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A year later : Biden's Afghanistan exit decision looks even worse

Hakikat ve Hikmet

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Thanks to the clandestine Russian involvement and antagonizing Pak the USA has lost the grip on Afganistan, which is correctly called the "Heart of Asia". Now, the Western world is at a war at the heart of Europe, and China is playing with Taiwan as the cat plays with a mouse before devouring it....

As for Pak, no love is lost in any part or form at any place....
 

Mohammad_2

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One of the differences is that the Iranian govt started in 1979 and the Taliban only started this year. Sovereignty and independence are great qualities of any leadership that propel a nation forward, time will do it. This is my prediction, you can have a different opinion; I am fine with that.
Off course these are our own opinions. But let me tell you something , the Talibs will have much shorter life than I personally predicted. There are numerous reasons for that.
 

Bengal71

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Off course these are our own opinions. But let me tell you something , the Talibs will have much shorter life than I personally predicted. There are numerous reasons for that.

Ok. I respect your opinion but will stick to mine for now.
 

ghazi52

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Taliban mark turbulent first year in power

AFP

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KABUL: The Taliban marked the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan with a national holiday Monday, following a turbulent year that saw women’s rights crushed and a humanitarian crisis worsen.

Exactly a year ago, the Taliban captured Kabul after their nationwide lightning offensive against government forces ended 20 years of US-led military intervention.

“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered Kabul on August 15 last year just hours after then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

15095720941e3ea.jpg


A chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing to Kabul’s airport hoping to be evacuated on any flight out of Afghanistan.

Images of crowds storming the airport, climbing atop aircraft – and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway – aired on news bulletins around the world.

Authorities have so far not announced any official celebrations to mark the anniversary, but state television said it would air special programmes.

15095743fbc150b.jpg


Taliban fighters, however, expressed happiness that their movement was now in power – even as aid agencies say that half the country’s 38 million people face extreme poverty.

“The time when we entered Kabul, and when the Americans left, those were moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.

‘Life has lost its meaning’

But for ordinary Afghans – especially women – the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships.


Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh militants rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have been imposed on women to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.

612e9d35deced.jpg


Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.

And in May, they were ordered to fully cover up in public, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.

“From the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.

“Everything has been snatched from us, they have entered even our personal space,” she said.

On Saturday, the Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired guns into the air to disperse their rally in Kabul.

While Afghans acknowledge a decline in violence since the Taliban seized power, the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.

“People coming to our shops are complaining so much of high prices that we shopkeepers have started hating ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, the de facto power centre of the Taliban.

1009513618cccaf.jpg


For Taliban fighters, however, the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.
“We might be poor, we might be facing hardships, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high forever in Afghanistan”, said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.
 

ghazi52

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A year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan​


By Lyse Doucet
BBC

Chief international correspondent, Kabul

When you arrive at Kabul International Airport, the first thing you notice is the women, clothed in brown scarves and black cloaks, stamping passports.

An airfield, which one year ago was the scene of a panicked tide of people desperate to escape, is now much quieter and cleaner. Rows of white Taliban flags flutter in a summer's breeze - billboards of the old famous faces have been painted over.

What lies beyond this gateway to a country which was turned upside down by a swift Taliban takeover?

Kabul, where women are told to give their jobs to men​

The messages are startling, to say the least.

"They want me to give my job to my brother," writes one woman on a messaging platform.

"We earned our positions with our experience and education… if we accept this it means we have betrayed ourselves," declares another.

I'm sitting down with a few former senior civil servants from the finance ministry who share their messages.

They're part of a group of more than 60 women, many from the Afghanistan Revenue Directorate, who banded together after being ordered to go home last August.

Civil servant in Kabul
IMAGE SOURCE,JACK GARLAND
Female civil servants were told by the Taliban to send CVs of their male relatives who could apply for their jobs

They say Taliban officials then told them: Send CVs of your male relatives who can apply for your jobs.

"This is my job," insists one woman who, like all women in this group, anxiously asks for her identity to be hidden. "I worked with so much difficulty for more than 17 years to get this job and finish my master's degree. Now we are back to zero."
On a telephone call from outside Afghanistan, we're joined by Amina Ahmady, former director general of the Directorate.
She's managed to leave, but that's not a way out either.

"We are losing our identity," she laments. "The only place we can keep it is in our own country."

Their group's grand title - "Women Leaders of Afghanistan" - gives them strength; what they want is their jobs.

They're the women who seized new spaces for education and job opportunities during two decades of international engagement which ended with Taliban rule.

Taliban officials say women are still working. Those who do are mainly medical staff, educators and security workers including at the airport - spaces where women frequent.

The Taliban also emphasise that women, who once held about a quarter of the government's jobs, are still being paid - albeit a small fraction of their salary.
A former civil servant tells me how she was stopped on the street by a Talib guard who criticised her Islamic head cover, or hijab, although she was fully covered.

"You've got more important problems to solve than hijab," she shot back - another moment of women's determination to fight for their rights, within Islam.

Fears of famine weigh on rural Ghor​

The scene seems idyllic. Sheaves of golden wheat shimmer in a summer's sun in the remote central highlands of Afghanistan. You can hear a gentle lowing of cows.
Eighteen-year-old Noor Mohammad and 25-year-old Ahmad keep swinging their sickles to clear a remaining patch of grain.


A wheat field in Ghor
IMAGE SOURCE,JACK GARLAND
As jobs dry up, young people take up work like harvesting which pays the equivalent of $2 (£1.65) a day.

"There's much less wheat this year because of drought," Noor re
marks, sweat and dirt streaking his young face. "But it's the only job I could find."

A harvested field stretches into the distance behind us. It's been 10 days of backbreaking work by two men in the prime of their life for the equivalent of $2 (£1.65) a day.
"I was studying electrical engineering but had to drop out to support my family," he explains. His regret is palpable.

Ahmad's story is just as painful. "I sold my motorbike to go to Iran but I couldn't find work," he explains.
Seasonal work in neighbouring Iran used to be an answer for those in one of Afghanistan's poorest provinces. But work has dried up in Iran too.

"We welcome our Taliban brothers," Noor says. "But we need a government which gives us opportunities."

Earlier that day, we sat around a shiny pine table with Ghor's provincial cabinet of turbaned men seated alongside Taliban Governor Ahmad Shah Din Dost.
A former-shadow deputy governor during the war, he gruffly shares all his woes.
"All these problems make me sad," he says, listing poverty, bad roads, lack of access to hospitals and schools not operating properly.

The end of the war means more aid agencies are now working here, including in districts out-of-bounds before. Earlier this year, famine conditions were detected in two of Ghor's most distant districts.

But the war isn't over for Governor Din Dost. He says he was imprisoned and tortured by US forces. "Don't give us more pain," he asserts. "We don't need help from the West."
"Why is the West always interfering?" he demands. "We don't question how you treat your women or men."

Taliban Governor Ahmad Shah Din Dost
IMAGE SOURCE,JACK GARLAND
Taliban Governor Ahmad Shah Din Dost

In the days that follow, we visit a school and a malnutrition clinic, accompanied by members of his team.

"Afghanistan needs attention," says the Taliban's young university-educated Health Director Abdul Satar Mafaq who seems to sound a more pragmatic note. "We have to save people's lives and it doesn't need to involve politics."

I remember what Noor Mohammad told me in the wheat field.
"Poverty and famine is also a fight and it's bigger than the gunfights."

Star student shut out of class in Herat​

Eighteen-year-old Sohaila is fizzing with excitement.
I follow her down a darkened stairwell into the basement floor of the women-only market in Herat, the ancient western city long known for its more open culture, its science and creativity.

It's the first day this bazaar is open - the Taliban shuttered it last year, Covid-19 the year before.

We peer through the glass frontage of her family's dress shop which isn't ready yet. A row of sewing machines sits in the corner, red heart balloons hang from the ceiling.


A women-only market in Herat
IMAGE SOURCE,JACK GARLAND
A women-only market in Herat

"Ten years ago, my sister started this shop when she was 18 years old," Sohaila tells me, sharing a capsule history of her mother and grandmother's stitching of brightly-patterned traditional Kuchi dresses.
Her sister had also opened an internet club and a restaurant too.
There's a quiet hum of activity in this women's only space. Some are stocking their shelves, others gossiping as they linger over jewellery and embroidered garb.
The premises are poorly lit, but in this gloom, there's a shaft of light for women who've spent all too much time just sitting at home.
Sohaila has another story to share.
"The Taliban have closed the high schools," she remarks, matter-of-fact, about something that has enormous consequences for young ambitious teenagers like her.
Most secondary schools are shut, on orders of the Taliban's top ultra-conservative clerics, even though many Afghans, including Taliban members, have called for them to re-open.
"I'm in grade 12 - if I don't graduate I can't go to university."
I ask her whether she can be the Sohaila she wants to be in Afghanistan. "Of course", she declares confidently. "It's my country and I don't want to go to another country."
But a year without school must have been hard. "It's not just me, it's all the girls of Afghanistan" she remarks stoically.
"It's a sad memory..."

Sohaila
IMAGE SOURCE,JACK GARLAND
The Taliban closed schools for girls in Afghanistan casting an uncertain future for many women like Sohaila

Her voice trails off as she breaks down in tears.
"I was the top student."
 

ghazi52

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One year ago, the Taliban swept into the Afghan capital Kabul, as foreign forces hastily completed their withdrawal.

Speaking for the Taliban at the time, Zabihullah Mujahid made a number of pledges for the new government.

So has the regime lived up to its promises?

'We are going to allow women to work and study.... women are going to be very active, but within the framework of Islam.'​


The previous Taliban regime, in the 1990s, severely curtailed women's freedom - and since the takeover of power by the Taliban last year, a series of restrictions have been re-imposed on women in Afghanistan.

Regulations on clothing and laws forbidding access to public areas without a male guardian have been enforced.

In March, schools re-opened for a new academic year, but the Taliban reversed an earlier promise and girls are currently not permitted to attend secondary school.

The Taliban has blamed a lack of female teachers and the need to arrange the segregation of facilities.

This has affected an estimated 1.1 million pupils, according to the UN and has provoked widespread international criticism.

Primary school education for girls has been permitted.


Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid
IMAGE SOURCE,AFP
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid addressing journalists last year in Kabul
Some public universities reopened for both men and women in February.

But women's participation in the labour force has dropped since the Taliban takeover last summer, according to the World Bank.

Female participation in the labour force had increased from 15% to 22% in just over a decade, between 1998 and 2019.

However, with the Taliban imposing more restrictions on women's movements outside the home since their return to power, the percentage of females working in Afghanistan shrank to 15% in 2021.

An Amnesty report in July said that the Taliban had "decimated the rights of women and children" in Afghanistan. It highlighted the abuse and torture meted out to some women who had taken part in protests against the new restrictions imposed on them.

'We are going to be working...in order to revitalise our economy, for our reconstruction, for our prosperity.'​


In June, the UN Security Council reported the Afghan economy had contracted by an estimated 30%-40% since the Taliban takeover in August last year.

An assessment by the official body that oversees US-funded reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan concluded that although some international aid continues to flow into the country, economic conditions remain "dire."


Taliban border guards on bridge near Uzbek border
IMAGE SOURCE,AFP
Taliban guards at the border crossing with Uzbekistan

The suspension of most international aid and the freezing of access to Afghanistan's foreign exchange reserves has had serious economic consequences for the country.

To compensate, the Taliban have sought to increase tax revenue, as well as ramping up coal exports to take advantage of higher global prices.

A three-month budget announced in January this year showed the Taliban had collected nearly $400 million in domestic revenue between September and December 2021. But experts have raised concerns over the lack of transparency in how these figures were collated.

The loss of international support, security challenges, climate-related issues and global food inflation are all contributing to a rapidly deteriorating economic situation.

'There will be no production of drugs in Afghanistan….we will bring the production of opium to zero again.'​

The Taliban's pledge to tackle opium poppy cultivation mirrors a policy they introduced with some success when they were last in power more than two decades ago.

Opium is used to make heroin - and Afghanistan has been, by far, the world's largest source of opium for many years.

In April this year, the Taliban announced a ban on the growing of poppies.
There's no firm data on how the clampdown has been progressing, although reports from some poppy-growing areas in Helmand province in the south suggest the Taliban have been forcing farmers to destroy poppy fields.


Opium poppy in field in Kandahar
IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Production of opium increased during the main 2021 harvest

A US official report in July noted that although the Taliban risked losing support from farmers and others involved in the drug trade, they "appear committed to their narcotics ban".

However, Dr David Mansfield, an expert on Afghanistan's drug economy, points out the main opium poppy crop would already have been harvested by the time the ban was imposed.
"The second [annual] crop in south-western Afghanistan is typically a small crop... so its destruction... will not have had a significant impact," says Dr Mansfield.

It's also worth noting that the production and manufacture of other drugs, such as crystal meth, has been growing, although the Taliban have banned a wild plant (ephedra) used to make it.

'We [the Taliban] are committed to ensuring security.'​

Although the conflict which brought the Taliban to power is largely over, there were still over 2,000 civilian casualties (700 deaths and over 1,400 injuries) reported between August last year to mid-June this year, according to UN data.


However, these figures are well down on previous years when the conflict was at its height.



Chart on civilian casualties in Afghanistan



Around 50% of the casualties since August 2021 were attributed to the actions of the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) group, a branch of the Islamic State group still active in Afghanistan.

In recent months, several IS-K attacks have taken place targeting civilians, especially in urban areas with Shia Muslim or other minority populations.


Man at Shia mosque, following the October 2021 attack in Kandahar
IMAGE SOURCE,AFP
A man mourns after an attack on a Shia mosque in Kandahar last October


The presence of other anti-Taliban forces, such as the National Resistance Front (NRF) and Afghanistan Freedom Front (AFF), has also grown.

"The overall security environment is becoming increasingly unpredictable," said the UN in June, citing the presence of at least a dozen separate militant group opposed to the Taliban who are present in the country.

There has also been a significant increase in human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, detentions and torture by the Taliban, according to the UN.

Between August 2021 and June 2022, it recorded at least 160 extrajudicial killings of former government and security force officials.
 

PAKISTANFOREVER

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Taliban mark turbulent first year in power

AFP

150955230e7d863.jpg




15095743fbc150b.jpg



KABUL: The Taliban marked the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan with a national holiday Monday, following a turbulent year that saw women’s rights crushed and a humanitarian crisis worsen.

Exactly a year ago, the Taliban captured Kabul after their nationwide lightning offensive against government forces ended 20 years of US-led military intervention.

“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered Kabul on August 15 last year just hours after then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

15095720941e3ea.jpg


A chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing to Kabul’s airport hoping to be evacuated on any flight out of Afghanistan.

Images of crowds storming the airport, climbing atop aircraft – and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway – aired on news bulletins around the world.

Authorities have so far not announced any official celebrations to mark the anniversary, but state television said it would air special programmes.

15095743fbc150b.jpg


Taliban fighters, however, expressed happiness that their movement was now in power – even as aid agencies say that half the country’s 38 million people face extreme poverty.

“The time when we entered Kabul, and when the Americans left, those were moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.

‘Life has lost its meaning’

But for ordinary Afghans – especially women – the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships.


Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh militants rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have been imposed on women to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.

612e9d35deced.jpg


Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.

And in May, they were ordered to fully cover up in public, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.

“From the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.

“Everything has been snatched from us, they have entered even our personal space,” she said.

On Saturday, the Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired guns into the air to disperse their rally in Kabul.

While Afghans acknowledge a decline in violence since the Taliban seized power, the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.

“People coming to our shops are complaining so much of high prices that we shopkeepers have started hating ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, the de facto power centre of the Taliban.

1009513618cccaf.jpg


For Taliban fighters, however, the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.
“We might be poor, we might be facing hardships, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high forever in Afghanistan”, said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.



In the second photo, the man on the right with a red topi looks EXACTLY like Hassan Ali, the Pakistan medium fast bowler who has been kicked out of the Pakistan cricket team.
 

Solidify

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Biden's internal political uncertainty looks far worse than Afghanistan exit.
Only Pelosi managed to stabilize Biden's power that too is irrelevant in coming days.
 

ghazi52

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Fall of Kabul: Reflections after one year​

Lives of many turned upside down since the chaotic end to the 20-year war in Afghanistan


Rizwan Shehzad
August 16, 2022

WhatsApp-Image-2022-08-16-at-4-10-29-PM1660650229-0.jpeg


Aziz Khan*, 45, sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. Rain or shine, he faces the harsh realities of his new life every day. Dislodged from his home, he’s torn between two unreconciled strivings: two meals a day to survive in a new world and a yearning to reunite with his family stranded back in Afghanistan.

With no access to basic facilities such as clean drinking water and electricity, Aziz struggles to come to terms with poverty -- a new, alien reality he has not encountered in his life before.

His days are consumed by the memories of the apple orchards that he owned and the stable dry fruit business he left behind in the Maidan Wardak province of Afghanistan before he fled to Pakistan along with his wife, leaving behind his daughter and second wife, after Kabul fell to Taliban a year ago.

Aziz, like hundreds of other Afghan refugees living in tents and makeshift shelters just outside the press club in Islamabad, is beset by the troubling questions: what’s their next destination and where should they go?

“I keep thinking about my orchards, my big house, the carpet we brought from Turkey and the dry fruit business that I had,” Aziz shares with a lump in his throat. “But you know what I miss the most; my daughter and her smile.”


Abdul Satar Azad. Ex-media team member of Ex President Ashraf Ghani


Abdul Satar Azad. Ex-media team member of Ex President Ashraf Ghani

Darkness stirs to life the precious moments of his life before he became a refugee -- a flashback captures him and he is unable to remember when tears begin rolling down his cheeks and when he falls asleep. “It’s really difficult to even separate my thoughts from my dreams; everything feels diluted,” he says, “my feet haven’t yet forgotten the warm softness of our carpet.”

He then takes out his mobile phone and shows a photo of himself plucking apples from his orchard and another one showing him selling dry fruit at his shop. His eyes well up, lips tremble and he struggles to mumble only a few words when he shows the photo of his daughter clad in a white fancy frock. “I miss her so much,” is all he manages to say.

Ghani’s media team member’s tent

The lives of many turned upside down since the chaotic end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Scenes of violence in Afghanistan triggered painful memories for many, including Abul Sattar Azad, who worked at the Afghan presidential palace as a member of the former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s social media team and witnessed the moment when Ghani fled the country.

Apparently, Ghani now lives a comfortable life in UAE while Azad along with his two kids, wife and father-in-law is stranded in a tent in Pakistan and managing media affairs of the refugees located near the capital’s press club. “I fled to Pakistan to save my life,” Azad says, adding that his association with the former ruler’s media team was enough for the incumbent rulers to come after him.

“There is no difference between the Afghan and Ukrainian refugees but the world is treating Afghans differently,” he regretted.

“We had five cars; one each for five brothers,” another refugee Baadshah* shared, “a big house and a market that we owned in Kabul; it all vanished just in a blink of an eye.” From being having a decent life and business to living in a tent, he says, is a nightmare, especially, when the money is drying up fast. “We are not allowed to work; how long can we survive like this,” Baadshah* asks, “you know what is my worst fear; I fear the day when I might have to beg just to provide food to my family.”

What’s a woman without beauty?

The hasty withdrawal of the U.S armed forces and rapid rise to power of the Afghan Taliban brought pain, helplessness, stress and anxiety for many. Lina Mehrab, who is living with her three sons and a daughter in a tent, is one of them. Lina, who used to teach children at her house in Kabul, has a mixture of feelings about her abrupt exit from Afghanistan and the ‘miserable’ tent life.

“Losing beauty is the worst that can happen to any woman,” Lina said while sharing how scarcity of food, water and money was affecting refugee women living in tents. Shocking as it may seem, she pointed out that saving children from the predators was another task of the refugees.

Lina Mehrab


Lina Mehrab

Lina shared that she fled from Afghanistan because their lives were under threat due to Taliban. Her mother worked as a policewoman before Taliban came to power, Lina said, revealing that she took the decision to leave Afghanistan when two of her mother’s friends suddenly disappeared and Taliban knocked on her door one night looking for her mother. “They had ordered me to produce my mother at 8am the next day,” she said, “I fled to Pakistan that night.”

Clad in jeans pants and a long top, a young girl Diana, who wished her full name should not be revealed as a few members of her family were still in Afghanistan, said that she along with eight family members didn’t feel safe in Afghanistan. For her, she can’t live in a place where women are only supposed to do cooking, cleaning, washing, and giving birth to children.

“What is a life where girls can’t go to schools, women can’t work and they can’t live a little without having any fear,” Diana says. She recalls that the police crackdown a few weeks ago traumatised the refugees when they decided to move to Red Zone so that the authorities concerned take notice of the fact that they have spent months without being noticed.

What do refugees want?

According to the website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Pakistan hosts more than 1.4 million registered Afghans who have been forced to flee their homes. Nevertheless, Pakistani authorities often say that Pakistan has been hosting roughly four million refugees for the past several decades and looking after the ones who arrived last August.


Diana teaching refugee kids in one of the tents


Diana teaching refugee kids in one of the tents

Contrary to refugees’ accounts, Afghan authorities have often said that they do not want Afghans to leave the country, saying they would adhere to international commitments and that people should stay without any fear.

Despite tall claims of the different international bodies promoting human rights, people living in tents complain of the lack of international aid for managing day-to-day affairs and assistance in resettling in a third country. Azad says the refugees were managing education for children on their own but what they really need is monetary support or working rights until they get asylum in a country where they can earn a living and secure future instead of just living day-to-day in tents.

He says escaping the Taliban was one thing but starting a new life was becoming difficult. However, the dream to have a better life has kept hopes alive and the refugees believe that better days and a better life would soon greet them.
 

ghazi52

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Afghan contractors: 'I wish I'd never worked for the UK government'​

By Yogita Limaye
BBC News, Kabul

In a nondescript white plastic bag, Ammar carried a clutch of papers that are among his most precious belongings right now.

It would've attracted too much attention for us to visit his home, so on his motorcycle, he'd come to meet us at a secure location, scared during the journey that he might get searched at a Taliban checkpoint and they might find the papers.

The documents included his contract as a teacher with the British Council for two years, and other evidence of his association with the UK, that he hopes will help get him and his family to safety. He fears for his life because of his work with the UK government.

"We taught the culture of the United Kingdom and their values in Afghanistan. In addition to the English language, we also taught about equality, diversity and inclusion. According to their [Taliban] beliefs, it is out of Islam, it is unlawful. That's why they think we are criminals and we have to be punished. That is why we feel threatened," he said.

He has previously been detained by the Taliban - and fears his work has put his family at risk too.
"They took me to the police station asking about whether I'd worked for a foreign government. Luckily they didn't find any evidence in my home or on my phone.

"But I don't think it's the end. They are keeping an eye on me."

Ammar is one of more than 100 teachers who worked with the British Council, in public-facing jobs, who have been left behind in Afghanistan. Many of them are women.

Nooria was also part of an English-teaching programme.

"It was challenging for us. Some people had extremist thoughts, and would often say what you are teaching is unacceptable to us. Everywhere we went, we were seen as representatives of the British government.

"Some thought of us as spies for the UK." That, she says, puts her and her family at risk in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.


Taliban fighters patrol the streets in Kabul on the anniversary of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban


Taliban fighters patrolled the streets of the capital Kabul on the anniversary of their recapture of Kabul

While the group announced a general amnesty for everyone who worked for the previous regime and its allies, there is mounting evidence of reprisal killings. The UN has documented 160 cases.

Nooria has been in hiding since the Taliban seized power in August last year.
"It's really stressful. It's worse than a prisoner's life. We cannot walk about freely. We try to change our appearance when we go outside. It's affected me mentally. Sometimes I feel like it's the end of the world," she said.

She accuses the British Council of discriminating between its staff.

"They relocated those who worked in the office, but left us behind. They didn't even tell us about the Afghan Relocation Assistance Policy (ARAP) when it came out."

Nooria and the other teachers have now applied for relocation through another UK scheme called Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), but have so far only received reference numbers.

The British Council says that when the ARAP scheme first opened, the UK government only considered applications from employees which included their office staff but not the teachers and other contractors.

They also say they have been pushing for progress with the UK government.
The UK Foreign Office has said that British Council contractors are eligible for relocation under the ACRS scheme, and that it's trying to process applications quickly but there's no answer on how long that could take.

"It's only if a contractor dies that I think they might take prompt action. And then they might feel that, yes, they are at risk. Now let's do something. I think sooner or later, this is going to happen," Ammar said.

Some of the teachers are from the Hazara ethnic minority, who have been persecuted by the Taliban, and have repeatedly been attacked by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group. There have been three explosions in Hazara-dominated areas of Kabul in just the past 10 days.

But the path to safety is even more uncertain for those who worked with the UK government in some other roles.


Jaffer worked as a senior adviser facilitating the implementation of UK government-backed development projects in Afghanistan.

He was directly employed by British companies - some founded by the UK government, others given contracts by it. He also worked in similar roles for the US government, including at bases of the US military.

Even prior to 2021, Jaffer had received threats from the Taliban, during a wave of killings carried out by the group that targeted prominent Afghan civil society members.

He showed us one of the notes he received, which accused him of being a spy for foreign governments and threatened that he would be killed for his "betrayal of the Islamic faith".

Since August last year, Jaffer has moved location seven times.

He showed us a summons letter sent to his family home earlier this year, from the Taliban's interior ministry asking him to go to a police station for investigation. He's received three such letters.

"I've been in hospital because of stress and shock. I can't sleep. The doctor has given me strong medicines but even those don't help much. My wife is also suffering from depression. I don't let my children go to school. I fear they might be recognised," he said.

Jaffer has been refused a special immigrant visa (SIV) from the US, because he's unable to get a recommendation letter from his supervisor who died due to Covid-19.

During the chaotic evacuation which followed the Taliban's unexpectedly quick takeover of Afghanistan, Jaffer had been called to the airport by a UK official. Along with his young children and his wife, he sat in a bus outside the airport for six hours.

"My son was feeling sick, but we couldn't even open the windows of the bus, because people outside, desperate to get out would try to enter. The Taliban were firing in the air. My son saw that and he was so traumatised."


From August 2021 - Hundreds make their way to the Kabul airport to be evacuated

A year ago, tens of thousands of Afghans rushed to Kabul airport in the hope of escaping the Taliban who were closing in
It was the same day the airport was attacked by suicide bombers who killed more than 180 people.

The UK on-the-ground evacuation process was wrapped up, and Jaffer and his family didn't get through.

Since then, he's only received a case number from the UK government in response to his application to the ARAP scheme.

"I worked with them. I facilitated them. Our Afghans on the ground didn't hate them [foreign nationals] because we convinced people to allow the projects to take place. We faced the threats, and now I'm left like this. I don't have any place in the world where I can live with safety and dignity," he said, his voice quivering as he spoke.

"What will my children's future be? My daughter can't study. I had big dreams for her. Will my young sons become extremists? I keep asking why did I bring them into this world. If this is what their future is going to be maybe they shouldn't be alive," he said.

We spoke to at least three other people who worked with the UK government, including a combat interpreter who went to the front line with British troops. They all spoke of a sense of betrayal by people they risked their lives for.

A British soldier meets Afghans
IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Some 2,850 interpreters have worked with British forces in Afghanistan
The UK government evacuated 15,000 people in August last year, and 5,000 more people since then.

But thousands more are waiting, living each day in fear, stuck in limbo, expectantly looking at their email inboxes for a thread of hope.

"I used to be proud of working for the UK government," Nooria said.

"But I regret it now. I wish I'd never worked for them because they don't value our life and our work, and have been cruel in leaving us behind."
  • Names in this piece have been changed to protect the identity of the contributors
  • Additional reporting in Kabul by Imogen Anderson and Sanjay Ganguly
 

FCPX

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Jul 24, 2013
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Pres Biden (and Trump) did the right thing, to withdraw troops from Afg. The "WOT" in Afg was lost long time ago and staying on was only prolonging the inevitable.

The withdrawal itself was shambolic but thats another story.
 

ghazi52

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.,.,

Afghanistan: Peace at a price in the Taliban’s heartlands​

By Secunder Kermani
BBC Pakistan & Afghanistan Correspondent


Two young boys wrestling each other as spectators watch



A year after the Taliban takeover, BBC correspondent Secunder Kermani visits the group's heartlands in southern Afghanistan to discover that peace comes at a price.

In a dusty patch of land next to the Helmand river, along what used to be one of the frontlines of the war, two teenage boys are locked in an embrace, trying to wrestle each other to the ground. Sitting in a wide circle, spectators look on eagerly as the early evening light begins to dim.
We're in Sangin district in southern Afghanistan, scene of some of the deadliest clashes of the past two decades. Much of the town is still rubble, though a number of houses are being rebuilt as residents return home, savouring their first taste of peace in years.

There are no women amongst the crowd: in this deeply conservative part of the country, they're largely kept behind closed doors. Many here supported the Taliban's insurgency against the former Afghan government and US-led forces that supported it, while others are simply relieved the violence that plagued their lives has finally come to an end.

"Life is very good now, people are happy," says Lalai, who has organised the wrestling match. "There's freedom and no problems," chimes in another man.
Everyone you speak to here has been affected by the war. "You won't find a single home in the district without at least two or three relatives martyred," Lalai tells us.

Map of Secunder Kermani's route through southern Afghanistan.

Many Afghans feel deeply despondent about the direction the country is being taken in by the Taliban. However, in rural areas, particularly in the south and east - dominated by the Pashtun ethnicity - there are many others who either support the Taliban or who feel life under their rule is preferable to life at war.

Reminders of the conflict are everywhere in Sangin: the debris of homes flattened by US or Afghan government airstrikes, as well as the scars on the road leading to Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah, left by Taliban bombs.
Inside Lashkar Gah, everyone we speak to praises improved security, but there's a new battle in Afghan cities, against hunger.

Foreign funding which used to prop up the previous government has been slashed and Afghanistan's bank reserves have been frozen ever since the Taliban took power last year. Now poverty and child malnutrition are on the rise.

"I go down to the roundabout at dawn to try and find work as a labourer," one elderly man tells us, "but if even one person arrives offering a job, 50 others swarm around him first."
Badly damaged home in Sangin

One of the homes in Sangin district that have been badly damaged by US or Afghan government airstrikes

A crowd gathers around us as we speak, all complaining of sharp rises to food prices and a lack of opportunities.

"Even when I'm saying my prayers, I keep thinking of my debts and how I'll pay them back," says Haji Baridad, a building contractor. Still, he adds, he's happy the war has ended. "I live just outside the city and couldn't travel at night, now I can… But I'm earning nothing."
The Taliban do have a degree of genuine grassroots support in Afghanistan, particularly in places like Helmand, although as they stridently oppose democratic elections, it's impossible to quantify it.

Helmand, however, is also one of the most tightly controlled provinces in the country. We've been told anyone publicly criticising the Taliban faces arrest or even worse.
In December 2021, Naveed Azimi, an English teacher, was detained by the Taliban in Helmand for having written a Facebook post criticising the lack of salaries for government employees. Not long after, his dead body was dumped by the river.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, another local critic of the Taliban told the BBC that about 20 people in total had been arrested for their social media activity.
"You can't say anything at all," he said, describing how some were simply threatened whilst others were kept in jail. "The Taliban have different types of torture for them, hitting them with cables and pipes, holding their heads under water."



Shaista Gul in dried poppy field

Shaista Gul, a farmer who grew opium now banned by the Taliban says "Nothing else we plant can earn us enough money"

From Helmand, we set off for Kandahar. The drive is just under three hours, but would have been unimaginable for us during the war. In the fields by the roadside, farmers are picking grapes, but it's another crop that this part of the country is best known for.

Opium grown in Afghanistan produces the vast majority of the world's heroin, and in the past, it's been a valuable source of income for both poor farmers and the Taliban.
Now the Taliban have banned its cultivation. A few fields of dried-up poppies are all that remain of the most recent crop. Shaista Gul, an elderly farmer with a wrinkled face, is worried. "Nothing else we plant can earn us enough money," he says.


Given the ban, however, he has no plans to try to plant opium again. The Taliban could be about to achieve what the US never could, substantially eradicating poppy production. Opium that has already been processed, though, is still being openly traded in markets.
"Some say rich people have stored up a lot of opium," Shaista Gul tells us, "waiting for the prices to rise even further. So they're happy."

We arrive in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city and spiritual home of the Taliban. It was at a shrine here that the founder of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, was declared "Leader of the Faithful" in 1996, as he stood in front of a crowd, holding out a cloak said to have belonged to the Prophet Muhammad.


Truck carrying Taliban militants

Taliban members in Kandahar celebrate the first anniversary of their takeover

"The Taliban were much stricter back then," one elderly witness to the event tells us. "Now they're not forcing people to grow their beard, for example."

Kandahar, however, is where the new supreme leader of the Taliban, the reclusive Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, still resides. He remains out of public sight, but he is believed to be behind the progressively hardening stance of the Taliban over the course of the year. The Taliban's government is based in Kabul, but it's Kandahar where the ultimate decisions are made.

The latest example of the Taliban's assertiveness is corporal punishment. So far, it hasn't been widely implemented, but last month, Taliban officials in Kandahar announced three people had been flogged for sex outside marriage and theft.

"It's our nation, our religion," the province's deputy governor, Maulvi Hayatullah Mubarak, responds defiantly when I question him about the incident, insisting a legal procedure would have been followed.

It's Afghan women who have been affected most by the Taliban's new laws. In Kandahar and southern Afghanistan, nearly all wore the burqa or covered their faces in public already. Female teachers and healthcare workers are among those who have been allowed to continue working. But others have been told to stay at home.

Negina Naseri was a radio presenter in Kandahar, but stopped work when fighting intensified. Now she would like to go back, but while female journalists in Kabul are still broadcasting, outlets in Kandahar have been told they can no longer employ them.


Negina Naseri wearing a mask in her home in Kandahar

Negina Naseri was a radio presenter before the Taliban takeover, she's now stuck at home
"Kandahar is a province where people don't often let women work," Negina tells me. "When I was out on the street I was hit, my scarf was pulled, people threw bottles or cigarette packets at me - even their phone numbers… despite all this I managed to achieve a professional position."
Now, stuck at home, she says she sometimes wishes she had never even bothered pursuing an education.
Kandahar might be where the Taliban first emerged, but it's also where they have faced some of the fiercest resistance. Just across the road from the shrine visited by Taliban founder Mullah Omar is an elaborate domed mausoleum commemorating one of the Taliban's most notorious opponents.
General Raziq was viewed as a hero by many in Afghanistan for helping hold back the Taliban advance, until he was assassinated in 2018. He was closely linked to the foreign military presence, but also accused of widespread human rights abuses.
In the town of Spin Boldak, south of Kandahar, bordering Pakistan, his men allegedly ran a secret prison. Faizullah Shakir, an imam at a nearby mosque, who says he has no links with the Taliban, was held there for nearly three years and gives us a tour of his former cell.
"They hung me from the ceiling and wrapped my arms around a pipe, while beating my legs with bayonets," he says. He describes being suspended like that for three days before being cut down, having his jaw broken and then being taken to a small, dark underground chamber where he lived with a group of other prisoners.
There wasn't even enough space for them each to lie down, he says.
The Taliban have committed countless atrocities in the course of the Afghan conflict and have been responsible for the majority of civilian deaths, but they, or those accused of links to them, have also been the victims of atrocities. The incidents were often simply just never highlighted in the same way.
It explains why some in the country see little difference between the "strongmen" of the previous government and the Taliban's forces now.
Driving along the fence separating Afghanistan from Pakistan, we reach an entirely abandoned village called Sharo Oba. Commander Haji Sailab, a veteran Taliban member, says he and other local members of his Noorzai tribe who lived there were forced out en masse by General Raziq, who belonged to a rival tribe.
"When I returned here for the first time last year with my family, they cried with happiness," Haji Sailab says.
Others suggest the inhabitants were forced to leave, not because of tribal rivalry, but because they were harbouring Taliban elements who had launched repeated attacks on government forces. But Haji Sailab says the incident helped the movement grow from a small to substantial presence in the area, capitalising on local anger.


Taliban veteran Haji Sailab

Taliban veteran Haji Sailab says his entire village was forcibly displaced

After Spin Boldak fell to the Taliban, there were credible reports of revenge killings by members of the Noorzai tribe. Haji Sailab, however, denies that. He insists an amnesty announced by the Taliban leadership prevented violence.
"There would've been rivers of blood flowing," he says. "We know exactly who was responsible for the attacks on us."
The killing of dozens of former members of the Afghan security forces has been documented over the past year and there has been no sign of any accountability for their deaths from within the Taliban. Yet by the brutal standards of the Afghan conflict, their return to power has been less bloody than many had initially feared.
It's what the Taliban do now that matters most to Afghans. As we return to Kandahar, we take a detour, following an autorickshaw that has been converted into a mobile library.
The Pen Path charity works promoting education in remote villages. About 100 boys and girls gather excitedly in front of a mosque as a visiting teacher begins his lesson. Matiullah Wesa, founder of Pen Path, describes education as an "Islamic right", but the Taliban have kept most girls' secondary schools in the country closed.
In this village, as in other impoverished rural parts, no girls' secondary school even exists. Students often don't even have pens or notebooks, says Matiullah Wesa.
As the open-air class gets underway, older girls and women are nowhere to be seen. The Taliban cite these conservative values as the reason behind the continuing school closures. But watching over their younger daughters, fathers in the village are clear they want them to get an education.
"I want them to go to university," says one, "they can become doctors and serve the country." Another expresses support but outlines his conditions that "there should be a separate building for girls and a female teacher. They should wear the burqa on their way to school."
Even in this deeply conservative environment, there appears a consensus that girls should have the same right to education as boys. It's a telling moment.
Much attention has been devoted to asking whether or not the Taliban have changed since the last time they were in power in the 1990s. What's even more important, though, is how much Afghan society has changed in that time, even in the Taliban's heartlands.
 

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