Remember Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf?
You might recall him better by his media-bestowed moniker, “Baghdad Bob.” He was Saddam Hussein’s information minister during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, legendary for saying patently untrue things any journalist with eyes could debunk in 30 seconds.
Most infamously, as NBC News noted, he told reporters American soldiers “are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender, it is they who will surrender.” That was one day before the fall of Baghdad.
Zabihullah Mujahid is the same kind of pathetic fabulist, except his side just won.
Mujahid is the longtime spokesman for the Taliban. On Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, he gave his first news conference since the Islamic insurgency took over the country and tried to reassure the West that this was Taliban 2.0. They’d learned from their excesses and had curbed them.
During the news conference, Mujahid promised to honor women’s rights, so long as they fit within Islamic law. (The AP noted that he moved on from this point “without elaborating.”)
“Mujahid reiterated that the Taliban have offered full amnesty to Afghans who worked for the U.S. and the Western-backed government, saying ‘nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped.’ He said private media should ‘remain independent’ but that journalists ‘should not work against national values,’” the AP reported Wednesday.
One might be tempted to give Mujahid a diminutive like “Kabul Kyle” or “Afghani Al,” except it’s not funny this time.
While he promises to offer full amnesty to allies of the former government, the United States or its NATO allies, there are numerous credible reports of roving death squads roving the country, going door-to-door finding anyone who dared help us. And, while they’re promising the West they’ll honor women’s rights, a former Afghan judge has reported a woman being “put on fire” because she didn’t cook well to suit Taliban fighters.
A confidential U.N. document obtained by Axios reported the Taliban was “intensifying the hunt-down” for those who worked with the former government or any of its allies. Furthermore, the Saturday report stated, Afghanistan’s new rulers are conducting “targeted door-to-door visits” and the families of “target individuals” have been threatened or arrested.
The document was authored by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, a U.N. intelligence assessment provider. According to the group’s analysis, this crackdown on its former opponents was planned before the insurgents took over the country.
“The Taliban have been conducting advance mapping of individuals prior to the take-over of all major cities,” states the document, dated Wednesday.
“There are priority lists of individuals and unit affiliations to be arrested including intelligence service, SOF [special operations forces] units, police and armed forces.”
It also included a letter sent to a Taliban target who’d worked with both the United States and the United Kingdom, ordering the individual to report to the “Military and Intelligence Commission of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
“If you do not report to the Commission, your family members will be arrested instead, and you are responsible for this,” the letter read.
As for journalists, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported the Taliban had raided the homes of at least three of its journalists. A relative of one of the employees was shot dead. Another member of his family was seriously injured. The Deutsche Welle journalist is now working in Germany.
“The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban yesterday is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves,” Deutsche Welle Director General Peter Limbourg said, according to Axios.
“It is evident that the Taliban are already carrying out organized searches for journalists, both in Kabul and in the provinces. We are running out of time!”
Things look no better on the women’s rights front. Former Afghan judge Najla Ayoubi, a woman’s rights activist, told Britain’s Sky News that a young woman in northern Afghanistan was “put on fire” by the insurgents earlier this week. Her crime? She was “was accused of bad cooking for Taliban fighters.”
Former Afghan judge Najla Ayoubi says she had to “flee” for her life from the Taliban after speaking in favour of women and women’s rights.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) August 20, 2021
“A woman was put on fire because she was accused of bad cooking for Taliban fighters.”
Former Afghan judge Najla Ayoubi says she’s received examples of the Taliban committing “bad behaviour and violence against women” in Afghanistan.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) August 20, 2021
The report is vague. Ayoubi, who lives in exile in the United States, according to the New York Post, did not actually say the woman died, but given the Taliban’s brutal history and customary treatment of women, it’s easy to assume the worst.
Liza Schuster, a professor at the City University of London who has done fieldwork for years on the ground in Afghanistan, also told Sky News she’d heard reports on the ground the Taliban had “entered people’s homes” and were “compiling lists of unmarried women between 15 and 45 as suitable wives for their fighters.” She also reported incidents of stoning.
She added the Taliban were “forcing women to wear the burqa, and if they leave without a mahram [male familial escort], they are sent home again and maybe beaten.”
Before the fall of Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 12 that “Afghans pouring into Kabul and those still in Taliban-held areas” said “Taliban commanders have demanded that communities turn over unmarried women to become ‘wives’ for their fighters — a form of sexual violence, human-rights groups say.”
“If Western governments are choosing to believe the Taliban propaganda, it’s because it serves their purposes,” Schuster told Sky News, noting the group had gotten better at P.R.
Indeed, when the Biden administration was trying to look on the bright side of life under Taliban rule, they pointed to the insurgents’ assurances that this was Taliban 2.0. They were no longer the Stone Age caricature they were when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. They respected human rights — at least to a certain degree. They respected women’s rights — up to a point.
On Wednesday, former CIA counterterrorism chief Douglas London made headlines via a piece in Just Security in which the Joe Biden campaign volunteer adviser said the president’s team had been sufficiently briefed on the possibility that Afghanistan might fall in days.
Buried in the piece, however, was a telling bit about the “rather naïve confidence among Biden’s more influential foreign policy advisors that the Taliban’s best interests were served by adhering to the [withdrawal] agreement’s main points.”
“Taliban learned a great deal about the utility of PR since 2001, and maximized their access to Western media,” London argued. “The reality, of course, as the intelligence community long maintained, was that the Taliban’s control over the country was predicated on isolation from the rest of the world, rather than integration. International recognition, global financial access, and foreign aid were not going to influence how the Taliban would rule.”
And how would they rule? Exactly how they did the first time they had control of the country.
This time, however, it’s not just the Taliban’s country. It’s Joe Biden’s Afghanistan, too. As Kabul’s “Baghdad Bob” spins tales about “full amnesty” for their opponents and the Taliban’s newfound respect for women, we can watch the brutal truth behind the lies unfold.
Unlike Iraq in 2003, though, the enemy is actually victorious this time — and that’s all on our president.
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