Photo: Mohammad Rahmani / Unsplash

Life under the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate

Hunger, abuse, torture, and exclusion

On 20th December 2022, the Taliban’s Ministry for Higher Education issued a decree banning women from universities. Four days later, another decree issued by Qari Din Mohammad, the Taliban minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, prohibited women from working for government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The group went still further with its brutal crackdown on Afghan women’s rights by shutting down most of the private educational centers for girls.

The Taliban’s return to power in August 2021 has changed almost everything for the people of Afghanistan. The group has been ruthless in imposing its repressive orders and policies. The once touted “changed” Taliban, or “Taliban 2.0”, which had given people some hope, did not materialize as the group’s accounts of atrocities continued to pile up, and their wrong-headed extreme policies exacerbated the rapidly rising level of hunger and poverty. The erasure of women from almost all public spaces was the last blow to the hope that the Taliban would be any different this time. 

Despite violent crackdowns against media and freedom of expression, the Taliban’s repressive measures against women, minorities, civil society, and dissidents hit the headlines more often. These days, Afghanistan is largely upset by the world’s media attention. Yes, the Taliban’s decree banning women from working as aid workers got some attention because of its impact on the country’s already dire humanitarian crisis, completely overshadowing the ban on women from higher education, which will have disastrous long-term consequences for the country. And without free and independent media, the actual extent of the plight of Afghanistan and its people rarely comes to light. 

In this report, KabulNow has looked deeper into the lives of Afghans under Taliban rule. Relying on locally-sourced reports and speaking to experts and people in Afghanistan, we have gone beyond the general headlines and dug deep into the issues rarely reported by the media. 

Afghanistan is going through one of the most critical periods in contemporary history. 97% of the population fell below the poverty line in 2022, according to an estimated report by UNDP in early November 2022. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), Over 28.3 million (~71%) of the country’s 40 million population need humanitarian assistance, with 15.3 million of them are children, and over 19.7 million(49%) people depending on emergency assistance. 

The country also suffers from one of the harshest winters, with temperatures dropping as low as minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit) in early January. According to the Taliban Disaster Management Authority, at least 166 people have died as a result of the cold weather that swept the country. Speaking to CNN, Shafiullah Rahimi, the Taliban spokesman for the Disaster Management Authority, confirmed that at least 70,000 have suffered from frostbite across the country. The World Bank states that agriculture has traditionally dominated Afghanistan’s economy, and 61% of households derive their income from agriculture, with 60% of employed women working in the livestock sector. This is another devastating blow to an already struggling population.

Nasrat Totakhil (Not his real name), a resident of Nangarhar province, says that Afghanistan is turning into a vast prison, where prisoners are desperately fighting over limited food or clothing coming to prison by aid agencies. Speaking to KabulNow, Totakhil says people are stuck and can do nothing to change the status quo as the Taliban atrociously suppresses dissenting voices. “People have no way to run away, nor can they stay. Everyone tries to survive, but there is no hope for the future.” 

Alarming Increase of Suicide and Suicide Attempts

With the Taliban’s return in late summer 2021, “hope died in Afghanistan,” and many aspirant young women and men have been buried with their shattered dreams. The extremist group pushes hard to ban or destroy any sources of hope, entertainment, and employment. This approach quickly pushed the young generation to the verge of limited choice: exodus or suicide. 

A report published annually by Gallup shows that “almost all Afghans — 98% — rate their life so poorly that they are considered suffering. This percentage surpasses the previous high of 94% in 2021, recorded as the Taliban seized full control and the U.S. withdrew its troops.” The report also highlights that 26% of Afghans consider their life to be the worst possible today, and 39% expect their life to be the worst possible in five years. “In 2021, it was not surprising to see that the poorest Afghans were most likely to suffer, while the wealthiest — those in the top 20% of income — was not as miserable. In 2022, misery was more equally distributed. While the poorest Afghans rate their life poorly and are considered suffering, no less than 95% of Afghans in any income group fall into the suffering category,” the report concluded.

For the many aspirant youths, particularly girls, with limited or zero financial resources, even fleeing the country through smuggling is a colorful dream which cannot be fulfilled, so they find themselves with the suicide left as the only option to avoid living hell on the earth.

Ahmad Sanai (Pseudonym), psychologist and University Professor in Kabul

There is no record of suicide numbers in Afghanistan. Furthermore, due to socio-religious taboos around suicide, people barely report suicide cases or change the cause of death into an entirely different issue, making it challenging to find the exact number of suicides. But with the very few cases reported to the media, the numbers show a striking increase in the suicide rate, despite the Taliban’s strict control of media and information flow. 

In the last 17 months, over 98 suicide cases were reported according to Etilaatroz and Hasht-e-Subh archives, out of which 48 (~49%) victims are women and 50 (~51%) are men. However, the number of failed attempts was barely reported or shared with the media. The northern province of Faryab led the record with 23 cases, followed by Ghor, Kandahar, Takhar, Paktia, and Bamyan provinces, with 9, 7, 5, 5, and 5, respectively. 

The leading causes of suicide among women are increasing domestic violence (35 out of 48 cases) and poverty, while among men, are mental issues, poverty, and unemployment (17 out of 50 reported cases). The common denominator among people who committed suicide in the last year is that almost all the victims are young, and most of them (~95% or 64 cases) are under 30, which indicates that the young generation is more frustrated and disappointed with the ongoing situation in Afghanistan.

Sanai believes the number of suicide cases is far more than what appears in the media. Due to socio-religious taboos around suicide, most people consider it infamy to their honor, so they either hide it or present it otherwise to the public. Furthermore, no specific organization or official body tracks and records the suicide cases in Afghanistan. He confirms that with the Taliban’s return and increasing suppression, there is a strong tendency for suicide among the young generations. Sanai, who, besides lecturing at a private University, also offers counseling for clients who come to him sharing their mental and emotional issues, says that recently his clients dramatically increased. “Almost 80-90% of those who contact or visit him for help are young, mainly girls and women. Many of them are disappointed and struggling with suicidal thoughts,” he said. 

In December 2022, ZanTimes reported that nearly 2,000 women had been admitted to the Herat Mental Health Department in the past six months. "The main factors contributing to the sharp increase in female mental health issues are the Taliban's social restrictions, the loss of financial independence, domestic violence, and concerns about their future," the report stated.

Public Flogging 

Implementing Sharia through force, fear, and violence is a fundamental feature of the Taliban as an extremist Islamic movement. The promise of implementing “Pure/True Islam” is a crucial ideological driver among their ranks. For any mass or individual killing, violence, destruction, and ransacking of people’s property, there is a religious excuse, under the “Rule of Sharia,” available to justify or even glorify the action. 

On 14 November 2022, Taliban Supreme Leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, ordered the full implementation of Sharia law and called it obligatory for all government agencies to enforce it. With Amir’s order out, a new wave of sharia-based corporal punishment and violence shook the country. On December 7, 2022, the Taliban announced public executions after reinstating Hudud and Qisas in mid-November 2022. The execution was carried out in the presence of the Taliban’s senior leaders, including Serajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqub, acting ministers for the Interior and Defense ministries. So far, 54 counts of public flogging have been carried out in the last 17 months; of these, 40 out of 54 counts (~74%) were carried out since November 2022, which strongly correlated with Amir’s decree calling for the complete execution of Sharia Law on 14th November 2022. 

In total, 454 people, including 79 women, were publicly flogged in 21 provinces. The main charges for every count of flogging are illegitimate affairs and thievery, followed by adultery, selling drugs, running away from home, and lacking a proper Hijab while going to the grocery shop. 

Public flogging is worse than death for many, as it publicly humiliates their dignity, dishonors their family, and traumatizes them for their entire life. He said one of the flogging victims committed suicide as he could not deal with the shame, and that trauma affected him and his family after his flogging. 

Abdullah (pseudonym), who forcibly attended a public flogging in Ghor province

Even Abdullah, an adherent follower of Islam, believes that the Taliban’s mass punishment and public flogging are more for spreading fear rather than implementing Sharia. “As much as I know, it requires strict criteria, strong evidence, and a lengthy process to prove someone guilty and sentence him to specific Hudud. But they arrest people, torture them to confess, and sentence them overnight or the next day. At least it is questionable, and at most, these sentences are anti-Islamic and are clear examples of major sins.” 

Erasing Women

It is the end. It is like burying me alive. After years of living in cold and humid rooms, I suffer severe leg pain daily. I usually starved to pay tuition fees, university fees, rent, and transport to finish university. I thought I could slowly make up for it after I graduated and got a job. After years of suffering, starvation, pain, and harassment, I almost graduated, yet they suddenly banned women from university.

Bahar Ahmadi (not her real name), a third-year environmental engineering student at Kabul Educational University.

In the last 17 months of their rule over Afghanistan, the Taliban have imposed severe restrictions on women, such as banning their right to work, study, travel, exercise, and go to public places. Additionally, group members have committed murders, rape, sexual harassment, torture, and imprisonment of women and girls in numerous cases. A KabulNow report found that over 162 women were killed in 23 provinces due to direct fire from Taliban forces or armed individuals. None of these cases or other mysterious murders have been investigated by the Taliban. In this report, "mysterious murder" refers to the killing of women, followed by the discovery of their bodies in public places, such as streets, alleys, waste canals, or abandoned settlements. In most of these cases, signs of torture and, in some cases, bullets have been found on the bodies of the murdered women.

The findings also show that at least 1,126 women and girls have been imprisoned in Taliban detention centers in 24 provinces. These figures are based on independent sources, but the actual statistics are likely higher. This is because women and their families who have experienced imprisonment are often too ashamed to speak out due to the threat posed by the Taliban and cultural stigmas surrounding rape and the tarnishing of reputation. They rarely provide details or confirm that they or their family members have been imprisoned.

More than 500 female prisoners have been confirmed in the Kandahar and Herat provinces, with Urzogan and Nimroz 165 and 108 women, respectively. This is followed by Kabul, Nangarhar, and Kunduz provinces, where there are more than 72, 61, and 50 women in Taliban prisons. Additionally, more than 153 women were confirmed to be in Taliban prisons in Baghlan, Takhar, Faryab, Diakundi, Ghor, Kapisa, Parwan, and Balkh provinces. Six more women were confirmed to be in Taliban prisons in Paktia, Bamyan, and Panjshir provinces.

Many women who participated in protests, and even those who merely criticized the Taliban's decisions on their social media accounts, were detained and tortured while in prison. KabulNow's findings show that 72 women were arrested individually by the Taliban in several cases, and several others were arrested as a group in three different instances.

An investigative report published by ZanTimes in October 2022 revealed that dozens of women who participated in two separate protests against the Taliban in September 2021 were arrested and killed in Taliban prisons, including Frozan Safi, who was considered the first women's rights defender killed by the Taliban.

Using fatwa, force, rape, killing, and imprisonment, the Taliban gradually pushed women from all sorts of public spaces to indoors, where they are “obliged only to serve their men.” In KabulNow, we provide a map of how women gradually excluded social areas: 

Khatool Nadery (not her real name), a women activist in Kabul, says the status of women under Taliban rule is increasingly moving towards slavery, where they cannot do anything without their male guardian’s permission. “This does not happen suddenly; it happened gradually under the international community’s close watch. Some international organizations like UNAMA even propagated positive changes under Taliban rule, and others were writing of safer environments for women promoting Taliban as Taliban 2.0 or upgraded Taliban,” she said. 

Exclusion of Minorities

On September 2022, two weeks after the Taliban reclaimed power in Kabul, 62-year-old Zebulon Simentov, Afghanistan’s last Jew, left the country to settle in Israel. Zebulon was the only remaining member of the once 40-thousand robust jew community in Afghanistan. 

On October 2022, Indian Newspaper The Tribune reported that only 110 Sikhs remained in Afghanistan out of, once, several hundred thousand within the population engaged in trading, mainly in Kabul, Jalalabad, and Ghazni provinces. In its 2022 annual report, The United States Commission of International Freedom writes: “While the last known remaining Jew left Afghanistan in September 2021 out of fear of persecution by the Taliban, the Hindu and Sikh community population dwindled to 140 at the end of 2021, a near extinction of the once robust community.” 

On October 17, 2022, International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) warned of potential genocide against Hazaras in Afghanistan and called for genocide convention action by governments. The call came after a deadly targeted suicide attack in Kaaj Educational center in western Kabul killed over 58 students, primarily teenage girls, and injured 120 more. The victims were all Hazaras. The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom 2022 annual report 2022 reported that Taliban fighters forcibly evicted 2,800 Shia Hazaras from Uruzgan and Daikundi provinces and seized their properties. 

A report by Human Rights Watch on September 2022 states that after the Taliban returned in the summer of 2021, “the Islamic State affiliate has claimed responsibility for 13 attacks against Hazaras and has been linked to at least three more, killing and injuring at least 700 people.” 

The recent shift in Taliban policies banning women from universities and working with national and international NGOs also raised excessive concerns among minorities in Afghanistan as the group resorted to more bloody approaches as they struggled to retain their religious popularity against the increasing extremist factions. 

in addition to the Taliban’s ideological rivalry with IS-KP, which will lead to further persecution of Hazaras by the Taliban, deep-seated anti-Hazara sentiments among the segments of Afghanistan’s society where the Taliban enjoy the most support and a history of impunity for serious crimes against the Hazara people creates an alarming situation.

Jawad Zawulistani, a human rights activist and researcher based in Canada

Pointing to the massacres of Hazaras in Mazar-e Sharif and Bamyan by the Taliban during the group’s previous rule in the 1990s, he adds that “Hazaras are at risk of another genocide” in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.