In the new era of Taliban rule, LGBT Afghans live in fear. In late October, with the aid of gay rights organizations, the British government rescued 29 LGBT Afghans. Foreign Minister Liz Truss reassured those LGBT Afghans still living under Taliban rule.
“We played a key role getting these people out and will continue to do all we can to help at-risk Afghans leave the country,” she said.
Undeniably, the Taliban have targeted LGBT Afghans, surveilling their lives and restricting their expression. These actions contradict the group’s primary aim, stability in Afghanistan.
The Taliban grew out of the Soviet-Afghan war. To nurture their struggling client state in Afghanistan, the Soviets invaded in 1979. A decade-long civil war followed between rebel fighters, many of whom held radical Islamic beliefs and Soviet troops. Backed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the rebel fighters drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
A new decade emerged, and Afghanistan was fractured between warlords. Some of the same rebel fighters who had fought against the Soviets exploited the power vacuum. They called themselves the Taliban, and they aimed to restore stability to Afghanistan. The group seized control in 1996, expelling lawless militias and enforcing their strict interpretation of Sharia law. Gay men were stoned to death, and women were barred from attending universities.
The American military drove the Taliban out of power in 2001, despite the group’s willingness to hand over Bin Laden. Now, the Taliban have once again grasped control of Afghanistan. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the spokesperson for the Taliban’s ministry of foreign affairs, claimed the Taliban has a “commitment to freedom.”
Alongside this claim exists the harsh reality of LGBT life in Afghanistan. In an interview with Bild, a Taliban judge candidly described the group’s punishment for homosexuality. According to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Sharia law, a gay man dies by “stoning, or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him.”
Moreover, multiple transgender Afghan women told CNN they felt compelled to grow out their beards and dress like men. Many other LGBT interviewees remained in hiding. In spite of their efforts to avoid the Taliban’s gaze, the new government actively targets LGBT Afghans.
An LGBT activist told CNN Taliban officials entered his home and threatened to kill him. Unfortunately, these incidents are not isolated. They accompany even more serious claims of rape and physical assault.
Taliban members reportedly raped a gay man after luring him through social media. According to an ITV report, they promised the man escape from Afghanistan. After chatting online for three weeks, the man agreed to meet in Kabul. To his horror, Taliban militants ambushed and raped him. LGBT persecution extends far beyond these individual horror stories though.
In addition, the gay rights NGO Rainbow Railroad suspects the Taliban is conducting “kill lists” of LGBT Afghans.
“We have received reports of names of suspected LGBTQI people circulating,” Executive Director Kimahli Powell told France24. “We now know for sure the Taliban has ‘kill lists’ circulating, identifying LBTQI+ persons.” Powell believes the names were likely acquired through data leaks.
This grim news does not negate the hardships Afghans faced during the Afghanistan War. Many Afghans embraced the long overdue withdraw of American troops. Approximately 47,000 civilians died throughout the course of the war.
By 2009, an ABC poll showed a dramatic decline in support for the US among Afghans. Now, in 2021, the Taliban’s government may prove even worse for LGBT Afghans.