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Taliban house searches spark fear among citizens in Kabul

Despite Taliban claims of targeting ‘criminals’, reports suggest ordinary citizens were also targeted.


7 Mar 2022

In late February, the Taliban began extensive house searches in Kabul, sparking criticism on social media and among Western diplomats, who say ordinary citizens have mainly been targeted.

The Taliban's spokesperson Zabehullah Mujahid issued a statement calling the searches a 'clearance operation' intended to identify criminals and people who pose a security threat to the local population. "The operation is not against just anyone, it is against kidnappers, professional thieves and crime groups," Mujahid said at a news conference, where he added that Taliban authorities had seized weapons and arrested dozens of criminals, as well as six members of the Islamic State militant group.

Afghan Witness (AW) spoke to numerous citizens in Kabul whose homes were searched. Some residents report that the Taliban entered their homes without their knowledge, that doors were broken and their homes left untidy. There were also claims that the Taliban dug up backyards, destroying plants and trees. AW heard that searches lasted between 30 minutes and two hours, and there have been claims that some were conducted in the evening, for instance, as late as 9:00PM. As well as the searches in Kabul, there have also been reports that the Taliban searched homes in Parwan, Kapisa, Mazar-e Sharif, and other areas.

Above image: a room of a resident in Kabul after Taliban's search, taken from social media.

In Afghanistan, it is expected that women conduct security checks of other women. The Taliban claimed that only female police would search women's items and that religious representatives from the area would accompany the police during the searches. However, according to the individuals AW spoke to, in most of these cases, women were not present. In particular, in areas with Tajik-dominated populations – such as PD 11, PD 17 and PD 10 of Kabul city – some residents told AW that searches were conducted in an aggressive manner, consequently scaring women and children. In some cases, AW heard that metal detectors and K9 dogs were used.

A resident who lives in the Shahrak-e Aria area of Kabul told AW that members of the Taliban came to their home twice: once in the morning, when they conducted a thorough search, and again later that day, when, according to the resident, they conducted a rough search of their flat and looked through their rubbish.

In contrast, another resident of the Shahrak-e Aria area told AW that Taliban members had been respectful when conducting a search of their home. They said the group’s members asked women to go into one room to search the house and did not move many of the family’s belongings. Both residents of the Shahrak-e Aria area of Kabul who AW spoke to were Pashtuns.

There have been reports that the Taliban used metal detectors and K9 dogs to search homes. Image taken from social media.

Since the Taliban captured Kabul last August, some citizens have gone into hiding due to their previous work with the Former Government and military, or western nations and NGOs. To protect themselves, many destroy their documents.

Markus Potzel, Germany's designate ambassador to Afghanistan, tweeted that the searches appeared to be mostly affecting “ordinary citizens”, despite the Taliban’s statement that criminals were being targeted.

In an article published by the Washington Post, a labourer who had his home searched for weapons said Taliban members took knives to the cushions that lined the family’s sitting room, removed clothes from closets and pulled family photos off shelves. Taliban members accused him of ‘relations with the former regime’, though his wife told the Washington Post that he had never worked for the Former Government.

Image above: in one search, the Taliban reportedly vandilised pictures of former politician and military commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, taken from social media.

Some citizens are anxious that their homes will be searched in the near future. AW spoke to Abdullah, not his real name. He lives in Kabul, and previously worked as an actor, performing in Afghan street shows and TV series where he would often address social and political issues.

Abdullah has also advocated for women’s rights. He previously attempted to cover a women-led protest in Kabul with his friend, when the Taliban used pepper spray on demonstrators, which he says has affected his vision. In recent months, a number of Afghan women’s rights activists have had their homes searched, and there have been numerous reports of women activists and high-profile female figures being detained. The Taliban has denied targeted reprisals, insisting it is investigating reports of violence and disappearances.

While his home is yet to be searched, the Taliban's recent searches have frightened Abdullah. He tells AW his documents are too sensitive, and that they can put his life in danger if the Taliban find them. He is also worried because his father and brother worked with the Former Government and Afghan military.

"Since the Taliban took over, I washed my hands from theatre and art, I cannot perform the way I did, I cannot convey political and social messages the way I did before the Taliban," Abdullah tells AW.

Abdullah’s wife was previously a TV presenter, and also lost her job after the Taliban's takeover. Abdullah tells AW that Germany has accepted their asylum claim, however, he cannot afford the journey to Pakistan to get his German visa. He tells AW that the situation in Afghanistan has turned his elder brother to drugs and has left him responsible for a family of eight.

Abdullah says he had no intention of leaving the country before the Taliban returned. "I never wished to leave my country, I always thought that I was born here and I must be buried under this soil that I call my 'homeland', but with the return of the Taliban – all my dreams faded away."

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