It’s time for Taliban leaders to walk the talk. Mere assurances and pledges are not enough
Syed Khalid Husain | Clarion India
SHORTLY after taking control of Kabul one month ago, the Taliban had declared general amnesty for the Afghans, including those who had fought against them, and urged government officials to return to work.
After routing government forces and taking over the Afghan capital to end two decades of war against the Americans, the Taliban had said they sought no revenge and everyone was forgiven. All Afghans should feel safe under their Islamic Emirate, they had declared, adding that no one would be harmed and nobody would go to their doors to ask why they had helped the US and Western-backed government.
They had also assured women that they would not face any threats and promised to honour their rights within the norms of Shariah (Islamic law). A Taliban-aligned scholar had even advised female hospital staff to continue their work.
The Taliban leaders have also repeatedly vowed media freedom. They have said private media should “remain independent” but that journalists “should not work against national values”. Female journalists returned to the screen the day after Kabul’s fall, with a woman reporter even interviewing a Taliban official on live television.
However, despite the Taliban’s repeated pledges of general amnesty and assurance of safety for the Afghan people, Afghanistan has seen a sharp increase in violence against journalists and women activists. Since the Taliban returned to power, dozens of reporters and women social activists have been either mercilessly beaten or killed by the Taliban, Afghan media has reported.
The Taliban recently detained and flogged journalists covering events, including demonstrations by women, in various cities. The group has also carried out door-to-door searches, killing opponents.
Kabul-based Etilaat Roz (Information Daily) newspaper said last week five of its reporters had been detained by the Taliban while covering a women’s protest. Two of the reporters said the Taliban had detained and beat them badly after which they were hospitalised. Neamat Naqdi and his colleague reporter Taqi Daryabi were assigned to cover a protest in front of a police station in Kabul by women demanding the right to work and education. Photographs of the duo showed them with welts and bruises.
Some reporters in the provinces said the Taliban had imposed limitations on them.
Taliban leaders, however, acknowledged the treatment of reporters but said they would try to prevent such incidents in the future. Anaamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s Cultural Commission, said: “We are regretful of the reporters becoming victims over the past few days. We tried to address their challenges. If they were transferred to a safe place by the Mujahideen, which was interpreted as being detained, we will also work on this and try to see if they are treated properly.”
A TV broadcaster said she was hiding at a relative’s house, too frightened to return home much less go to work. She said she and other women do not believe the Taliban have changed their ways. German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) said last month the Taliban had shot and killed a relative of a DW journalist while hunting for him and raided the homes of at least three other DW journalists.
Organisations supporting and defending journalists inside and outside Afghanistan have voiced their concern over the dangerous situation faced by the media people in Afghanistan and called for the end of violence against reporters.
Meanwhile, new government restrictions and economic problems have forced the closure of more than 150 media outlets in almost two dozen of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces since the fall of the former government on August 15. These outlets include radio, print and TV channels.
Last Sunday (September 12), a civil society activist and the head of a charity in southern Kandahar province claimed that an armed group related to the Taliban had entered her house and beat some of her family members the previous night. She added that she had never worked with the government before. A man in Kabul also claimed that his wife was recently killed in a Taliban shooting.
But Samangani said investigations into the incident in Kabul have begun. “We have some information on the incident. We started an investigation. We will find who killed the woman,” he said.
The organisations supporting free media in Afghanistan say economic problems are serious, and operating under restrictions creates big challenges for the media. The Taliban, however, have said they would try to create a safe environment for the media and journalists to continue their jobs.
The Taliban have repeatedly sought to reassure Afghans and foreign countries that they will not return to the brutality of their last reign two decades ago.
The Taliban Head of State, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, has asked the Taliban to not offend the people. Khalil Ur-Rahman Haqqani, a leading Taliban figure in charge of security for Kabul, has said the Taliban are working to restore order and safety to a nation that has seen more than four decades of war. “If we can defeat superpowers, surely we can provide safety to the Afghan people,” said Mr Haqqani, who is also a veteran of the Afghan-Soviet war. “Our hostility was with the occupation. There was a superpower that came from the outside to divide us. They forced a war upon us. We have no hostility with anyone, we are all Afghans.”
But it’s time for Taliban leaders to walk the talk. Mere assurances and pledges are not enough to halt attacks on journalists and others by the Taliban or their fringe groups. If they don’t want their reputation to be damaged again like 20 years ago, Taliban leaders must act decisively to protect journalists and others, and allow media houses to work independently within the framework of the new government’s rules and regulations.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Singapore. He may be contacted at [email protected] or +65 91195711