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Media makes light of Taliban terror

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Taliban fighters have been the primary instigators of violence and attacks in Afghanistan for more than two decades (Screenshot via YouTube)

Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan over the past few weeks paint a drastically different picture to that provided in a recently published ABC article, writes Hadi Zaher.

ON 17 AUGUST, ABC published an article by journalist Tracey Shelton which provides a description of the Taliban that is at best fanciful and at worst blind to the humanitarian disaster brought upon Afghan civilians by the so-called “changed" Taliban.

The author presents quotes from a former Afghan parliamentarian – an obscure “analyst” – and Taliban spokesman and chief propagandist for the Taliban's political office in Qatar Suhail Shaheen, without subjecting their claims to basic journalistic rigour. The primary claim of the article is that the Taliban has changed 'drastically' due to globalisation and its experience gained over the past two decades.

Taliban atrocities in the areas under the regime's control over the past few weeks paint a picture that is drastically different to this claim.

In her briefing to the United Nations Security Council, the chair of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) Shaharzad Akbar confirms that after capturing areas in Kandahar province in late July, the Taliban

'dragged out and killed at least 40 civilians associated with government, in a campaign of targeted, extrajudicial killings.'

She further reports that after capturing the Hazara district of Malistan in late July, the Taliban murdered 'at least 27 civilians' in targeted attacks. She adds that in one instance, the Taliban sought the help of an unarmed guard to move the bodies of civilians and then killed the guard in an attempt to eliminate the witnesses.

Human Rights Watch reports that the Taliban in Kandahar

'have been detaining and executing suspected members of the provincial government and security forces, and in some cases their relatives.'

Among other war crimes, the Taliban executed popular Kandahari comedian Nazar Mohammad, better known as Khasha Zwan, who posted routines that included songs and jokes on TikTok. Khasha Zwan was abducted from his home, beaten and then shot multiple times.

In mid-July, CNN reported that it has obtained and verified several videos of the execution of unarmed and surrendering members of an Afghan special forces unit. The soldiers, who had surrendered after running out of ammunition, are seen shot to death amid Taliban cries of “Allahu akbar”. Shelton could have easily accessed all of this information via the AIHRC website or other news agencies that have reported these massacres.

It is further claimed in the article that 'within the last 20 or 24 years, they [Taliban] got involved in politics'. As evident in the armed takeover of the country, the Taliban’s preferred medium of political engagement has been and continues to be the use of force.

The Taliban has never participated in electoral politics or tolerated any opposition in areas under its control. Over the past two decades, the regime has systemically targeted Afghan elections and voters. The only politics the Taliban has engaged in over the past two decades is Machiavellian politics — effectively and successfully using the U.S.-Taliban deal to outplay and outmanoeuvre both the former Afghan Government and the United States.

On the topic of the former Taliban regime, the ABC article quotes the former Afghan parliamentarian as saying: 'There was bad, but there was good too and we have to talk about that.'  

As a member of the Hazara community, I am unable to understand the “good” about the Taliban regime — one of the most oppressive in the world.

In 1998, the Taliban massacred thousands of ethnic Hazaras in Mazar-e Sharif during what Human Rights Watch called one of the single worst examples of killings of civilians in what was then Afghanistan’s 20-year war.

The Taliban continued atrocities throughout its regime — in the last year of Taliban rule over Afghanistan in 2001, massacring unarmed Hazara civilians in Bamiyan and destroying the famed Buddha statues. The Taliban did bring an oppressive state of “peace” of the kind that exists in North Korea. As an Australian Hazara and a former refugee, I find the concept of “good”, as referenced, to be quite confronting. 

The ABC article goes on to provide a contradictory statement from Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. 

He says

"No-one in the Islamic world, anyone calling himself Muslim, can change the Islamic rules."

Again, this statement is presented at face value and not subjected to journalistic scrutiny. If the Taliban was following “Islamic rules” during its regime (1996-2001), then Suhail Shaheen makes it clear that they remain unchanged and form the basis of Taliban politics and ideology. He is quite emphatic that anyone who changes them can no longer call himself a Muslim and is thus an apostate in the eyes of the Taliban.

The Taliban, like the rest of the world, is still in a state of shock by the speed of the collapse of the Afghan Government. Taliban fighters, armed to teeth with weapons abandoned by surrendering and fleeing Afghan Government soldiers, are still pouring into Kabul.

Afghan civilians, especially women and minorities, fear that the situation will worsen as media attention fades. This is already evident in other areas the regime has captured. In early July, following their capture of Kandahar city, Taliban fighters walked into the offices of Azizi Bank and ordered nine women working there to leave. Taliban escorted them to their homes and told them not to return to their jobs. Instead, it was explained that male relatives could take their place.

The ABC article finally quotes an obscure analyst who states: 'The only thing they [Taliban] can offer now is peace, however, under very strict circumstances, so at some cost.' The Taliban has been the primary instigators of violence and attacks in Afghanistan for more than two decades. This has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians including more than 1,600 between January and July 2021 alone.

As a Hazara-Australian with relatives in Afghanistan, including female relatives who have worked for the Afghan Government and Western organisations, I am not holding my breath to find out what that cost is.

I believe the only change the Taliban has undergone is its savvy use of social and news media. In contrast, Afghan society – especially women and minority groups such as Hazaras – have undergone an immense transformation in the last two decades. The gains of women and minorities in Afghan society and politics is at risk of disappearing overnight. It is the moral obligation of news media outlets and journalists to go beyond simply quoting sources. 

Hadi Zaher is a Juris Doctor student at Monash University and a member of the Hazara community in Melbourne. He is a board member of Akademos Society — an Australian-based education charity running education projects in Afghanistan. You can follow Hadi on Twitter @zaheristan.

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