On the Taliban and the Situation in Kunduz, Afghanistan

10_03_2015_afghanistan_taliban
Afghan protesters shout anti-Taliban slogans during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan October 1. Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

The Taliban entered Kunduz earlier this week, taking its first major Afghan city since 2001. The Afghan army is currently on the ground fighting back with American air support—air support that Saturday went horrifically awry with the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital and the death of a reported 16 staff and patients.

President Barack Obama aimed for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan this year, and has reduced troops to 9,800  from 32,000 in 2014. But he slowed the withdrawal pace in March at the request of Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. Obama remains committed to a total withdrawal before he leaves office.

One of the Taliban’s first civilian targets in Kunduz was a women’s shelter operated by Women for Afghan Women (WAW), an NGO. The Taliban entered Kunduz at 2 a.m., and the staff of the WAW shelter rousted 16 women and about 15 children from their beds, escaping before the fighters arrived.  Finding the caretaker also out of her house, Taliban fighters killed her husband and son, and went door to door hunting for other employees.

WAW’s executive director, Manizha Naderi, is in Kabul and Newsweek spoke with her Saturday via Skype about the situation on the ground in Kunduz, and the fears of Afghan women in the post-occupation era.

What is the reaction in Kabul to the American bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital?

People are horrified. That was one of the only hospitals of its kind in the northern provinces that deals with trauma care. So it was really, really, really needed. But I don’t think people blame the Americans for this. They blame the Taliban more. I think the majority of Afghans don’t want the Americans to leave so fast. The Afghan forces aren’t ready to take on the Taliban yet.

When American bombers kill civilians, doesn’t it drive Afghans to support the Taliban?

No, never. People don’t support the Taliban. The way they came into Kunduz: They started slaughtering civilians. The first thing they did was go to the Doctors Without Borders hospital, looking for Afghan soldiers to kill. Then they went door to door with a hit list. Any person working for the Afghan government, anybody working with the NGOs, Afghan soldiers—they were taken out of their houses and killed on the street in front of people. They went to the prison, let rapists and murderers out, 500 people, including I don’t know how many women, dozens of women, some were raped, others ran away.

The U.S. government, for reasons that boggle my mind, have been trying to negotiate with these barbarians. We have said from the beginning, there can’t be negotiations. They are the same barbarians. Coming into Kunduz the way that they did, barbarically slaughtering people, raping people in the street, they haven’t changed. We hope that the way they came into Kunduz has changed people’s perspective on negotiating.

What is Women for Afghan Women?

We are the largest local NGO in Afghanistan serving women in 13 provinces with 32 facilities including family guidance centers, legal aid and counseling for women who have experienced violence and human rights violations. We have shelters for women and support centers for children whose mothers are in prison, mostly for “moral crimes” that are not considered crimes in the United States, including allegations of sex outside marriage, running away from home, or in some cases, being raped.

How has life for Afghan women changed since the American drawdown?

Security has deteriorated really badly. The Taliban is more and more in power; two days ago they were in charge of a big province. ISIS has come into Afghanistan, they are drawing members and terrorizing Afghans. This troop drawdown hasn’t been good for anyone, not for women, not for security, not for the economy. We have a brain drain—young Afghans are leaving by the dozen if not hundreds per day. The taking of Kunduz didn’t help. People are afraid. Two or three generations know nothing but war and they are sick and tired of the Taliban and other terrorists.

Why would the Taliban target a women’s shelter?

We have been dealing with Taliban threats for a long time. For several years we have been getting threatening calls and letters asking us to close down the shelter, asking our manager to stop working outside of the home or be killed. We deal with this in day in and day out. They think the women in our shelters are corrupt and that the shelters are “un-Islamic.” They think the people who there are infidels and spies for the Americans.  

We usually have over 80 children in the shelter, but given that it was Eid,  we had sent most of them to visit their mothers in prison. When the Taliban invaded Kunduz, we took everybody out because we knew we would be the first target. We took them on foot to several safe houses. They were in burqas, people didn’t know who they were, and the first chance we saw we evacuated them by car.

What is the situation on the ground in Kunduz now?

There is active fighting between Taliban and the government. The thing you read in the news, that the Afghan government has taken it back from the Taliban, is not true. There is street to street fighting and the Taliban are hiding in people’s houses. Some of our staff are still stuck in Kunduz. Forty Taliban came to one man’s house looking for him. He is in hiding.

How are battered women a threat to the Taliban?

The majority of the women who are in prison or in shelters are there for moral crimes. We think that the Taliban are afraid of women taking charge. That’s why they don’t want them to be educated.

What do you fear the most?

My fear is that security is going to get worse in other provinces as well and Afghanistan is going to fall again. All of the northern and eastern provinces are struggling. My fear is that we are going to fall to Taliban and there is going to be mayhem and blood in the streets everywhere. I really hope Obama is going admit he made a mistake with this troop drawdown.

What can Americans, Westerners, other women do?

I know Americans are sick and tired of this war and the war in Iraq. But I request the American people to have some stamina because nobody wants what happened in Iraq and Syria to happen here after billions of dollars spent here and thousands of troops died here. Americans don’t want ISIS or the Taliban to take over. Just a year ago millions of Afghans went out and voted at risk of life and limb. We should respect them and the U.S., the largest democracy in the world, should respect that. I want the American people to call their representatives and ask that Afghanistan isn’t left to itself. And we want women everywhere to join WAW. Go to the website, the email goes straight to me, and I will respond.