#5: Life under the Taliban

Why are Former Security Forces being assassinated in Afghanistan?


Elhamudin Afghan is a former journalist in eastern Afghanistan. He currently works as a lecturer at a university in Afghanistan.

Curated by

Ali Ahmad, Danube University Krems/VIDC and Michael Fanizadeh, VIDC Global Dialogue

Security forces in Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power, © Ali Ahmad

Security forces in Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power, © Ali Ahmad

Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, VIDC Global Dialogue has published a series of articles under the title "Life under the Taliban." Women and men from different parts of the country and with different perspectives and realities tell us their stories. The contributions come from teachers, university employees, feminist activists, students, and other young people who describe their everyday lives in the country.

The following essay was written by Elhamudin Afghan*, a former journalist in Eastern Afghanistan and current university lecturer. The article discusses the mysterious increase in the killings of members of the former Afghan security forces in different parts of Afghanistan. To protect himself and his family from potential retaliation from the Taliban, Mr. Afghan chose a pseudonym.

Many security forces could not leave the country

The lives of many people in Afghanistan have changed significantly since the Taliban regained control of the country on August 15th, 2021. Due to growing security incidents and the Taliban’s tendency to carry out retaliatory killings, many former senior government officials and members of the security forces, including the police, army, intelligence, and militias loyal to NATO forces, are constantly in fear of forced disappearance. Since their return to power, the Taliban has engaged in a number of executions and forced disappearances of former Afghan security forces. These targeted killings continued despite the so-called “amnesty” declared by the Taliban after it defeated the Western-backed government in Kabul. The Taliban fighters have continued to assassinate former Afghan security forces throughout Afghanistan. 

In the days leading up to the regime change, the security forces that were the most well connected to their former Western advisors were evacuated and settled in several Western nations; thousands from the special forces fled to Iran, while those who were left behind had to deal with the Taliban’s revenge killings, arrest, and torture. Despite the scarcity of exact numbers, during the first three months of their rule, in just four provinces—Ghazni, Helmand, Kunduz, and Kandahar—the Taliban either killed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 former security personnel (Human Rights Watch, November 2021). Afghan social media users have constantly shared videos of graphic killings and torture over the past year.

Bahrumudin Nuristani

In conversation with the media, local people in the Eastern Nuristan province ousted the Taliban district officials of Mandol after Bahrumudin Nuristani, a former security officer, was arrested, tortured, and then killed by the Taliban in Laghman province in September 2022. Nuristani was an influential commander in the Mandol district. After his death, his family and sympathizers confronted the local Taliban in the Mandol and Doaba districts of Nuristan province and demanded justice and an investigation into the murder of Nuristani. The Taliban admitted to the BBC that Commander Nuristani had been arrested in Laghman and died in Taliban detention.

Over the past two weeks, targeted killings have been reported practically daily in the eastern region of Nangarhar province, although the majority of these deaths go unreported. Radio Azadi reported that the dead bodies of six people associated with the former government were found in different areas of Jalalabad City. Much like what happened in Eastern Nangarhar, in Kabul, an elite forces soldier for the former government was killed along with his two brothers and his cousin in recent weeks.  

But why do the Taliban arrest, torture, and kill former members of the former Afghan security forces? What are the Taliban’s concerns? Revenge and winning a 20-year-long brutal war against each other. To illustrate the life of former security forces under Taliban rule, I interviewed two members of former Afghan security forces in eastern Afghanistan. They were asked to remain anonymous in this article to minimize the risks to their lives. Both interviewees used pseudonyms to ensure their safety. 

Shawkat Tareen

“I remember that, on the day of the regime fall, most of the soldiers cried. The Taliban pulled down our national flag, scattered our papers, and insulted us. This is our terrible memory. Now we have no hope in life because we are suffering, and the future is unclear,” said 35-year-old Shawkat Tareen during an interview with the author.

According to Tareen, the Taliban’s attitude toward the military and security personnel of the previous government was highly negative. He said that he did not leave his house for months due to revenge being killed by the Taliban. He feels like he is under house arrest. As a former senior police officer in Paktika Province, he is fearful that the Taliban or some other extremist groups may arrest or kill him. Tareen described his life as being in a “dark room”; the biggest challenge he faces now is the risk to his life after the West abandoned Afghanistan in August 2021. Since the Taliban came to power, “I have neither physical, mental, social, nor economic security,” Tareen said. He is unemployed, depressed, and can sleep only with the help of sleeping pills.
Tareen attempted to leave Afghanistan multiple times after the fall of the former government, but could not find an opportunity to leave. The death of four former colleagues somewhere between Iran and Turkey on their way to Europe also frightened him away from making the risky journey by road. Living in peace and safety, being able to provide food for his family, and educating his children have become his only dreams.

Tareen’s two teenaged daughters are not allowed to continue their high school education because the Taliban has banned girls from attending schools beyond the sixth grade. Seeing his daughters at home growing up with no education frustrates Tareen. “The Taliban are violators of human rights. They put people’s lives in danger. They have deprived millions of Afghan children, such as my daughters of education, which is an irreversible historical injustice,” Tareen said with dismay.

Abdullah Bawar

Another former provincial officer of the Afghan National Army, Abdullah Bawar, is hiding out of fear for his life. Bawar was detained by the Taliban at his home in Eastern Laghman province following the August 2021 regime change, but was fortunate to be freed after a short period of captivity. Bawar, the father of four small children, has faced difficulties similar to those of Tareen. As a former security force member, he has not only lost his source of income, but is also terrified of both the Taliban’s retaliation assassinations and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-KP). He claimed that while fighting both factions as part of U.S.-led NATO forces, America, and other allies abandoned him and his country to the cruelties of the Taliban.
“I can’t go out to visit my relatives. I’m scared that someone might assassinate me. I’m afraid of the Taliban and IS-KP because we fought them. We had inflicted casualties on both terror groups,” Bawar said.
Bawar stated that if he gets an opportunity to leave Afghanistan, he will certainly do that. He is not optimistic about the future of Afghanistan because the West abandoned his country and most of his colleagues who served in security forces. He thinks it is impossible that they will see stable and professional national security forces again any time soon, as long as the Taliban is in charge.

The lives of Shawkat Tareen and Abdullah Bawar explain the terrible conditions of how the former security forces live under Taliban rule. Besides security risks, they also face economic and other social challenges. On a regular basis, they heard about hundreds of other mysterious assassinations of their colleagues who served in either the police or the army perpetrated by the Taliban. 

Recruiting Former Afghan Security Forces for Another War

Since October, Russians have attempted to recruit thousands of Afghan special forces who fled to Iran after the Taliban takeover in August 2021. In Iran, they face an uncertain future with fears of deportation to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. In the past 20 years, the former Afghan Special Forces fought the Taliban alongside U.S. and NATO troops. If they return to Afghanistan, the Taliban will kill them, the Guardian quoted one of the former generals. 

In recent months, Afghan social media users have started a campaign to gain the attention of Western countries that had been engaged in Afghanistan, begging them to save the lives of former Afghan security forces stuck in Afghanistan. General Ajmal Umar Shinwari, one of the spokesmen for the previous government, welcomed this call to save his colleagues from Taliban torture and killing.

* For security reasons, the author uses a pseudonym.