Dispatch: The Rising Risks in Afghanistan
Reports from on the ground
The crisis in Afghanistan exploded into our awareness during the past weeks as heartbreaking videos, images of suffering, and stories of terror flooded the media. A resurgent Taliban has reclaimed power in the country while America evacuates its military and Afghani allies. Much ink and airtime has already been spilled in an effort to scapegoat or Monday-morning-quarterback the decisions made by those in power.
It’s a moment where the world is watching. It is a moment of desperate need.
As is often the case, much of the media coverage is designed to captivate our attention and to inspire outrage in one way or another. However, much of the focus remains centered on the political or militaristic, and omits much of what those on the ground are thinking, feeling, and anticipating.
The return of Taliban rule has significant implications for any group that differs from their religious and ideological beliefs. Christians in particular are one of the groups sure to face increased persecution.
Nations Media was able to interview trusted sources on the ground in the country, who must remain anonymous due to security concerns, about the present state and future prospects of the Church in Afghanistan.
Nations: What is the situation of believers in Afghanistan?
Precarious. We know from the media, but also from local sources, that the Taliban are going door-to-door to weed out unwanted elements.
Nations: Who are unwanted?
Everybody who collaborated with the West (especially teachers), but also homosexuals and non-Muslims. Christians are in grave danger. Anybody who is exposed, will be severely punished.
Nations: What would be their fate?
Could be anything. Kidnapping, torture, killing. In 2017, a German woman and an Afghan guard were killed when a guest house was attacked. Taliban have also killed a South African family in Kabul in 2014. If even foreign aid workers can be killed for their faith, what would happen to indigenous Christians?
Nations: How are Christians responding?
Everybody is afraid. Each responds differently. Some try to escape the country, others decide to stay and remain secret believers. Some want to escape but can’t. Some don’t know what to do.
Nations: Did Christians experience any freedom in the last twenty years?
Unfortunately not. The government installed by the Americans failed to make provisions for religious freedoms and the protection of (religious) minorities such as Sikhs and Christians. Sikhs, however, are persecuted but still somewhat tolerated. Sikhs are mostly ethnically Indian and are not known for sharing their faith so are less threatening. They have always been allowed to live as Sikhs although with plenty of hostility and constant ‘Da’awa’, which is an invitation to join Islam. This means that at least they can still identify as Sikhs. Christians cannot, because they are apostates. They had to hide their faith. People who were exposed as Christians disappeared, they were probably tortured and killed. There are other religious communities and cults but there’s little known about them.
Nations: Will their situation change now?
Afghanistan has been high in the top 10 of the World Watch List and for the last couple of years, it has been number 2. Only North Korea scored slightly higher. Persecution spiked in the last couple of years. It’s evident that the Taliban take-over means that there’s now another layer of persecution. The risks and threats have increased.
Nations: Does that mean that Afghanistan will be number 1 on the next WWL?
That’s too early to tell. As we speak, research is being done diligently in over 70 countries. Afghanistan is being monitored closely. The new World Watch List will be released in January, so that’s when we can tell more definitively the state of persecution in Afghanistan.
Nations: How do the believers feel about the Taliban take-over?
They are disappointed and feel abandoned by those who they had hoped would protect them when the going got tough. The foreign troops left and the government fled. At the same time, they knew this day was going to come someday. In that sense, they were prepared. But it doesn’t make it any less painful.
Nations: What can we do to help the believers?
Literally the only thing they currently ask for is prayer. That’s not strange or overtly spiritual. If they had a thin layer of protection and justice, it’s now gone. Jesus is literally all they have left. The Christians are seeking ways to stay safe and to survive. We stand with them in their time of greatest need.
Nations: Are they not asking for escape routes, passage to safety and asylum?
Of course, right now almost all locals are asking about escape routes and possibilities for relocation; that is not something only to do with believers. However, with a history of persecution since the day the only official church ever built in Afghanistan was destroyed half a century ago, it is correct to understand that their predicament is heightened and they must surely be looking for ways to safeguard and secure members of their communities and movement, particularly women and children.
Nations: Can you expand on their basic needs?
Their needs are the same as for all Afghan people: safety, food, clean water, medical care. There is a lot of violence in the country, supply chains have broken down and clinics have stopped functioning. Clean water still runs from the taps, but we have to hope that stays that way. If this water supply gets contaminated, this could lead to lots of illnesses and diseases. If large scale fighting breaks out and schools and hospitals are damaged it will impact the health care needs of millions of people and access to medicine and professionals.
If you struggle with how to pray, I recommend that you focus on the Psalms. Each day I pray through 1 to 3 of the Psalms and apply them to the situation in Afghanistan. You may find that helpful as well.
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