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What is the state of safety in Afghanistan under Taliban rule?


Monday will mark a year since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. U.S. forces evacuated the country after a 20-year fight, leaving behind a war-torn country of roughly 40 million people. It isn't seeing as much violence as in previous years because the insurgents who used to carry out attacks on schools and government offices are now the ones in charge. But other groups have attacked minorities, and there have been arrests and disappearances of those who oppose the Taliban. So the question is, can Afghanistan become a safer place? We're going to discuss that with Tamim Asey. He's a former Afghan defense official, now chairman of the Institute of War and Peace Studies. Thank you, Tamim, for joining us.

TAMIM ASEY: Thank you very much for having me. It's a pleasure.

ESTRIN: So you did not feel safe staying in Afghanistan yourself. You fled last year. Why?

ASEY: Yes, many of us fled Afghanistan because of specific threats against us. And these existed way before the collapse of the republic. The term that was used for many of us - it was dead man walking.

ESTRIN: Wow. Did you feel like a dead man walking?

ASEY: Yes, of course. Many of us, including me, were in several target lists of the Taliban and other terrorist groups who considered us as American spies and collaborators.

ESTRIN: You left Afghanistan just a few days after the Taliban takeover, but you are still in touch with Afghans in the country today. What are the stories, the anecdotes you're hearing that are sticking with you about how people feel about their own personal security?

ASEY: Well, right now, the situation and the anecdotes that we hear from people on the ground - people who we are in touch, our relatives, families and others who are left behind - is an environment of fear, violence, intimidation. We have no constitution now, no parliament. There's an acting government, and they are hosting terrorist groups, as was evident by the Zawahri episode.

ESTRIN: And Ayman al-Zawahri is the al-Qaida leader who was killed in a U.S. drone strike two weeks ago.

ASEY: They were hosting him at the heart of Kabul, a kilometer away from the presidential palace, almost a kilometer away from the U.S. embassy compound, too.

ESTRIN: And so with the people that you've been in touch with and been hearing about, how does that affect their everyday lives?

ASEY: First of all, half of the population of Afghanistan, which are women - they are imprisoned. They are deprived of their basic rights. And then the Shiites and our Hazara minorities are now every day being targeted. And above all, people have lost their freedoms.

ESTRIN: Now, talking about the Shia minority - they were targeted in two horrific, deadly attacks in Kabul just last week. This was, of course, not the Taliban - a regional offshoot of ISIS took responsibility. The Taliban promised to keep people safe when they took power. Why aren't they?

ASEY: Everybody, including U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, were in love with this Taliban 2.0 - a changed Taliban who came with the promise of rule of law. The problem is that the Taliban have actually been functioning as umbrella for different terror groups. A faction of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, actually brought the ISIS-KP, or the ISIS offshoot for Khorasan province, as it is referred.

ESTRIN: The regional offshoot of ISIS.

ASEY: The regional offshoot of ISIS in Afghanistan. And then later on, they developed differences. Right now, the Taliban are failing both in governance and delivering security because they have failed to transition from a militia to a government. And they have also failed to disentangle from the global terror network.

ESTRIN: Are we going back to the days when Afghanistan was a haven for terrorist groups?

ASEY: Sadly, it's not even a year, and Afghanistan is already a safe haven for terrorists, and al-Zawahri episode is a clear indication and evidence of that. But in terms of the insurgencies, we already see an insurgency led by the National Resistance Front - NRF - in northern Afghanistan, a stand-alone insurgency in northeastern Afghanistan, as we speak, and another insurgency in central Afghanistan. The Taliban will, sooner or later will have an insurgency, an internal war - a civil war in their hand.

ESTRIN: OK, so you've outlined what the security situation is like for ordinary Afghans. Let's look beyond the borders. How does this situation ripple outward? What does Afghanistan's security situation mean for the stability of the wider region?

ASEY: If you look at the past one year, Taliban forces have clashed with Iranian border forces at least seven times. They have killed Iranian border forces. They have also clashed with Pakistani forces. They have also clashed with Tajik border forces and killed Tajiks along the joint border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Also with Turkmenistan, almost with all of the Afghan neighbors, Taliban forces have clashed. So that should tell you a lot about a very confrontational foreign policy that the Taliban are pursuing.

ESTRIN: Well, then what can the broader international community do? What would you recommend?

ASEY: Taliban should either evolve and reform and accept the diversity of Afghanistan - democracy, human rights, women's rights, and let Afghans decide for themselves. And they could be a factor in the future of Afghanistan. Otherwise, the international community, specifically the United States, for its own legacy reasons, will have to isolate and then nurture opposition, a credible opposition to present them as an alternative to the current regime. Otherwise, Afghanistan will become another Syria. I mean, I see full Syrianization (ph) of Afghanistan in another year, where the region and everybody will start interfering, and it will become a never-ending civil war with very serious regional implications and also implications for security of the West.

ESTRIN: Tamim Asey, chairman of the Institute of War and Peace Studies, thank you for a very illuminating conversation.

ASEY: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.