From Badakhshan in the northern region of Afghanistan has come a heart-rending tale of babies and minor children being thrown into boiling water by the Taliban fighters engaged in fierce fighting with the Afghan security forces.
The Taliban, of course, do not and will not confirm it, and there are frequent attempts to pass on the buck to the Al Qaida or the Islamic State (Daesh) components who are active through their local affiliates.
However, past records show that this type of violence on the helpless is not unknown to the Afghan scenario where warring groups engage in revenge-killing by eliminating entire families, including the minors.
This kind of ruthless warfare has also surfaced I the killing of seven Afghan pilots who were engaged by Reuters, the British global news outlet that hired them for its professional activities. The Taliban view media as ‘spies’ and deal with them as ruthlessly as they would their adversary soldiers.
Another recent incident involves a Reuters photojournalist, Danish Siddiqui, an Indian national, who was killed near Spin Boldak, very close to the Pakistani border. This one has been admitted by the Taliban who have ‘regretted’ it.
But this was no “war casualty” of a journalist caught in cross-fire. The Washington Examiner, a US journal, has reported details whereby Siddiqui sustained shrapnel injury and moved to a local mosque where he received first aid. When the word went around about his presence, the Taliban attacked the mosque, identified him, beat him up and then executed him.
As to who controls that part of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border finds confirmation from Naseem Zehra, a senior Pakistani journalist. Writing in The News International (July 30, 2021), she states: “Currently, other than controlling 60 to 70 percent of the territory, about 50 percent of the provinces, the Taliban control almost all border crossings, except with Pakistan. The Spin Boldak-Chaman crossing is the only one controlled by the Taliban.”
Siddiqui was injured a few meter away from that border. Zehra confirms another point: “Media reports confirm that the Taliban are now collecting taxes from trucks and containers at this border.”
Indeed, the southern Afghanistan, especially Kandahar city and its surroundings are witnessing unprecedented violence forcing thousands of Afghan families to flee their homes to escape death and violence.
To prevent this, the Taliban rampage through countryside and block their movement by wiring their villages with explosives.
A recent United Nations report found a threefold increase in the number of civilian casualties from the use of IEDs. According to the UN, the first six months of 2021 saw 501 civilians killed by IEDs and a further 1,457 injured.
“Most worrying is the fact that the fighters have been seen digging and placing wires into the ground surrounding the main roads and civilian areas. They have dug bombs into the ground,” the UN report says.
Surroundings of the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest and from where the Taliban movement grew and spread out, are among the worst affected. In the UN parlance, they are “internally displaced” – except that they do not know where to go to ensure their safety.
Reports by the Afghan media outlets like Khaama and global ones like Al Jazeera, Voice of America and rights body, the Human Rights Watch, report gory details of the fighting raging. To ‘protect’ their area from the adversaries and to prevent civilian movement, the countryside is being wired with booby traps and explosives.
“Both — the Taliban and the government have killed people, whether it’s by mistake or on purpose, they have killed people,” the VOA reported.
The fleeing of homes is increasing as the fighting spreads. Internally displaced people with their belongings flee from Nadali district to Lashkar Gah during the ongoing clashes between Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces, in Helmand province.
Ever since the Taliban toppled two Police Districts of Kandahar city –the provincial capital- and neighboring districts of the capital city, the city has been the battlefield between the Afghan government forces and the Taliban.
In and around Kandahar, residents flee by whatever means they can manage. The better-off have flown to Kabul. But the vast majority are on their feet or in their rickety vehicles laden with minor children and their belongings.
Though the Taliban are yet to enter the city centre itself, the fighting has come to the districts. Residents say this has left them feeling trapped, in constant fear that the Taliban could arrive any day.
Each Taliban advance in the surrounding districts exacerbates the fear among the people.
Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the Taliban of summarily rounding up and executing people believed to work for the government and members of the Afghan National Security Forces.
The HRW report came just after the United Nations issued a warning to all parties to the conflict that they are “tracking the many allegations of harm to civilians” in the province.
The Taliban reject as ‘propaganda’ reports attributing violence to them. They have sent letters to citizens assuring anyone who had worked with the government or foreign forces that no harm would come to them so long as they reported to the leadership and admitted to their “crime”. Coercion and fear have heightened among the population.
Violence is accompanied by looting and arson. “Even in the outskirts of the city, they come to people’s houses, take what they want and kick entire families out of their homes,” Al Jazeera quoted local residents.