Within hours of seizing the northern Afghan city of Kunduz last month, Taliban fighters went door-to-door, hunting down not only those accused of working with security forces, but women’s rights advocates and journalists.
Government troops took back much of the city three days later, and on Monday the Taliban announced the withdrawal of their last fighters. But the Taliban’s brief foray into the city offered a chilling reminder of its violent Islamic rule in the late 1990s, and of what could await the country if it returns to power.
In announcing their capture of the city on Sept. 28, the Taliban vowed to protect civilians and property, presenting themselves as liberators. But residents say the insurgents immediately went on a rampage, looting shops and killing those who stood in their way.
Shah Bibi fled to Kabul with her six children after militants barged into a neighbor’s home and shot dead five young boys. The bodies lay everywhere,” she said. Women’s rights advocates and journalists say they were singled out, and many joined the exodus from the city. The UN says half of the 300,000 residents of Kunduz fled. It’s unclear how many have since returned.
Fauzia, the head of a local organization devoted to women’s health, education and rights, said she hid in her basement until Taliban gunmen on a motorcycle came to the house looking for her. “It wasn’t so much the prospect of being killed that was the biggest fear, it was being raped,” she said.
When the gunmen started trying to knock down the door and her husband berated her for not leaving sooner she climbed over the back fence and ran away, eventually making her way to Kabul. During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, women were banned from work and school, and could only leave home wearing the all-covering burka and escorted by a male relative. The Taliban stoned alleged adulterers, cut off the hands of thieves and dispensed violent and summary justice for violations of their harsh version of Islamic law.
“The Taliban do not believe in the values of humanity,” rights advocate Malali Rustami said. “They have no respect for humanitarian and health workers, non-government organizations, journalists, female activists these are the people who have been targeted by the Taliban in Kunduz.”