Taliban raise fears of forced marriage and sexual slavery of Afghan women
BAMIYAN, Afghanistan – When Taliban gunmen stormed into a remote Afghan district this month, they terrorized residents and looted local businesses, then did something even more disturbing: The group demanded the names and ages of girls and women who they believe would be rounded up and married to their young fighters.
According to residents of Saighan district in the central highlands of Bamiyan province, insurgents beat men who tried to resist and forced some residents to show them closets of clothing to determine the ages of girls and women. women who lived there. Among the women whose names they wrote down were widows of men killed in action with the Afghan army counterinsurgency.
Terrified women packed what they could, rented cars and carts of goods, or simply walked to escape what some have described as their worst nightmare: being kidnapped and sexually enslaved by the Taliban.
“When the local people were informed of this, everyone took their wives out of Saighan, especially the young girls, they were the first to be evacuated,” said Baes Sakhizada, a 28-year-old math teacher. . He said he was beaten by Taliban gunmen when he closed the doors of his house, fearing that the insurgents would plant mines inside.
Some women have managed to flee to other provinces, where they remain for now, while others have gone to neighboring villages. Among those who returned are Baes Sakhizada’s wife of two months, Nafisa Sakhizada, 24, who fled to Kabul with her sister Basira, 30, and a cousin, Tamanna, 19, who did not gave their last name. During the 150-mile journey, they were frequently stopped at Taliban checkpoints. They returned to Sighan recently.
Sitting on cushions in the room the Sakhizada share in the family home not far from the town’s main street, face covered but staring at them, the women described the terror and dread they felt when the activists ransacked and looted homes and businesses – and announced their plans for women.
Rumors have circulated in recent months about the excesses and atrocities of the Taliban in the neighborhoods they took during an aggressive advance across the country. Insurgents hoisted their white flag in about a third of Afghan districts, as state security forces struggled under poor leadership and a lack of strategy to stop the Taliban’s progress.
In Bamiyan province, where there is no Afghan army presence, militarized police worked with so-called Citizen Uprising militias to defeat the Taliban in two districts: Saighan and Kahmard. Provincial Governor Mohammad Tahir Zohair said the insurgents were driven 60 to 100 miles over the mountains and out of Bamiyan province.
In a speech at a Bamiyan mosque to mark the feast of Eid al-Adha, Zohair described the plan to kidnap and marry women as “a dangerous and cruel revenge against the wives and widows of the forces. security forces who fought for you ”.
Insurgents invaded Saighan on July 14, holding him for four days before being forced into retreat by local militias in a fierce two-hour firefight, according to Zohair, police and residents. Security forces arrived late at the scene because the Taliban had mined the road to the center of the district.
During those four days, the Taliban ordered women to stay in their homes, looted stores and fuel depots, searched for government workers, ransacked homes for weapons, stole food and livestock. under the pretext of a “religious tax”, and imposed a voting tax. of 8,000 afghanis, about $ 100, for each inhabitant of the district.
Most terrifying for Saighan’s families was the order, issued by local mosques, to draw up lists of all young women and widows. The insurgents also demanded videos of local men who had joined the national armed forces, whether they were still on duty or had been killed in action, as well as the names of their wives.
The Taliban follow an extremely conservative Islamic ideology which views women as “kaniz, “Or goods, and therefore as”qhanimat”Said Omar Sadr, professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan. “This already happened in the 1990s, when Kabul and places in the north fell – they kidnapped women and forced them to marry their base,” he said.
“Once jihadists such as the Taliban capture a territory, regardless of ownership, their ideology allows them to claim and own it as Qhanimat (spoils of war). This includes women, they don’t even have to marry them, it’s a form of sexual slavery, ”he said. He said it was also a form of “ethnic cleansing”, as the predominantly Pashtun culture of the Taliban would ultimately dilute the gene pools of other ethnicities by integrating women into Pashtun society.
Insurgent military victories in recent months have heightened fears that progress in women’s rights over the past 20 years is rapidly fading across the country.
Saighan is one of eight districts in Bamiyan province, known for the huge Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001, when they held power in most of the country. They were overthrown later in the year after the September 11 attacks carried out by al-Qaeda, which at the time was hosted by the Taliban regime. The leaders escaped across the eastern border to Pakistan, where they have since enjoyed sanctuary and support.
Cradled in a fertile valley of the Hindu Kush, Saighan has a population of around 30,000, with ethnic Tajiks dominating the center of the district, running shops and businesses, and Hazaras in the villages, growing wheat and fruits and raising livestock.
Baes Sakhizada, the math teacher, said some of the insurgents who entered the district would not communicate in Dari, the local language. The leaders covered their faces and did not speak to any inhabitant, content to rule the others. They requisitioned the only excavator in the district to dig their positions.
Nafisa Sakhizada said she and other women in the household fled Saighan as soon as they learned of the Taliban’s arrival and local forces withdrew. She said she stayed in a local village overnight, until it was learned that the Taliban had set up commissions to perform specific tasks, one of which was to search for girls and women to marry.
She said they hired a car and drove to neighboring Maydan Wardak province, only to find themselves stuck in a traffic jam of vehicles also fleeing the advancing Taliban. “So we got out of the car and put our luggage in wheelbarrows and pushed it,” she said. “There were a lot of people and there was a lot of dust and so many people, it was terrible. “
Her sister-in-law Basira also joined the exodus, she said, after the district governor ordered local police not to resist the Taliban’s advance and then withdraw later. This so-called tactical retreat deployed by the military leadership until the recent summit changes allowed the Taliban to overthrow districts across the country.
“All the women in our family are gone,” she said, after rumors circulated that the women and girls are being gathered for a forced marriage. Her cousin Tamanna said she remains terrified that the Taliban will return and try to bring the women together again. She and other young women in the neighborhood have nightmares about it, she said.
Zohair, the newly appointed governor, returned to his post earlier this month after a year as minister in Kabul. He ordered an offensive position by the uprising police and citizen militias, which saw the two districts, Saighan and Kahmard, recaptured from the insurgents within days.
Zohair said the Taliban also forced girls and women to marry in other parts of the country, citing Takhar and Badakhshan in the north, where insurgents surrounded capitals after invading districts in both provinces.
“The Taliban are suppressors and murderers, why run away from them. Fight, or die or kill them, ”he declared in his Eid speech, with catchy cries of“ God is great ”.