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The Taliban faces questions about missing women activists as they seek access to $9 billion in frozen assets

Afghan women march for women’s rights in Kabul on Jan. 16, 2022. Tamana Zaryab Paryani (not pictured) disappeared three days after attending the protest.

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

  • Days after attending a women’s rights march, two Afghan women disappeared.
  • One was last heard from in a frantic video post, where she said the Taliban were outside her door. 
  • The Taliban are facing questions from the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

On January 16, a cluster of Afghan women marched near Kabul University to demanded the right to return to work and continue their education. Images of the protest were widely publicized, and footage shows Taliban fighters pointing their firearms at the women and calling them “puppets of the West.”

Three days later, one of the attendees, a 25-year-old journalist and YouTuber named Tamana Zaryab Paryani, put out a frantic video saying the Taliban were at the door of the apartment she shared with her three sisters.

“Help! Please, the Taliban have come to my house, my sisters are at home,” Paryani said in the recording, which was posted on Aamaj News. The four Paryani sisters – including the youngest, who is just 13 – have not been heard from since. Another woman who attended the march, Parwana Ibrahimkhel, is also missing.

Since Paryani’s video surfaced online, journalists and rights workers have tried to reach Paryani and Ibrahimkhel – to no avail. A representative for the Kabul police did not respond to Insider’s request for information on the location and condition of the young women.

—Sami Mahdi (@Samiullah_mahdi) January 19, 2022

 

In separate interviews, several Taliban officials, including the man the group hopes to make their representative to the United Nations, have accused Paryani of staging the video in a bid to seek asylum abroad.

One close friend of Paryani, who is also currently in hiding and was granted anonymity to avoid compromising her security, said the Taliban has repeatedly sought to discredit female protesters by accusing them of trying to curry favor with the West, when their true mission is to push the Taliban to extend more rights to Afghan women. 

“If a woman wants to make an asylum case, she doesn’t have to go to such dramatic and dangerous lengths,” she said. 

The situation has put pressure on the Taliban at a critical moment, as they try to gain access to more than $9 billion in frozen assets and secure international recognition as a legitimate government. 

XXXAfghan women march as they chant slogans and hold banners during a women’s rights protest in Kabul on January 16, 2022.

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

Questions about the Paryani sisters and Ibrahimkhel’s whereabouts took center stage at a series of meetings being held in Norway and appeared to have caught the Taliban off guard. A source familiar with the situation said, “the Taliban were shocked to see that it’s all anyone wanted to talk to them about in Norway.”

When the Taliban delegation arrived in Oslo on January 23, they immediately faced questions about the missing women. At a closed-door meeting where at least six women’s rights activists were in attendance, Huda Khamosh, a well-known activist, immediately stood up, took out pictures of Paryani and Ibrahimkhel turned to the Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Mottaqi, and said, “Call Kabul! Demand their release!”

The United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have joined the chorus, adding to the mounting pressure on the group. “The Taliban must reveal their whereabouts instead of continued denial of not having them under their arrest,” Amnesty tweeted. 

—U.S. Special Envoy Rina Amiri (@SE_AfghanWGH) January 26, 2022

 

The United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, also asked for information about the whereabouts of the young women when she met with the acting Minister of Interior, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is being sought by the FBI. The European Union echoed Lyons’ call in a tweet, saying, the EU member-states, and Norway, “urge the Taliban leadership to investigate this case and secure their liberty.”

‘We decided to stand with our people’

Since the Taliban took power on August 15, replacing the U.S.-backed Afghan government, millions of women and girls have been out of work and out of school, and there are few clear answers as to when, if at all, they will return to their jobs and classrooms. In addition, Afghan women have little resource if they experience domestic abuse – something that, women say, has been made worse by the soaring rate of unemployment and approaching famine this winter. Millions of Afghan families report not having enough money or food to feed their families this winter. 

As Insider reported last week, the situation has grown so desperate that some Afghans have sought to donate a kidney or make repeated trips to donate blood in order to feed their families.

Still, women have continued to take to the streets in a courageous show of defiance as their rights have been stripped away. Attending one of these protests, organized by groups like Seekers of Justice, is considered extraordinarily risky, and in most cases a few dozen women – at most – join in. They are swiftly shut down by the Taliban, who also detain and beat Afghan journalists who cover the demonstrations to limit the media attention.

XXXAmir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, faced questions about the missing women during a recent trip to Oslo, where the Taliban had come to request access to the country’s frozen assets and additional humanitarian assistance.

STIAN LYSBERG SOLUM/NTB/AFP via Getty Images

Days after the Jan. 16 march, scores of Afghan men took the streets in Kabul to condemn the women from marching at all. The men held up pictures of women marchers with the images crossed out in red ink. They held signs urging Afghan women to “respect your worth” and saying that the protesters were not “representatives of chaste Afghan women.” They appeared to be especially outraged by a demand, which they claimed some of the women marchers had made, that women should not be compelled to wear a head covering, or hijab. 

Fearing for their own lives, women who have participated in marches are now in hiding. 

“Our names were on evacuation lists, but we decided to stand with our people and fight against darkness, violence, and discrimination,” said Hamasa Badakhsh, who has attended several protests in recent months and has spend the last five days hiding from the Taliban in a basement with several others. 

As she was on the phone with Insider, Badakhsh started receiving messages that claimed to be from the Taliban.  The texts instructed Badakhsh to surrender. 

“The Taliban created fear and horror on the streets so we don’t go out anymore,” said another frequent protesters who does not want to reveal her identity. “We changed our tactics and protested indoors, but now we aren’t even safe in our own homes.”

A family in shock

Insider was unable to speak directly with Paryani’s family. But a family friend of Paryani, who did not want her identity revealed, said that she had visited the family and found them to be in shock. 

“One of her brothers fainted before my eyes. He was so frightened,” the friend said. “That very night, one of her brothers went to different police stations trying to ask for her without drawing too much attention to himself.”

The family has good reason to be afraid beyond just their daughter’s active role in the protests. Paryani’s brothers worked for the National Directorate of Security, the intelligence agency of the former Islamic Republic that had been accused of abusing and torturing prisoners in the past. Their father also worked for the government.

When combined, all of this made the Paryanis a prime target for retaliatory action by the Taliban. Despite their claims of a general amnesty against all former government workers and members of the security forces, there have been repeated reports of the Taliban carrying out retaliatory attacks. In November, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting at least 100 executions and forced disappearances of former members of the Afghan National Security Forces by the Taliban between August and October.

Because of this, the family has spread out, hiding in different areas of the city. But their greatest fear is for Tamana’s young sisters. “Why did they take the three others, they’re so young,” family members repeatedly asked.

A former government official, who did not want to reveal his identity due to fear of retribution for family still in the country, said if it is proven that the Taliban did enter the homes of the Paryanis and Ibrahimkhel at night, it would fly in the face of one of their most frequent criticisms of the former government and their Western allies.

“The Taliban spent years talking about how night raids were an insult to the honor of the Afghan people, especially to women. But now, here they are being accused of storming the houses of young girls in the middle of the night themselves.”

The family, originally from the Northern province of Panjshir, has tried to reach out to family and friends in the province for assistance, but, according to the family friend, who is also from Panjshir, tradition and fear have kept many people from helping the family.

“Panjshir is a very conservative province, and so many people are focused on how the family could allow their daughter to live alone in an apartment away from their parents?”

xxxMen marched in Kabul on Jan. 21, 2022 to condemn the recent protest by the Afghan women’s rights activists.

MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images

XXXMen march in Kabul on Jan. 21, 2022, to condemn the recent protest by the Afghan women’s rights activists.

MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images

It’s not just tradition that’s keeping some people in Panjshir from coming out in strong support of Paryani. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the remote, mountainous province became the primary base for the sole armed resistance against their rule. That movement was led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of famed former anti-Soviet commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who had also put up a years-long resistance to the Taliban’s original rule in the 1990s. It was also supported by a former Vice President and Intelligence director, Amrullah Saleh, who had been vehemently anti-Taliban over the last two decades.

By mid-September the province fell to the Taliban and Massoud and Saleh escaped to neighboring Tajikistan. But the battles between the two sides were blood and took a heavy toll on Panjshir and neighboring Parwan province.

“Some people are saying, ‘We can’t put our entire province in even more danger just for your daughter. It’s understandable, they’ve been through a lot,'” said the family friend.

‘We will not rest until we win’

Activists Insider spoke to said if the last five months have proven anything, it’s that Afghan women will demand attention for their struggle.

Wahida, a 33-year old lawyer, lived under the first Taliban rule in the 1990s and did not want this generation to have to suffer what she went through. 

—Reza Rahimi (@rezarvhimi) January 19, 2022

 

Referring to the meetings in Oslo, which included figures like Haqqani, whose whereabouts carry a $10 million reward from the United States, Wahida says the international community turned their backs on Afghan women.

“We had to continue our fight alone, the fight we were supposed to be in together.”

Like all of the other women Insider spoke, Wahida is afraid. She says she understands that the road she has chosen will not be easy, but insists that losing all of her rights would be worse than committing suicide, a grave sin in Islam. “Protest is a commitment. I learned this from books and experience” said Wahida. 

Arezo, another protester, said the Taliban will not shut the women of Afghanistan up. She says the protests have already borne fruit, pointing to the reopening of secondary schools for girls in several provinces and the freeing of a university professor, whom the Taliban had arrested following a TV interview where he criticized the group’s rule.

“We are unstoppable. We will not rest until we win,” she said.  

Paryani’s friend, who is also in hiding, said the reported roundups won’t stop with Paryani and Ibrahimkhel. “These women have been called horrendous things, even prostitutes, but what they are, are the heroes of our time,” she said. 

She also issued a warning to the Taliban, saying, “Even with all of this, you won’t be able to silence the women of Afghanistan.”

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