The Taliban Islamic fundamentalist group carried out the first public execution of a convicted criminal since it regained power in Afghanistan on August 15 last year.
The practice was common in the Taliban’s first stint in government, from 1996 to 2001, when the group became synonymous with medieval brutality due to its strict reading of sharia, traditional Islamic law.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a man named Tajmir from Herat province in western Afghanistan was sentenced to death for a murder committed five years ago. According to the indictment, he killed another man to steal his motorcycle and cell phone.
The manner of execution was not revealed, but Mujahid said it took place in front of “hundreds of people in Farah”, a province also located in the west of the country. During the first Taliban rule, homicides were usually punished with a shot in the head, fired by a relative of the victim.
Capital punishment, stoning, flogging and hand amputations for minor crimes such as theft and adultery were reintroduced by the Taliban in September 2021.
The pro-Western governments installed after the group’s overthrow in 2001 by the American invasion also carried out executions, but not as public spectacles. The main stage in Kabul was the National Stadium, where the local football championship was played again later.
Mujahid made a point of giving a legal veneer to the issue, stating that the sentence was decided in a “very careful” way, after a decision by three higher courts and personal approval by the country’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.
The episode crystallizes the perception that the Taliban, although it has adapted relatively to the new times, seeks to repeat the darkest aspects of its way of seeing the world. Soon after returning to power, they promised moderation and broad rights to women, the main target of their repression.
It didn’t last long. Girls were banned from receiving formal education beyond the sixth grade — something sold by the Taliban as an advance, given that under the first government they weren’t even allowed to go to school. In May, a decree established the mandatory use of veils covering the face for women, with three scales of warnings for the “male guardian”, the last one being three days in prison.
In the 1990s version, the Taliban forced the use of the burqa, a traditional garment that covers the whole body, of the Pashtun ethnic group, majority in the country and in border areas of Pakistan. It was there that the group emerged, encouraged by the Pakistani secret services to take power in the neighboring country, devastated by the civil war that followed the ten years of Soviet occupation (1979-89).
Islamabad’s objective was to ensure strategic depth with one more ally in its dispute with India. The result was the aberrant regime of the mullahs, tolerated in the West until it played host to the leadership of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist network.
The Saudi had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and was welcomed for it after having to flee Sudan, where he had orchestrated attacks on American targets in Africa and the Middle East. On Afghan soil, he elaborated the biggest action of its kind in history, September 11, 2001.
The American reaction to the nearly 3,000 killed on its soil was swift, with an air war supporting Taliban rivals on the ground to punish Kabul’s support for bin Laden. The group fell quickly but spread across the country, waging a guerrilla war against the western occupiers for 20 years.
Last year, shortly after assuming the Presidency, Joe Biden accelerated the agreement made by his predecessor, Donald Trump, to withdraw what was left of American forces in the country. A humanitarian disaster then ensued, with the Taliban mounting a two-week offensive that overthrew a then-disarmed Afghan government, widely seen as a puppet of Washington.
The local army disbanded. The final withdrawal of US and Allied troops was humiliating, with military transport planes taking off one after another, on some occasions with civilians working for the occupiers clinging to their landing gear—only to fall sprawled or maimed to the ground.
The government in Kabul remains isolated, except for specific agreements like the one that guaranteed cheap Russian gas in the wake of the Ukraine War, and challenged by rival groups, which promote attacks. Meanwhile, the exodus of those who have the resources to do so continues, as seen with the hundreds of Afghans camped at Guarulhos International Airport, in São Paulo.