First public execution in Taliban’s Afghanistan rings alarm bells across the world

The United Nations has described public executions as “inhuman and degrading”

December 07, 2022 05:26 pm | Updated December 08, 2022 11:26 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Taliban flogged 27 Afghans, including women, in front of a large crowd December 8, a day after publicly executing a convicted murderer for the first time since they returned to power last year.

The Taliban flogged 27 Afghans, including women, in front of a large crowd December 8, a day after publicly executing a convicted murderer for the first time since they returned to power last year. | Photo Credit: AFP

The public execution of an alleged murderer in western Afghanistan’s Farah province has reminded Afghanistan watchers worldwide that the outfit is unwilling to shift away from the strict imposition of Sharia in the territory that it conquered from the government of President Ashraf Ghani last year. The United Nations has described public executions as “inhuman and degrading” and reminded that the slaying goes against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Afghanistan is a “State Party”.

The global body has stated that Tajmir, the convicted man, was accused of knifing an Afghan man to death five years ago in the western province and that the execution was carried out by the father of the victim. “Over a dozen senior Taliban officials were reported to have been in attendance,” said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “We urge the de facto authorities to establish an immediate moratorium on any further executions, and act swiftly to prohibit use of the death penalty in its entirety,” said Jeremy Lawrence of the OHCHR.

Killing seen as a message

The Hindu has learned that India was consulted about the situation in Afghanistan by at least one major global power in the backdrop of the public execution in Farah which came just as the Taliban indicated it was willing to engage major regional powers. The killing carried out by an assault rifle is being interpreted as a message from the Taliban that it is neither interested in holding “intra-Afghan dialogue” nor in sharing power with Afghan communities. A high-level diplomatic source that The Hindu engaged has interpreted the public execution as a sign that the Taliban regime “does not want” international recognition.

The source, however, hinted that Western powers are closely watching the current round of engagement with the Taliban that several regional countries, including India, have been conducting in the recent months without granting recognition to the regime in Kabul. The situation in Kabul has been the subject of the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan that took place on October 16 which drew participation of special envoys and senior officials from India, Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran and the Central Asian Republics. That apart, Talban’s “minister for urban development” Hamdullah Nomani met with the head of the Indian technical team stationed in the Indian embassy in Kabul and urged for the restarting of India-funded projects. While nearly all the members of the Moscow format of consultations have begun operating diplomatic teams in Kabul, Western countries especially the U.S. and the U.K. have not held any overt or high-profile interaction with the Taliban since their forces withdrew last year. It is understood that Wednesday’s killing will further complicate the chances of Taliban to get access to the $9 billion of the Afghan Central Bank that lies frozen in Western banks.

Observers surprised

The public execution, one of the fundamental features of Taliban’s hardline rule, has surprised some observers who were hoping that the outfit would move for a softer phase as it recently allowed President Hamid Karzai to travel abroad. Most importantly, the execution has revived memories of the last Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001 during which public executions of this kind were widespread. A high-level diplomatic visitor that The Hindu met indicated that the display of hard-line position by the Taliban has cast a shadow on the prospects of humanitarian assistance that Afghanistan requires in the current harsh winter. Access to the internal developments and relief agencies in Afghanistan is necessary to ensure that relief materials are not cornered by either the Taliban factions or pro-Taliban international NGOs that are active on Afghan territories.

Sources in contact with the Taliban are however of the opinion that on “fundamental issues” like the Sharia and the gender and social ordering of Afghanistan, the outfit has little room to be flexible. However, such explanations are unlikely to help Taliban become the de jure rulers of Afghanistan by erasing the diplomatic footprints of the government of Mr. Ghani that continue to represent Kabul in various global capitals and in international platforms. Additional worry stems from the fact that such public actions blur the distinction between terrorist organisations like the Islamic State and the Taliban and makes the anti-terror commitment of Kabul a suspect.

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