I wake up and scream: Terrors of secret Taliban prisons

I wake up and scream: Secret Taliban prisons terrorise thousands

'The Taliban beat him,' Mohammadi said quietly. 'I watched the killing of my son.'

Representative image/Credit: iStock images

The Taliban prison is a ruined house, a cave, a filthy basement in an abandoned dwelling, or a village mosque. Beatings or worse are a certainty, and the sentence is indefinite. Food, if there is any, is stale bread and cold beans. A bed is the floor or a dirty carpet. The threat of death — screamed, shouted, sometimes inflicted — is ever-present.

Malik Mohammadi, a calm 60-year-old farmer, watched the Taliban put to death his 32-year-old son Nasrullah, an army officer, in one such prison. Over a period of nine days last year, Nasrullah, an epileptic, was refused medicine by his captors. He was denied food. His father saw blood coming from his mouth, and bruises from beatings. On the 10th day, he died.

“The Taliban beat him,” Mohammadi said quietly. “I watched the killing of my son.”

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Such repression is part of the Taliban’s strategy of control in the territories under their rule. While the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Qatar fitfully talk about meeting for talks, even as the idea of real peace recedes, the reality is that the insurgents already hold much of the country. An approaching U.S. withdrawal, coupled with a weak Afghan security force, means the group is likely to maintain this authority and its brutal ways of invoking submission.

One of the Taliban’s most fearsome tools for doing so is a loose network of prisons, an improvised archipelago of mistreatment and suffering, in which the insurgents inflict harsh summary judgment on their fellow Afghans, arbitrarily stopping them on the highway. Mostly, they are looking for soldiers and government workers.

“It keeps coming back to me in my sleep,” said Sayed Hiatullah, a 42-year-old shopkeeper in Faizabad. Last year, Hiatullah was falsely accused at a Taliban checkpoint of working for state security. He was imprisoned for 25 days.

“I wake up and scream,” he said. “It was the darkest, most bitter period in my life. I was in shock for six months,” Hiatullah said.

Capture is only the beginning of the torment. Local commanders, often very young, have unrestrained control over their prisoners.

“The low-level Taliban members’ behavior is very bad,” said Fazul-Ahmad Aamaj, an elderly, semiofficial mediator in Faizabad.

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