Afghanistan | Escape from the Taliban

Afghans who are close to the old regime or foreign forces are hiding far away from Kabul. Since they cannot reach the capital, they now fear retaliation by the Taliban. Behind their keyboards, people of Afghan origin also worry about the Islamist group’s use of social networks.

Posted on Aug 22, 2021 at 5:00 am

Janie Gosselin The press

Grounded to survive

Those close to Sayed * don’t come out until dark. Trapped in a city in the west of the country, they switch refuge every night in hopes of escaping the Taliban. They fear that their work for a non-governmental organization (NGO) is endangering them.

“The Taliban have access to government files, to those of NGOs, to those of the army,” worries the American of Afghan origin, who asked for anonymity for fear of endangering his family in the country. “If you want to go to Kabul, you have to show your electronic identity card. These people are in danger, they cannot leave the provinces. ”

The Taliban have set up checkpoints on the streets, making transit to the capital risky for their opponents.

Images of the desperate crowd gathered around Kabul airport have traveled the world. But elsewhere, in this country of more than 652,000 km2, thousands of Afghans exposed to the regime’s reprisals are hiding with no way out.

“It’s another tragedy,” says Marvin Weinbaum, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at the Middle East Institute. “These people are caught, but otherwise they would qualify for evacuation. ”

He sees no possibility for foreign countries involved in repatriation operations to direct planes at other airports in the country in order to rescue these endangered Afghans. “It’s pretty difficult in Kabul,” he recalls. The countries [impliqués] just can’t afford it. ”

“Massacre” arrested

Many specialists and organizations complain about the chaos and mismanagement involved in evacuating people who are most likely to face violent reprisals.

“We have colleagues who have seats [réservés]but they cannot go to the airport, they cannot take the plane, the President of the Independent Commission on Human Rights of Afghanistan, Shaharzad Akbar, denounced the poor organization around the airport in a video conference organized by Human Rights Watch on Friday morning.

PHOTO BY SHAHARZAD AKBAR’S TWITTER ACCOUNT

Shaharzad Akbar, President of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan

The deadline for the US exit on August 31 is unrealistic, said the two organizations and demanded a firm commitment to extend the deadline.

US President Joe Biden has not ruled this out, but has not proposed a new date.

For many Afghans, the evacuation of foreigners is a dangerous moment: the departure of possible witnesses.

Based on their experience with the West, the Afghans fear that as soon as the Western citizens are evacuated, the airport, everything will be left to the Taliban and the people will be at the mercy of the Taliban.

Shaharzad Akbar, President of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan

“There will be a massacre,” she added in a strained voice.

Skepticism about amnesty

Even though the Taliban spokesman promised a general amnesty at a press conference last week, Afghans remain concerned. Not only did the brutal measures taken during the Taliban’s rule 1996-2001 shape the mood, but information about a hunt for opponents began to circulate. A report by a group of United Nations experts indicates that, according to Agence France-Presse, the Taliban have started “targeted visits” to wanted people and their families.

Afghans have also testified of the increasing harshness of the regime far away from the metropolis and urged them not to leave their homes.

“In the regions, it is the provincial commanders who do what they want,” assures Shantie Mariet D’Souza, founding professor of the Kautilya School of Public Policy in India.

Women are beaten, widows are forced to marry and there is already human trafficking. And they started to introduce strict Islamic laws. People are afraid to leave the house.

Shantie Mariet D’Souza, Founding Professor of the Kautilya School of Public Policy

The retired anthropologist and professor at Concordia University, Homa Hoodfar, has been in regular contact in Afghanistan since 1994 and works with Afghan women.

“The Taliban took the police cars, the soldiers, they have access to all these weapons that the Americans left behind,” she describes. They say there is an amnesty but no one sees it. ”

She is particularly concerned about the fate of women. A person of Afghan origin told La Presse about their fears about a single relative who only goes from one shelter to another and has no male relatives to accompany them. When they took power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban imposed an ultra-religious interpretation of Islam and forbade women from going out alone.

“We are going through really difficult times for us Afghans,” says Sayed.

SCREENSHOT ABOUT REUTERS

Screenshot from a social media video of Taliban marching in uniform through the streets of Qalat, Zabol Province

A virtual offensive

In 1996, the Taliban cut Afghanistan off from the modern world and, for example, banned television. In 2021, they will be using the keyboard in multiple languages ​​and trying to convey a moderate image to the rest of the world.

“They felt very comfortable with social networks, which they use for propaganda purposes, but also for intimidation,” Halima Kazem-Stojanovic, journalist and professor at the State University, told La Presse from San Jose.

The woman is of Afghan origin and reported about 13 years after the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001.

She sees direct inspiration for the Taliban in the use of social media by the terrorist group Islamic State, which she has used for recruiting, among other things, and Al-Qaeda.

Aware of the impact of this media, the Taliban leadership has doubled its activity on its accounts, presenting itself as a more open version of the movement known for its brutality in the late 1990s.

However, some specialists see it more as a facade.

“They learned that they have to do public relations,” says Homa Hoodfar, a retired anthropologist. But just because you do good public relations doesn’t mean you will actually do what you say you are. ”

intelligence

In addition to propaganda, social networks are also a secret service tool for the Taliban, explains Sayed *, an American of Afghan origin who was contacted by La Presse.

He himself recently closed his Facebook account after learning that a relative at home had been targeted for his own words. “It was before her account was closed. I started the discussion and shared my experiences living there. I think that’s why they were offended, ”said the man, who lived under the Taliban before moving to the United States and who requested anonymity for fear that his family could suffer retaliation.

Facebook announced various security measures on Thursday, including stopping displaying a user’s friend list in Afghanistan.

Forbidden

Terrorist movements are officially banned from social networks. For the Taliban, the status is perhaps more complicated as they are not classified as a terrorist organization by the US State Department, despite being on the US Treasury’s list of terrorist organizations.

Facebook recently blocked Taliban accounts, but not Twitter.

Speakers of the Islamist movement openly appear on the platform, tweeting in Dari, Pashto and English, among other things. One of them, Suhail Shaheen, has more than 376,000 subscribers.

At the time of this writing, Twitter had not responded to a request from La Presse about the Taliban’s presence on its platform. In response to a Reuters question last week, the company drew the news agency’s attention to its policies, which, among other things, prohibit the promotion of terrorism or violence against civilians.

For the time being, Taliban officials seem to be able to navigate within certain parameters and avoid calls for violence.

“Taliban Trolls”

Aggressive reactions that Halima Kazem-Stojanovic received after her tweets denouncing the propaganda came not directly from the spokeswoman she responded to, but from supporters.

“If we object to their story, there are a number of them – I call the Taliban trolls – who pounce on you. I know other Afghan and diaspora women who say that these trolls are also active on their account, ”she said, calling the tactic“ harassing ”.

* Fictitious first name to protect his identity

With Agence France-Presse

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