a half months after Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah were inaugurated as president and chief executive officer (CEO) of a national unity government.
  5. From Alexander the Great to Ahmad Shah Massud: A social history of the pakol
 – 3 January 2014: 
The flat, woollen, rolled-up hat called a pakol is nowadays one of the undisputed symbols of Afghanistan.
  6. The Study and Understudy of Afghanistan’s Ethnic Groups: What we know – and don’t know
 – 10 September 2014: 
From voting blocs to the share of power in government ministries to the composition of the insurgency, references to ethnic groups are frequently made in reporting and analysis.
  7. Power to the People: How to extend Afghans’ access to electricity – 
3 February 2015: 
More than four billion dollars have, to date, been spent on Afghanistan’s power infrastructure.
  8. Rambo Was Too Late: Afghanistan in Western films (part I), from 1909 to 2001
 – 23 December 2014
: Afghanistan has rarely featured in western films, especially when compared to other foreign locales – from countries in Africa to Latin America to East Asia.
  9. The Fall of Kunduz: What does it tell us about the strength of the post-Omar Taleban?
 – 30 September 2015
: The capture of Kunduz by the Taleban has surely written off any idea of the movement having been seriously undermined or fractured by the death of Mullah Omar and the leadership dispute that followed.
  10. Taleban in Transition: How Mansur’s death and Haibatullah’s ascension may affect the war (and peace)
 – 27 May 2016: 
The killing of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur in an American drone strike has deprived the Taleban of their official, and before that, de facto leader of six years.
  11. Taleban Closing in on the City: The next round of the tug-of-war over Kunduz
 – 2 September 2014
: Within the past two months, the Taleban have managed to secure additional territory around the provincial capital of Kunduz and have been closing in on the city itself.
  12. The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How it began and where it stands now in Nangarhar
 – 27 July 2016: 
The Islamic State’s local franchise in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the TUTAP protests in Kabul on 23 July 2016.
  13. Afghanistan in World War I (1): Afghans in the Kaiser’s jihad
 – 27 July 2014:
 A hundred years ago, on 28 July 1914, the First World War started when Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia after a group of young pro-independence Serbian terrorists shot dead the Austro-Hungarian crown prince in Sarajevo one month earlier.
  14. To Say It Like It Is: Norway’s evaluation of its part in the international intervention
 – 23 August 2016: 
Norway has published the first comprehensive evaluation of one country’s contribution to the international intervention in Afghanistan.
  15. A new Afghan Shia Leader: Return to quietism versus political Islam?
 – 2 November 2014: 
A new leader is emerging in Afghanistan’s Shia community, one who so far has chosen to abstain from any presence or involvement in the religious or political affairs of the country.
  16. Power to the People (2): The TUTAP protests – 
16 May 2016: When protesters interrupted President Ashraf Ghani’s speech in London three times on 13 May 2016, the heated controversy surrounding the route of TUTAP, a main electricity grid initiative, received even international attention.
  17. Toward Fragmentation? Mapping the post-Omar Taleban
 – 24 November 2015: 
The Taleban movement has entered its third decade with infighting threatening its – up till now – remarkable unity.
  18. The Murree Process: Divisive peace talks further complicated by Mullah Omar’s death
 – 5 August 2015
: News of Mullah Omar’s death was leaked just a day before a second meeting between Taleban and Afghan government representatives was supposed to have taken place.
  19. From ‘Slavers’ to ‘Warlords’: Descriptions of Afghanistan’s Uzbeks in western writing
 – 17 October 2014: 
From the early 1800s to the present day, western writers have explored Afghanistan either in person or from a distance, their publications providing a view of Afghanistan’s governments and people to the wider audience in Europe, the United States and the west.
  20. Three Birds with One Stone: Signing the BSA and NATO SOFA to project reliability
 – 6 October 2014
: By signing long-delayed security agreements with the US and NATO on the second day of its existence (30 September 2014), the new Afghan leadership has hit at least three birds with one stone.
  21. On the Cultural History of Opium – and how poppy came to Afghanistan
 – 11 January 2016: 
Mention drugs or Google the word ‘opium’ and the link to Afghanistan will never be far away.
  22. The Kabuliwala of Kolkata: Photo exhibition about a community longing for Afghanistan that once was home – 
22 March 2015: 
In the suburbs of Kolkata, India, lives, in seclusion, a little known community of migrants who once came from Afghanistan – the first of them around the year of 1840.
  23. An “Afghan Exodus” (1): Facts, figures, trends
 – 14 November 2015
: The on-going “exodus” of Afghans – now the second largest group entering the EU – has contributed to the increasing refugee numbers across Europe.
  24. Elections 2014 (51): Finally, a deal, but not yet democracy
 – 21 September 2014: 
After more than three months of audits and behind-the-scenes negotiation, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah signed a deal today to set up a government of national unity.
  25. The Failed Pilot Test: Kunduz’ local governance crisis
 – 5 June 2015: 
The fighting in Kunduz is only one side of the problem.
  26. Helmand (1): A crisis a long time coming
 – 10 March 2016
: The rapid fall of entire areas of Helmand to the Taleban during the second half of 2015 and early 2016 has left the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) scrambling to hold the line and try to push back, and led to international forces deploying troops to the province.
  27. The New Taleban Deputy Leaders: Is there an obvious successor to Akhtar Mansur?
 – 10 February 2016: 
Reports of the alleged killing of new Taleban leader Akhtar Mansur in December 2015 as well as his subsequent disappearance from public view have raised the question as to who might be next-in-line and whether there exists an internal, legitimate mechanism for succession.
  28. A Taleb Lost in a Polish Forest and More: Afghanistan in western films (part 2), 2001 to 2015
 – 11 September 2015: 
Since 2001, there has been a relatively large number of western films that feature Afghanistan – either briefly or, in some cases, for the entire length of the movie.
  29. From Mullah Omar to Mansur: Change at the Taleban’s top leadership
 – 31 July 2015: 
After almost two days of silence, the Taleban have finally admitted that their supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahed, as they call him, has died.
  30. The 2016 Insurgency in the North: Beyond Kunduz city – lessons (not taken) from the Taleban takeover
 – 30 January 2016: 
In the last two months of 2015, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) conducted a significant counteroffensive to remove the Taleban from areas just outside Kunduz city as well as from a number of its outlying district centres.
  31. To Syria, not Afghanistan: Central Asian jihadis ‘neglect’ their neighbour – 
8 October 2014: 
Since the American and Northern Alliance defeat of the Taleban and their Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) allies in northern Afghanistan in late 2001, the arrival of would-be fighters from the former Soviet countries of Central Asia to Afghanistan has been a very small trickle.
  32. The Refugee Dilemma: Afghans in Pakistan between expulsion and failing aid schemes
 – 9 March 2015: 
Nearly 52,000 Afghans living in Pakistan have, within the past ten weeks, packed their belongings and crossed the border back into Afghanistan – more than twice as many as in the whole 12 months of 2014.
  33. Messages in Chalk: ‘Islamic State’ haunting Afghanistan?
 – 17 November 2014: 
Rumours of the presence of Islamic State (IS) elements in Afghanistan have repeatedly made it into the media over recent months, sparking public debate and adding to the anxiety about what course the insurgency might take.
  34. Chechens in Afghanistan 1: A Battlefield Myth That Will Not Die
 – 27 June 2016:
 In 2001, as the United States and other allied military forces attacked Taleban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, numerous soldiers, journalists and Afghans allied to the Americans relayed stories of a fearless and deadly opponent, incomparably worse than any other enemy: the Chechen.
  35. The Start into the Better Governance Marathon: Ghani’s first days – 
11 October 2014: 
New president Ashraf Ghani has proven himself a man intent on not losing time – after so much of it had been lost in post-electoral counting, auditing and political wrangling since April 2014.
  36. Going in Circles: The never-ending story of Afghanistan’s unfinished Ring Road
 – 16 January 2015: 
Since the presidential campaign and during trips abroad President Ashraf Ghani has been promising to turn Afghanistan into an “Asian roundabout” for regional trade and transit.
  37. From Point Zero to ‘New Warmth’: Russian-Afghan relations since 1989
 – 8 August 2014: 
After the Soviet occupation years, Afghan-Russian relations were on absolute zero.
  38. The Cabinet and the Parliament: Afghanistan’s government in trouble before it is formed
 – 20 January 2015: 
President Ashraf Ghani has introduced his cabinet to the parliament, which now has to confirm or reject his candidates.
  39. The Killing of Farkhunda (2): Mullahs, feminists and a gap in the debate
 – 29 April 2015: 
From ultra-conservative Salafis to secular-minded feminists, an astonishingly diverse range of voices have found their heroine in Farkhunda, the young woman who was lynched by a mob in Kabul on 19 March 2015.
  40. The IEC Announces 2016 Election Date – but what about electoral reform?
 – 18 January 2016
: In a brief press conference on Monday 18 January 2016, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the date for Afghanistan’s next vote: 15 October 2016.
  41. ANSF Wrong-Footed: The Taleban offensive in Kunduz – 
3 May 2015
: The Taleban’s first major onslaught in their ‘spring offensive’ this year took the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by surprise.
  42. Security in Kunduz Worsening Further: The case of Khanabad
 – 28 October 2014
: Kunduz has had the worst security environment of any province in the north for the past few years.
  43. Shame and Impunity: Is violence against women becoming more brutal?
 – 30 November 2014
: A father raping his daughter over almost ten years without the family daring to intervene (except to help with abortions); a woman burnt after a family fight; another woman mutilated because her husband enjoyed doing so – these are just some of the cases of violence against women and girls that have been reported in Afghan media over the past months.
  44. Hazaras in the Crosshairs? A scrutiny of recent incidents
 – 24 April 2015: 
Eight abductions of groups of people have been reported since late February by officials, activists or media as having targeted ethnic Hazaras.
  45. Stanakzai Goes from Peace to War: For Afghanistan, finally a defence minister? –28 May 2015: 
The national unity government is making its fourth attempt to appoint a minister of defence.
  46. Bird Bomber: Police kill ‘dangerous’ houbara bustard (amended)
 – 5 December 2014: 
Police in Faryab have shot a wild bird which had an antenna attached to it, fearing it had been sent by the Taleban to target them.
  47. The 2015 Insurgency in the North (3): The fall and recapture of Kunduz
 – 16 October 2015
: It took 15 days of fierce fighting for Afghan government forces and their US allies to push the Taleban back out of Kunduz city.
  48. Plants of Afghanistan 2: the Koh-e Baba Foraging Top Ten (amended)
 – 11 June 2012: 
Wild rhubarb (chukri or rawash) is surely one of the delights of the Afghan spring.
  49. Far From Back to Normal: The Kunduz crisis lingers on
 – 17 August 2016
: The Taleban’s recent takeover of both Qala-ye Zal and Dasht-e Archi’s district centres is the latest episode in the long-running battle for possession of Kunduz province.
  50. Taleban in Transition 2: Who is in charge now?
 – 22 June 2016
: The new Taleban leader, Mullah Haibatullah, is being closely scrutinised to see if he will try to shape the goals and methods of the insurgency.

(2) Out of our political landscape dispatches, the following were read the most:

Afghanistan Election Conundrum (16): Basic facts about the parliamentary elections, 23rd most read

The E-Tazkera Rift: Yet another political crisis looming? 24th most read

Afghanistan Election Conundrum (5): A late demand to change the electoral system, 28th most read

Afghanistan Election Conundrum (13): New voter registry too good to be true, 33rd most read

 

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Thematic Category: Context & Culture