The Taliban leadership seemingly promised blanket amnesty to those who worked with Westerners during the 20-year American-led war. “Let me remind you that we forgive everyone, because it is in the interest of peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the world this week, adding, “All the groups that were confronting us are all forgiven.”
But apparently no one told their blood-thirsty fighters, who on Thursday shot dead one relative of an Afghan journalist who worked for the German news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) and injured another when they didn’t find the editor at home while conducting door-to-door revenge searches.
The journalist, who is now safe in Germany, has not been named, but DW Director General Peter Limbourg confirmed the vendetta and called on the German government to step up efforts to bring more collaborators to safety. “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,” Limbourg wrote in a statement. “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!”
Reports of the Taliban fighters carrying out systematic searches for those who worked with NATO forces and other foreign entities have increased in the five days since the Afghanistan government collapsed. On Thursday, a UN intelligence agency in Norway issued a stark warning to anyone who might have taken the Taliban promise at face value. “There are a high number of individuals that are currently being targeted by the Taliban and the threat is crystal clear,” Christian Nellemann, head of RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses told the BBC. “It is in writing that, unless they give themselves in, the Taliban will arrest and prosecute, interrogate, and punish family members on behalf of those individuals.”
Los Angeles Times photo-reporter Marcus Yam described a surreal confrontation in which he was beaten by Taliban fighters before they were called off by a senior commander, who offered him an energy drink after the walloping, apparently realizing that beating Western journalists is bad for the kinder image the Taliban top brass are trying to portray. “He apologized profusely for our troubles, but not for beating us,” Yam wrote. “They became solicitous: We were each brought a bottle of cold water and a can of Monster Energy drink, a favorite of the U.S. soldiers who controlled the city until a few days ago.”
The fighters then coordinated with Yam’s driver, who came to pick them up. “Another Taliban fighter joined us. He said his name was Hamid Nazri and that he had worked in a bank. Our assailant wouldn’t give us his name, but they all started joking with us about how we could be mistaken for locals because of our traditional dress,” Yam wrote. “We said our goodbyes. Nazri asked for a selfie. We obliged, but I didn’t smile.”
The strange disconnect between what is happening on the ground and what the Taliban promise will surely only get worse when foreigners evacuate completely. DW reports that the homes of three of its Afghan journalists have been raided and they fear for other collaborators. DW also reports that the Taliban have also kidnapped Nematullah Hemat, who worked for a private television station Ghargasht TV, and Toofan Omar, who was the head of a private radio station Paktia Ghag Radio. No word has been sent about their condition or any demands of ransom. Translators are also being targeted: Amdadullah Hamdard, a translator for Germany’s Die Zeit, was shot dead this week.
The ruthlessness of the revenge-seeking Taliban fighters—despite their leadership’s empty promises to the contrary—has sent many previous collaborators underground and prompted many nongovernmental organizations and other groups to plead to their countries for help. In Italy, the head of the Pangea charity, which has given loans to 70,000 Afghan women to help them become independent and open their own businesses, which are now being shuttered, has told his workers to go into hiding. Pangea founder Luca Lo Presti told the Associated Press that when he asked the Italian government, which has brought out 500 people to Rome so far this week, to include 30 of his charity’s Afghan workers, he was told, blankly, “Not today.”
He warned that the longer those who are still in Afghanistan are abandoned, the more desperate they may be to escape, putting themselves at greater risk. He told the AP that one of his workers went to the airport to try to get on a flight and lost her children in the chaos. They have not yet been found.
As the daily raids to root out Afghan collaborators continue, the journey to the Kabul airport gets more difficult, reporters on the ground say. Checkpoints are increasingly violent and people who had hoped they qualified to be evacuated are now forced to go underground.
“Every night brings trepidation because roundups like those of the Nazi regime are real, and the fear of being taken and arrested without the possibility of a defense and not knowing the future and imagining that it could be death,” Lo Presti told the AP. “This is terrifying us, and we are here. Imagine the women who are living it.”