While the world looks to Ukraine, the Taliban increases repression and summary executions in Afghanistan against opponents, women and human rights defenders

While the world’s attention is focused on Ukraine, Afghanistan has plunged into darkness. The Taliban are tightening their grip amid increasing reports of arrests, rapes and summary executions of minorities, human rights defenders, women and those associated with the former government or the new resistance.

In the weeks following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Taliban have extended bans on many parts of what was once normal life before they took control of the country last summer. Crackdowns on media, entertainment and traditional festivities have expanded as the Taliban revive old practices, such as kidnapping foreigners to exert political influence.

Journalists continue to be arrested and beaten, and hundreds of media outlets have been shut down, ensuring that Taliban activities, including arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings, are not reported. A senior Afghan security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China is helping the Taliban build a television station.

Celebrations to mark the Zoroastrian New Year on March 20 were canceled. The Afghan flag has been replaced by the Taliban’s white flag. Television stations are not allowed to broadcast foreign programs and music and dancing are banned. Journalists must work within strict limitations; employees of Tolo TV, which made concessions to the Taliban to stay in business, were detained after reporting on the censorship.

Since the Taliban seized power, untold numbers of people have been detained and tortured to intimidate others into silence. The most vulnerable are minority nationalities such as the Hazaras, who are Shiites and considered apostates by the Sunni Taliban, who are mostly Pashtuns. Sources in Afghanistan said the abductees are being held in secret prisons across the country.

The Taliban are also terrorizing foreigners, including the arrest of Andrew North, who worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and businessman Peter Juvenal. A source close to the Taliban leadership said two Americans and eight Britons are currently being held incommunicado without charge, including Juvenal and Mark Frerichs, a 59-year-old U.S. engineer and Navy veteran arrested in January 2020. North was released within days of his detention in February.

Afghanistan’s economic problems, which were already catastrophic before Russia started the war in Ukraine, have only worsened. Hunger and poverty now stalk the population. The loss of much-needed Ukrainian and Russian wheat imports, as well as declining exports of Russian fertilizers needed for agriculture, are driving up food prices.

Tens of thousands of educated, middle-class Afghans have left the country and many more are clamoring to leave. The Afghan Foreign Ministry is flooded with passport applications, though few countries grant visas to Afghans.

But the contrast with the welcome they see extended to Ukrainians fleeing the war – more than 3.5 million people have left Ukraine, according to the United Nations – is cruel, as many Afghans have felt the coldness of Western countries, making it difficult for them to enter, let alone settle.

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