The fate of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families had been a great cause for concern since July and August 2021, when districts and provinces began to fall under Taliban control. Many families who relied on the meager income of their young soldiers were tormented by the fear of starvation on the one hand and the possibility of the Taliban’s vengeful attack on the other. However, when the Taliban released propaganda videos showing groups of soldiers saying goodbye and returning to their homes, the fear of immediate revenge, imprisonment, and mass field execution of soldiers dissipated. Nevertheless, the future for all those soldiers and their families remained bleak in comparison to others. Some had reasons to be relatively hopeful about the possible mercy of the Taliban. Even politicians and senior government officials, relying on their relationships and financial resources, believed that if they kept quiet and did not disturb the Taliban, they might not be executed due to their past policy and mission. Nevertheless, the soldiers stood against the Taliban until the last moments and opposed the Taliban fighters. Upon their return, everyone chose a path based on their backgrounds and opportunities. Some went to villages and found refuge with the help of local support and family, while some left their homeland immediately. According to a report published last month by Hasht-e-Subh, Iran was the primary destination of these soldiers. Additionally, unofficial statistics indicate that more than 100,000 soldiers have taken refuge in our western neighbor. Unfortunately, not all of them had the means to leave the country or were in a vulnerable situation before they did. Among those who had escaped, some returned after a while due to unemployment, lack of documents, or family issues.
It took a considerable amount of time for the media and politicians to become aware of the disaster that former soldiers were facing. In July 2022, the New York Times newspaper released an investigative report that revealed the catastrophic killings of employees and former security forces during the first six months of Taliban rule. The newspaper also created a map that illustrated the number of victims throughout the nation. This demonstrated that the executions of former employees and soldiers were conducted in an organized manner in various parts of the country. Therefore, it is evident that the figures published in the New York Times were not the entire story because, due to the oppressive conditions of the Taliban regime, many people were not documented and were victims of obscurity.
The report that had been circulated in the media for some time did not alter the behavior of the Taliban or the situation of the soldiers. Just as in the two decades of war with the Taliban, the deaths and suffering of the soldiers had no effect, they still remained on the sidelines even after the fall. When they were connected to the government, they had a collective identity that enabled them to act as a social group. However, since the collapse of the government, they have become the most vulnerable part of society. With little in common, they are unable to form a community based on mutual interests to lobby and challenge their common enemies. The commanders and military leaders also lack an organized and stable relationship with the soldiers, making it difficult for them to create a support system in the absence of the government. The soldiers have become victims and defenseless, and any local commander of the Taliban can imprison, torture, and destroy them with or without justification.
The continuous torture and killing of soldiers has been reported on a daily basis, with a report published in Hasht-e-Subh on October 19, 2022, indicating that within a two-month period, twenty members of the former regime’s military personnel had been executed. However, with the Taliban having taken away press freedom, access to such news has been greatly reduced, meaning that reports are incomplete and only reflect a portion of the tragedy. Notable and high-ranking individuals, such as Shokrullah, the former local police commander in Nangarhar, and Qari Qadir, the former security chief of Khulm district, were excluded in August 2022, and Khan Mohammad, the former deputy general of national security, was killed by torture, as recorded in the report.
Since the Taliban’s return to power, the practice of torture and killing has not ceased, and the number of executions has recently risen. Every day, news of the detention and murder of former soldiers is reported. On Saturday, March 11, the body of Anam Ul-Haq, a resident of the center of Kunar province, was found in the village of Dom in Asadabad. Local sources reported that he had been shot and his body thrown into the sea. On Sunday, March 12, according to a report on the Daily News website, Sayeed Khodadad, a former soldier, was shot in the Balkh area of the 8th district of Mazar-i-Sharif in front of his family. Like many other ex-soldiers, Sayeed Khodadad came from a low-income working family. It is said that after the fall of the government, he began working in the coal mine of Dara-e-Souf Bala.
On Monday, March 13th, Gulmat Khel, the former director of national security in the Sabri district of Khost province, was arrested by the Taliban. According to reports from Hasht-e-Subh, Gulmat Khel had fled to Iran after the fall of the government and had recently returned to the country, fearing torture and murder. On the same day, the Taliban arrested Waisuddin, a resident of Kasa Tarash village in Andrab valley, from his home. It was reported that Waisuddin had been a member of the special police unit in the previous government.
The irony is that, despite their numerous crimes, the Taliban do not provide families of the victims, the media, and human rights organizations with information regarding the reasons for the killing of former soldiers and other citizens. They enter homes without explanation, shoot those they have enmity with and leave, or take them to unknown places and dispose of their bodies in rivers, on the side of roads, or in ditches. There is no authority to which to appeal, and the relatives of the victims, regardless of which domestic or international institution they turn to, are left to bury their loved ones and return home in fear. This silence is seen by the Taliban as obedience, order, and security. As people do not respond with bullets and do not speak out about the oppression they are subjected to, they feel victorious and view the country’s political landscape as relatively calm and under their control. The question now is, how long will this silence last? And how long will people endure their personal and social suffering?