Who in Afghanistan is still sure of his or her life? The Taliban pledged not to retaliate against civilians, but reports and social media have now featured stories of fighters marching door-to-door, specifically looking for suspected collaborators. “The Taliban have control, and they have knowledge,” said Christian Nellemann, a Norwegian conflict analyst and expert in illegal organizations. He leads the analyst collective RHIPTO (Norwegian Center for Global Analyses), which issued a report to the UN this week now leaked safety assessment wrote. Main conclusion: The Taliban are indeed coordinated searches for civilians who cooperated with the former or foreign governments.
Where did the Taliban get that knowledge?
On the phone: “Underground the Taliban already had informal contacts, useful in, for example, assassination attempts on local politicians. They are probably now expanding that informant network into a state apparatus. We have signs that fighters in recaptured cities were looking for new sources of information: asking questions about the community in mosques, confiscating cell phones, questioning local rulers. With each fallen city, Kabul grew closer and the Taliban got a better idea of the Afghans who played an important role internationally. In their statement, the Taliban promised not to retaliate. But what actually seems to be happening are not excesses, but systematic reprisals.”
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There is a ‘priority list’ of people to be searched for in your report.
“It’s a well-known mechanism. After the liberation, the Netherlands also looked for collaborators with the Germans. People then point at each other. Then there is the risk that innocent people, or family members, will pay. That could be a tactic to create fear if the actual target doesn’t show up.”
This fits with the picture that emerges from home visits. It is currently difficult to verify information about such cases. How do you see that?
“Verification is always difficult in a war zone, for journalists and us analysts. We point out that the same kind of stories came out from the other cities, and that it is consistent with the previous Taliban regime. The promises made about amnesty and respect for women’s rights sound nice, but there is no indication that they have been implemented. For example, there is no fatwah, not a religious commandment, over pronounced. It could be more grim: the public statements may make people stay in Kabul, dare to take to the streets. The Gestapo would also not issue a press statement to say, “We are looking for such and such.” We note that the number of reports of a manhunt is intensifying.”
According to Nellemann, the fate of people who are found is not clear: they disappear from the radar. He points to the past again: “It is likely that people will be arrested, tortured, even murdered.” Meanwhile, “no doubt” the fear is growing, because of the reports and the discrepancy with the measured official statements: “This is felt throughout society.”
Does the tracing of employees have consequences for the international community or security?
“Then we’ll make some headway. But realize: a number of employees have assisted in security and counter-terror operations, or received military training from, for example, the Americans and British. If they are caught, the Taliban will want to get information about it. That is also knowledge in which other rogue regimes interested, such as Russia or China.”
Anyway, if you’ve ever dealt with the westerners, regardless of the fine words, don’t stay in Afghanistan.
“The net is closing. Gathering information is discreet, but now the Taliban can operate openly. While Western countries are still trying to evacuate their own citizens, it is clear that Afghans can barely reach Kabul airport. Via checkpoints along the road, the fighters have a good view of who wants to leave and they can stop ‘people of interest’ if necessary. Under the guise of that chaos that everyone is now focused on.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad of 21 August 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of August 21, 2021