ShershahNawabi is an award winning Afghan journalist who was on the front lines during the recent battle of Konduz when the Taliban captured and took over the city for a short while in September this year. The Afghan National Army wrested it back after a vicious fight, but the Taliban clearly demonstrated that the fight was far from over and that the war on terror had not diminished it. Nawabicoverd the entire battle and his incisive reportage from the front lines won him another award from the Special Representative for Reforms and Good Governance of the Governant of Afghanistan. In this interview with Aditi Bhaduri, Nawabi describes the assault, the abuse by Taliban on the people of Konduz,especially its women, the current situation in Afghanistan and what India can do.
1.You were in Konduz. Tell us why It fell so easily to the Taliban.
The main reason that Konduz fell so easily to the Taliban is because there was local support for them. When the Taliban launched their attack it was from within Konduz, Later they requested help from the Taliban factions present in the neighboring provinces.
2. So you are saying that there was local support for the Taliban in Konduz - ie. from the local people?
Yes, people of Konduz were unhappy with the government, so at an event held to celebrate Eid, they invited the Taliban too. After that Taliban began its offensive. Konduz is a kind of flashpoint because it has large communities of Pashtun, Tajik and Uzbeks. There are ethnic tensions in the city. Moreover it is a strategic point to destabilize Afghanistan. So Pakistan's ISI keeps fomenting these tensions.
The main reason that Konduz fell so easily to the Taliban is because there was local support for them
3. How did people in Konduz feel about Taliban?
Initially they thought the Taliban would bring stability and order. But when they saw the violence, the rape of the women, they knew they had made a terrible mistake. First they forced the people out from their homes, then those known to work for the government began to be exterminated, and then they raped the wives and daughters of some government officials. They also burnt down the homes of some foreign mujahideen, they took refuge in schools, hospitals and civilian homes, wreaking havoc there, burnt down government offices. They simply left behind a trail of death and destruction.
4. What did women in particular feel in Konduz about the Taliban?
I interviewed many women residents of Konduz after the assault. This was the worst moment since 2001. Once again they were being forced back into their homes, turning the clock back on all that that had managed to achieve in these last 14 years. They also saw the torture and death of their men folk, days without electricity and water.
[For women] This was the worst moment since 2001. You mentioned rape.
Yes, I was present at the interrogation of a Talib deputy commander who was captured in Konduz. He said he and some others had raped two women. There were many others. They targeted mostly womenfolk of government employees.
5. There are reports that women journalists in particular were targeted.
Once they captured Konduz, the Taliban attacked the media, mostly TV and radio stations. In particular they focussed on attacking the all women's radio station. The thinking was that this was against sharia as women were running the radio station. After this attack all the female staff of this radio station are staying away in their homes, but the government has promised to rebuild the office as soon as possible and get the radio broadcasting again.
Most women journalists of Konduz are now staying home, looking for new opportunities. But they have not given up.
They believe and hope that things will get better and are determined not to give up. They [the Taliban] focussed on attacking the all women's radio station.
6. How secure do women in Afghanistan - in other cities like Kabul, in Herat, Jalalabad feel?
We have issues regarding women's rights, including their mobility and security but the government and people have been working on this. However, women in Jalalabad are now facing the ISIS, so this is a new threat for them.
7. What is the situation now?
After the collapse of Kunduz, the Afghan unity government has initiated a new security plan. The USA has also finally agreed to keep 5500 foreign forces on ground in Afghanistan. So it is a good news for Afghans. There is also a program going on now to equip our forces.
8. Is the Afghan National Army not reliable? Do you have doubts about its ability to defend Afghans?
No, Afghan security forces are able to protect our nation; they are fighting with the intelligence of Pakistan and the world. We are fighting alone with all this, it is not an easy war. Our forces need heavy weaponry to defeat those like ISIS and Taliban, and we need good air power.
We also need the USA to change it’s foreign policy. By constantly giving in to Islamabad's demands, the U.S. Is worsening things for Afghanistan. I wish the Americans could see things from our perspective.
9. What do you think is contributing to strengthening the Taliban?
Pakistan's ISI and Arab intelligence are helping the Taliban. As we saw in Konduz, from the captured Taliban forces we found money and equipment from Pakistan with them, their salaries are paid by the ISI Intelligence reports show that eight now ISIS is present in Jalalabad, they are recruiting fighters in Kunar. Sometimes the Taliban help the local people in these places and they mistakenly believe that the Taliban are good for them.
The Taliban are present in 22 provinces but they don't have the ability to seize a district for long. A fight is going on between the Afghan forces and Taliban in Kunduz, Takhar, Baghlan, Badakhshan and in South Helmand. The Afghan forces will definitely win.
Pakistan's ISI and Arab intelligence are helping the Taliban.
10. What can India do?
We hope that New Delhi will support our forces, and can pressurize international community to garner moral support for us. India can coordinate with the regional powers to work together for peace and stability in Afghanistan. This is vital for the stability of Asia.
Written byAditi Bhaduri