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The Taliban’s growing stronghold

Photo credit: © Vivian Gagliano

 

I was dismayed to read this morning of the recent public execution carried out on Taliban orders this past Sunday. (The full article is on NYTimes.com.) The stoning is significant because it was the first confirmed public execution that has been carried out by the Taliban in Afghanistan since they were in power nine years ago. It also happened in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz where, until more recently, the Taliban presence has seemed almost absent. Although reports suggest that they have always been strong and present, and were merely operating behind a weak central government presence in the area, and are coming out in a demonstration of their strength now.

The young couple that was stoned to death was charged with adultery. They had previously eloped when the man, a 25-year old man named Kayyam, was not permitted to marry 19-year old Siddiqa (reports vary as to their actual age, with some sources saying she was 20, and the AFP stating that he was 28 and she was 23-years of age). Siddiqa had already been promised to be married to another relative of Kayyam, but did not want to, and Kayyam already had a wife and two children. The two were coaxed into returning to their home village by family who promised they would allow them to marry (Afghan men are legally permitted to marry up to four wives), and that they would not be harmed. However, upon their return, the two were seized by the Taliban and brought to the local bazaar. Local villagers were encouraged to participate in the stoning, broadcasts were announced over the loudspeakers. When they were done, Siddiqa was dead, but Kayyam was still alive. Some Taliban returned and shot him three times and warned the villagers that “if anyone does anything un-Islamic, this will be their fate”.

A familiar resounding cry of fear and intimidation. We have seen this before. How the actions of a few are controlling and suppressing those of many. The most terrifying facet of this is how very arbitrary and unpredictable the rules and consequences are.

Across the country, the human rights commission has been receiving reports of incidents of similar nature. The previous week, on August 8th, the Taliban sentenced a 41-year old widow to 200 lashes with a whip, and then shot her to death for fornication. She had been impregnated by a man who had promised to marry her. Another young woman had her nose and ears cut off when she attempted to flee her child-marriage from her Taliban husband. (The full story of her plight is featured in TIME.)

The saddest part is that this is only a small glimpse of a few reported stories. The real story of abuse, killing, and arbitrary interpretation of justice and Sharia law goes much deeper, and it is far more widespread. Underpinning it all is also a deeply ingrained philosophy and way of living that is now accepted and even hailed as the right way. The only way. Even without the ever-growing actions of “justice” by the Taliban, beneath the surface is a blanket of abuse and battery that only further perpetuates acceptance and buy-in to the Taliban ways of government and control.

I personally feel that behind it all, the answer lies in education. The problem is a long-term generational one, and as such will also need to evolve and change through generations to right itself. However, education comes at a cost. There is no education in times of war, conflict, and turmoil. There is only survival. Afghans have been surviving for centuries.

Over the centuries, Afghanistan has always known war and many attempts of foreign take-over. In more recent times – within the century – some leaders have taken major strides to propel Afghanistan into a different state. Laws to make education compulsory for both boys and girls, abolition of the customary Muslim veil for women, the opening of co-educational schools. Even at that time, there were those that strongly resisted, at the same time, for a short time, Afghanistan evolved. It is strange to think back only thirty years of an Afghanistan of a different era: modern, prosperous, even cosmopolitan in some parts. Other countries looked to Afghanistan for film, culture, and business.

How different it is now.

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