The Washington Post

Taliban said to tighten its grip in Afghanista­n’s rebellious Panjshir region

Group accused of executing civilians, denying people food

- BY HAQ NAWAZ KHAN AND KAREEM FAHIM kareem.fahim@washpost.com Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Fahim from Istanbul. John Hudson in Washington contribute­d to this report.

Taliban fighters have imposed a withering siege in Afghanista­n’s rebellious Panjshir province, denying residents food and carrying out some extrajudic­ial executions of civilians, a tribal elder who recently fled the province said Friday, adding to a growing list of alleged abuses carried out by the militant group.

A Taliban spokesman denied that the movement’s fighters had killed any civilians in Panjshir, a northern region that has been a last redoubt for anti-taliban fighters. The latest accusation­s came as U.N. officials decried other alleged Taliban abuses, including reprisal killings and beatings and fatal shootings of protesters across the country.

The accusation­s have painted a bleak picture of Taliban rule in the weeks since the Islamist militants took power and pledged to govern inclusivel­y, respect women’s rights and press freedoms, and avoid retaliator­y actions against former adversarie­s.

An interim government named by the Taliban this week consists entirely of Taliban members, includes no women and eliminates the ministry in charge of ensuring opportunit­y and rights for women and girls. A Taliban spokesman, defending the appointmen­ts, said they were the result of discussion­s held “all over the country.”

Last week, the militants seized control of Panjshir. As sporadic clashes have continued, civilians have seized chances to flee the province amid reports that at least eight residents, including children, had been killed by the Taliban, said the elder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.

He said he fled with his clothes. “My people pressed me to leave the area,” he said, adding that his family warned him Taliban fighters would kill him. The eight civilians killed in Panjshir three days earlier were “neither supporters of the resistance or the Taliban,” he said, without providing more detail about the deaths.

In a Skype interview from London, Ahmad Wali Masoud, the uncle of Ahmad Massoud, the leader of anti-taliban resistance fighters in Panjshir, echoed the accusation­s that the Taliban were imposing clampdowns in the province and had killed civilians, though he was not able to say how many or under what circumstan­ces they were killed. The uncle, a former Afghan ambassador, said that resistance fighters still controlled “major” areas in Panjshir and were engaged in intermitte­nt clashes with Taliban fighters.

“Everyone is weighing their next move,” the elder Masoud said, adding that there was little prospect that negotiatio­ns would end the standoff in Panjshir.

“The Taliban is the Taliban,” he said. “They are worse and more violent than ever before.”

Bilal Karimi, a Taliban spokesman, denied that the group’s fighters were harming civilians in Panjshir, calling reports to the contrary “baseless and unfounded.”

The Taliban’s harsh handling of protests was on full display earlier this week in Kabul, the capital, where activists and journalist­s said they faced lashings by Taliban fighters. Among those beaten were two journalist­s who work for Etilaatroz, an Afghan newspaper, the outlet said on Twitter. Photos shared on social media showed their backs covered with red-andpurple bruises.

A United Nations human rights official warned the Taliban on Friday to “immediatel­y cease” using force against peaceful protesters. Demonstrat­ors “across various provinces in Afghanista­n over the past four weeks have faced an increasing­ly violent response by the Taliban, including the use of live ammunition, batons and whips,” the official, Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoma­n for the U.N. High Commission­er for Human Rights, said in a media briefing in Geneva, according to a transcript of her remarks.

Her comments came a day after Deborah Lyons, the U.N. secretary general’s envoy to Afghanista­n, said in a briefing to the Security Council that there were “credible allegation­s” that reprisal killings have been carried out against members of the former government’s security forces, despite Taliban pledges of amnesty for soldiers and government officials. “We have received reports of members of the Taliban carrying out house-to-house searches and seizing property, particular­ly in Kabul,” she said.

Lyons added that she was “increasing­ly worried” by a growing number of incidents of “harassment and intimidati­on” targeting Afghan members of the U.N. staff. “The U.N. cannot conduct its work . . . if its personnel are subjected to intimidati­on, fear for their lives, and cannot move freely,” she said.

Thousands of people, including some U.S. citizens, have attempted to leave Afghanista­n since the end of the U.S. military airlift on Aug. 31, but the flow has been limited, in part by the slow recovery of operations at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Internatio­nal Airport after the withdrawal of foreign military forces from the country.

A second civilian airliner left Kabul late Friday with American and other foreign passport holders, according to Emily Horne, a spokeswoma­n for the National Security Council, and a Qatari official briefed on the details.

Nineteen U.S. citizens were among the 158 passengers on Friday’s Qatar Airways flight bound for Doha, along with French, Dutch, British, Belgian and Mauritania­n nationals, the officials said. Horne, in a statement, said two U.S. citizens and 11 lawful permanent residents left Afghanista­n on Friday “via overland passage to a neighborin­g country.”

Also Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said flights of refugees from Afghanista­n to the United States had been “temporaril­y paused” because four Afghans who had recently arrived in the United States had been diagnosed with measles. The suspension of flights was made at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “out of an abundance of caution,” she said.

 ?? MOHAMMAD ASIF KHAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Taliban soldiers stand guard Wednesday at a gate in the Panjshir province of Afghanista­n, a northern region that the group seized last week. A resistance leader said clashes with Taliban fighters continued.
MOHAMMAD ASIF KHAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS Taliban soldiers stand guard Wednesday at a gate in the Panjshir province of Afghanista­n, a northern region that the group seized last week. A resistance leader said clashes with Taliban fighters continued.

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