Disappearance of Afghan activists highlights Taliban agenda

The Taliban confirmed on Saturday what everyone had expected for months, that they will crack down on dissidents, protesters and especially women’s rights activists, as concerns grew over the disappearance of two women protesting against the militant group regime policy.

Since returning to power in August amid a hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign forces, Taliban authorities have forcefully dispersed rallies, beaten Afghan journalists and arrested critics.

This week, activists said two of their comrades were abducted from their homes in the capital after taking part in a protest.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has called on the Taliban to “provide information” on the fate of Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parwana Ibrahimkhel, who were reportedly abducted from their homes on Wednesday evening.

Since then, a disturbing video of Paryani has been circulating on social media and shows the activist calling for help as men, claiming to be from the Taliban intelligence service, knock on her door. She was disconnected after sharing this video with local broadcaster Aamaj News.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that any women were being detained, but said authorities had the right “to arrest and detain dissidents or those who break the law”.

“No one should create trouble, because it disrupts peace and order,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in an interview.

There has been a scattering of small protests demanding women’s rights, which have improved slightly in the patriarchal Muslim nation over the past 20 years. But the Taliban banned all unauthorized protests after they returned to power.

“If this happened in another country, these people would be arrested,” Mujahid said. “We do not allow illegal activities.”

“The forces are still not formed”

Desperate for international recognition to unlock frozen assets, the Taliban has largely refrained from issuing national policies that spark outrage abroad, though provincial authorities have issued directives and decrees based on local interpretations. Islamic law and Afghan customs that restricted women’s freedoms.

The disappearance of the activists in Kabul last week underscores the brutal reality of life for women under the Taliban, where one misstep can mean torture or even death.

In most provinces, girls have not been allowed to return to secondary school, public universities are closed and women have been banned from most public sector jobs.

Women must also be accompanied on long journeys by a close male relative, while posters have been put up in Kabul ordering them to cover up – exemplified by the burqa that covers everything.

On Friday, two employees of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the rural province of Badghis said religious police had issued a warning that female employees would be shot if they did not wear burqas.

Mujahid, who is also deputy culture and information minister, excused the threats and intimidation, saying the forces were “very new…and unprofessional”.

“They weren’t trained,” he said.

Help speaks

Aid-dependent Afghanistan faces an acute humanitarian crisis and global donors insist the Taliban must respect women’s rights if their government is to be recognized, but this is proving difficult as the regime’s national legitimacy rests on the application of its interpretation of Islam.

Despite growing restrictions and many people living in fear, Mujahid insists the new regime believes in women’s rights – but in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law.

“Even without demands (from the international community), we feel the need for women to work and be educated,” he said.

But he offered no timetable for getting girls back into classrooms in provinces where schools remain closed, beyond saying it would happen “in the coming year”.

“We can’t set a deadline for that,” he said, blaming the weak economy and the new authorities’ inexperience.

On Saturday, a delegation led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi left for Oslo for talks with officials from the United States, European Union and other invested nations – as well as members of society. Afghan civilian, including women.

This will be the first visit of the new Taliban government to the West.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, meanwhile, has deteriorated considerably since their takeover.

International aid has stopped and Washington has frozen 9.5 billion dollars (8.4 billion euros) of Afghan central bank assets held abroad.

Hunger now threatens 23 million Afghans – or 55% of the population – according to the UN, which says it needs $5 billion this year to tackle the crisis.

“The Islamic Emirate has taken steps to meet the demands of the Western world and we hope to strengthen our relations through diplomacy with all countries,” Mujahid said.

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