'A horrifying indicator': Taliban carry out door-to-door search, kill opponents despite amnesty pledge

Torture and killings of ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, the assassination of a relative of a journalist, and intimidation and rounding up ...

Torture and killings of ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, the assassination of a relative of a journalist, and intimidation and rounding up of Afghans who worked closely with the previous US-backed government.

Chilling stories from Afghanistan are coming to the fore ever since the Taliban seized power in the war-torn country in a military blitz, though the Sunni hardline group has tried projecting a moderate face.

While the international community has been skeptical of the Taliban's overtures, ground reports suggest that the so-called Taliban 2.0 might not be very different from what the group was when it ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001; minorities came under brutal attack and women were denied their rights in that brutal regime.

Killing of minorities

Amnesty International has said Taliban fighters tortured and killed members of an ethnic minority after recently overrunning their village, according to an Associated Press (AP) report.

The rights group said its researchers spoke to eyewitnesses in Ghazni province who recounted how the Taliban killed nine Hazara men in Mundarakht village on 4-6 July, AP reported. It said six of the men were shot, and three were tortured to death.

The brutality of the killings was “a reminder of the Taliban's past record, and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring”, Agnes Callamard, the head of Amnesty International, told AP.

Many more killings may have gone unreported because the Taliban have cut cellphone services in many areas they have captured to prevent images from there from being published, according to the report.

Hazaras are Shias who have been persecuted by the Taliban for decades. After they forced the collapse of the US-backed government on 15 August, the insurgents vandalised and blew up a statue of Hazara militia leader Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan province. Mazari was killed by the Taliban in 1995.

Journalist's relatives targeted

The Taliban, who have urged imams to call for unity during the first Friday prayers since their takeover of Kabul, have shot and killed a relative of a Deutsche Welle (DW) journalist while hunting for him, the German public broadcaster said on Thursday.

The militants were conducting a house-to-house search for the journalist, who now works in Germany, Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted DW as saying. A second relative was seriously wounded but others were able to escape, it said, without giving details of the incident.

The Taliban raided the homes of at least three other DW journalists, the broadcaster said.

DW and other German media organisations have called on the German government to take swift action to help their Afghan staff.

DW director-general Peter Limbourg condemned the killing, which he said showed the danger to media workers and their families in Afghanistan.

"The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban yesterday is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves," he said. "It is evident that the Taliban are already carrying out organised searches for journalists, both in Kabul and in the provinces. We are running out of time!"

Reporters without Borders expressed alarm at the news. “Sadly, this confirms our worst fears,” Katja Gloger of the press freedom group's German section, told AP. “The brutal action of the Taliban show that the lives of independent media workers in Afghanistan are in acute danger.”

Door-to-door search

News agency AFP also reported that a confidential UN document seen by it suggested the insurgents were intensifying their search for blacklisted people who worked with US and NATO forces.

The Taliban are going house-to-house, searching for opponents and their families, according to an intelligence document for the United Nations, deepening fears that Afghanistan's new rulers were reneging on pledges of tolerance.

The report, written by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, said militants were also screening people on the way to Kabul airport.

"They are targeting the families of those who refuse to give themselves up, and prosecuting and punishing their families 'according to Sharia law'," Christian Nellemann, the group's executive director, told AFP.

"We expect both individuals previously working with NATO/US forces and their allies, alongside with their family members to be exposed to torture and executions."

'Lives under threat'

Several media workers have reported being thrashed with sticks or whips when trying to record some of the chaos seen in Kabul in recent days, though the Taliban have insisted women and journalists have nothing to fear under their new rule.

A video posted online by a high-profile woman journalist this week for a government-run television station offered a different reality to the Taliban's new image of tolerance.

"Our lives are under threat," Shabnam Dawran, an anchor in state-owned RTA, said as she recounted being barred from the office.

"The male employees, those with office cards were allowed to enter the office but I was told that I couldn't continue my duty because the system has been changed," she said.

Fear and intimidation

After routing government forces and taking over Kabul to end two decades of war, the hardline Islamist movement's leaders have repeatedly vowed media freedom and a pardon for all their opponents as part of a well-crafted PR blitz.

Women have also been assured their rights will be respected, and that the Taliban will be "positively different" from their brutal 1996-2001 rule, when women were largely confined to their homes and flogged in public for what the group considered various moral offences. Recently, there have been reports of burqa prices skyrocketing in Kabul with the Taliban's return.

Despite assurances of inclusivity, many Afghans fear a repeat of the harsh rule by the Taliban, which had also banned television and music, chopped off the hands of suspected thieves and held public executions when they were in power.

Terrified that the new de facto rulers would repeat such abuses, thousands have raced to Kabul's airport, braving checkpoints manned by Taliban fighters as they seek desperately to get on evacuation flights out. Others have taken to the streets to protest the takeover — acts of defiance that Taliban fighters have violently suppressed.

Resistance

In recent days, some Afghans have protested the Taliban in several cities — a remarkable show of defiance that fighters often met with violence. At least one person was killed on Wednesday at a rally in the eastern city of Jalalabad, after demonstrators lowered the Taliban's flag and replaced it with the Afghan tricolour. Another person was seriously wounded at a protest a day later in Nangarhar province.

The demonstrations have come to the capital as well. On Thursday, a procession of cars and people near Kabul's airport carried long black, red and green banners in honour of the Afghan flag — a banner that is becoming a symbol of defiance.

Meanwhile, opposition figures gathering in the last area of the country not under Taliban rule have talked of launching an armed resistance. It was not clear how serious a threat they posed given that Taliban fighters overran nearly the entire country in a matter of days with little resistance from Afghan forces.

But Russia too has emphasised that the resistance movement was forming in the Panjshir Valley, led by deposed vice-president Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of a slain anti-Taliban fighter.

"The Taliban doesn't control the whole territory of Afghanistan," Russian foreign miinister Sergei Lavrov said.

In the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul, Ahmad Massoud, the son of Afghanistan's most famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, said he was "ready to follow in his father's footsteps".

"But we need more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies," Massoud wrote in the Washington Post.

(With AP and AFP inputs)

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