Taliban will never change, our people are in danger, say Afghan refugees

Alfian Z.M. Tahir

Taliban patrols outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan refugees in Malaysia say they are deeply concerned about their country’s future and the plight of its people, especially the women, following the takeover by the Taliban. – EPA pic, August 29, 2021.

AFGHAN refugees in Malaysia do not think their country has a bright future under the Taliban rule and fear that the same old atrocities will resurface under them.

They said they are sceptical that the Taliban has changed as proclaimed and will respect the basic rights of the people in the country.

They also told The Malaysian Insight that they are deeply concerned about their country’s future and the plight of its people, especially the women.

“The Taliban is extremist. They have killed people for decades. Not just that, they murdered children and attacked mosques, universities and schools. They also kidnapped people for ransom,” said a refugee who wished to be identified as Ahmad.

“It is hard for me to believe that they have changed. When I was 12 years old, I witnessed how a woman in my village was shot dead by the group just because of her hijab.

“They showed her no mercy, and we were all forced to watch so that we don’t repeat the mistake.”  

Ahmad came to Malaysia when he was 16, leaving behind his family.

He suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder due to the brutal living conditions under the Taliban back home.

His welfare is currently being taken care of by a local human rights group – Kakak – that empowers refugees with job opportunities.

Ahmad is also undergoing treatment at a hospital for his mental health condition.

He is from the Hazara ethnic group, who are predominantly Shia, a sect in Islam that is entirely in the opposite of Sunni.

“When I was 14 years old, our mosque (Shia mosque) was bombed by the Taliban. There were people praying inside the mosque. I can still see the images of the horrific incident, although it happened a long time ago,” he recalled.

Ahmad’s traumatic experience has prevented him from sharing stories about his family. He has never spoken to his family since his arrival here two years ago.

Afghanistan is in turmoil following the takeover by the Taliban after the withdrawal of US troops after backing a 20-year civil rule.

The country’s president, Ashraf Ghani, left the country for Dubai on the same day the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15.

Thousands of Afghans are trying to flee the country in fear of Taliban repercussions for working with the US.

Afghans struggle to reach the foreign forces and show their credentials outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Taher says his family had tried to leave the country, but their effort was in vain. – EPA pic, August 29, 2021.

‘They will not change a bit’

For 46-year-old refugee Khan Mohamad, the chances of the Taliban keeping its promises are slim.

He said it is difficult for someone who has experienced the Taliban’s brutality to believe that the group has changed as it is claiming now.

“It is very bad for my country and I cannot trust what they say in public. Furthermore, we have not seen any news outside Kabul,” said Khan, who is also a Hazara.

“When I was there, I saw too many killings committed by the group. Those who defy them will be killed. That was 20 years ago. What will happen to my country now only time will tell.

“They can say that things are okay, but what about the other places that are far from the international media. Anything can happen in those places.”  

Just like Ahmad, Khan has lost contact with his family.

“I came here with my wife and children as I had no choice. I do not know the fate of my parents back home because we have lost contact,” he said.

On Wednesday, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said the Taliban has changed for the better and the people must not believe its portrayal by the Western media.

He said this is evident as the Taliban has granted amnesty for Afghans who previously worked for the United States and allowed “liberals” to flee the country.

“The Western media and the local media are amplifying negative aspects of the Taliban,” he said.

The Marang MP’s comments came after his son, Muhammad Khalil, congratulated the Taliban for “liberating” Afghanistan.  

Khalil has since been suspended from Facebook for his comments.

Taher, a Hazara who has been in Malaysia for five years, is disappointed with those who praise the Taliban.

The refugee blasted the Taliban for claiming to have Islamic credentials when what it actually did was killing fellow Muslims.

“It is unfortunate that there are Malaysians who believe in the Taliban. Praising them and trusting that they have changed,” he said.

“They will not change a bit. During their time, they killed more Muslims than the infidels. Children and women were not spared.

“Hospitals, schools, universities are targeted by suicide bombers. Who did they kill? Their fellow Muslims.”  

Taher disclosed that his family had tried to leave the country after the Taliban takeover, but their effort was in vain.

“I spoke to my family. They are all worried about their safety. They were at the airport trying to leave, but they could not make it,” he said.

“I was told that many people who worked for foreign countries and agencies are scared now. The girls are staying indoors and not many are brave enough to go outside.”

Life goes on in Kabul after the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital on August 25. – EPA pic, August 29, 2021.

‘So far so good in my province’

 Meanwhile, Fazel Rosooli, an Afghan who lives in Jawzjan, one of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan, revealed that he has witnessed several changes in attitude among the Taliban.

The 36-year-old former English translator told The Malaysian Insight that so far, the Taliban army has not imposed anything on normal citizens.

“So far so good, because last time when they occupied our city, we were punished for not having beards or not going to the mosque to pray,” he said.

“Women were not allowed to go out with their mahram (a member of one’s family with whom marriage would be considered forbidden) and without a proper burqa. Girls were not allowed to go to school and so on.

“But now, they don’t force you to have beards, and you have the choice of praying in a mosque or at home. Women can go out, but they need to put on a proper burqa. Little girls can go to school as well.

“These are the changes we see in them nowadays, but will it be consistent and permanent? No one knows.”  

However, Fazel, who is an ethnic Pashtun, is still sceptical about the group, saying that he will not expect the Taliban to respect human rights.

“In my city, they have fired hundreds of civil servants from various departments without asking them a single question or letting them defend themselves,” he said.

“This may lead to further abuse in the future.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said there are 2,610 Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia as of July. – August 29, 2021.

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