Amid flurry of Taliban diplomacy, Qatar stresses engagement
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar's foreign minister said isolating Afghanistan and its new Taliban rulers “will never be an answer” and argued Wednesday that engaging with the former insurgents could empower the more moderate voices among them. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani spoke amid a flurry of diplomatic meetings taking place in Qatar, where the Taliban have maintained a political office for years in the lead-up to their takeover of Afghanistan in August. The world has been looking to see how the Taliban transition from two decades of insurgency and war to governance after they seized control of Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan as U.S.
It was Zaki Daryabi’s last day in Kabul and there wasn’t much time. In a few hours, he would board a Qatari evacuation flight that would take him out of Afghanistan, probably for good. © Provided by LA Times Zaki Daryabi, helps his staff of the newspaper Etilaatroz, pack up copies of their newspaper archives to be moved to a safe location for storage, as they move office locations in Kabul. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
He woke up early and gathered his family’s luggage. He kept his farewells with his parents short. “I couldn’t see my father cry,” he said. He told his mother he wouldn’t go if she didn’t stop sobbing.
Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Nation mourns Colin Powell
It's Monday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.Former Secretary of State Colin Powell's unexpected death was greeted by an outpouring of grief from across the political spectrum, as Democrats and Republicans alike lauded the four-star general as a giant of public service and an African- American hero.We'll share the reactions from across the nation and globe, how the White House has responded, and Powell's long and distinguished legacy.For The Hill, I'm Ellen Mitchell.
Twenty minutes later, he was at the office of Etilaatroz, the newspaper he founded in 2012, which had grown to become Afghanistan’s second-most-read daily. At 8 a.m., only the office staff was there. They cried as he took his leave.
The decision to take his family and escape Afghanistan wasn’t an easy one for Daryabi. When the Taliban entered Kabul in mid-August, the 31-year-old father of three refused a seat on an evacuation flight. But then Taliban members brutally beat two Etilaatroz journalists, one of them Daryabi's own brother. In the weeks afterward, his family kept pleading with him to find an escape route out of Afghanistan.
“They suffered while I remained in Kabul,” he said. When an evacuation flight opened up in early October, “I couldn’t ignore their request.”
Russia hosts Afghan talks, calls for inclusive government
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia hosted talks on Afghanistan on Wednesday involving senior representatives of the Taliban and other factions, a round of diplomacy that underlines Moscow's clout. Opening the talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized that “forming a really inclusive government fully reflecting the interests of not only all ethnic groups but all political forces of the country” is necessary to achieve a stable peace in Afghanistan.Russia had worked for years to establish contacts with the Taliban, even though it has designated the group a terrorist organization in 2003 and never took it of the list.
© (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times) Khadim Hissain Karimi, left, editor in chief of the Afghan daily Etilaatroz, and staff members listen during a discussion of the paper's future under Taliban rule. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Daryabi’s departure was another blow for Afghan journalists struggling to navigate their country's wholly changed environment. Since the Taliban's takeover of the capital, mainstays of the media landscape like Etilaatroz — many of them buoyed by Western aid and considered one of the few tangible successes of the U.S.' 20-year attempt to remake Afghanistan — have been forced to reassess how they can function in the new Islamic Emirate, if at all.
Many have decided they can't. The last two months have seen the shuttering of more than 150 media organizations — some 70% of the country's news outlets, according to the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee. Like Daryabi, now in a refugee camp in Doha, hundreds of journalists have left, joining an exodus of about 120,000 people — professionals, activists and others from the ranks of Afghanistan’s nascent civil society who see no place for their ideas under the Taliban.
"Nobody cares about my family": US troops struggle to get their families out of Afghanistan
An hour after a suicide bomb exploded outside the Kabul airport on August 26, killing 13 US service members and scores of Afghan civilians, Fahim Masoud, a US military intelligence officer, made a frantic call to his sister. © CNN Fahim Masoud spent weeks trying to get his family out of Afhganistan amid the chaotic US withdrawal. She, along with Masoud's parents and two other siblings, were in a CIA-organized bus navigating the crushing crowds and constant gunfire around the airport, desperately trying to escape Afghanistan.
Those who remain must contend with Taliban masters trying to have it both ways: eagerly courting favorable coverage, especially internationally, through unprecedented news conferences and assurances of amnesty for adversaries, while also imposing strict control over what kind of news and programming are allowed in the country.
Last month, the Taliban issued 11 edicts to the media that included proscriptions on publishing or broadcasting reports which are “in conflict with Islam,” insult “national personalities” or “have a negative effect on the public.” Outlets are supposed to prepare their reports “in coordination” with the new government’s media center.
“The new rules are suffocating media freedom in the country,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement this month. “The Taliban regulations are so sweeping that journalists are self-censoring and fear ending up in prison.”
Defying the Taliban can have a heavy price. On Sept. 8, Daryabi’s brother, Taqi, and Etilaatroz video journalist Nemat Naqdi went to cover a women’s rights protest in Kabul. Taliban enforcers quickly surrounded them, manhandling Taqi into a local police station and shoving him to the ground. They grabbed anything on hand — the butts of their machine guns, pipes, cables — and pounded him till he lost consciousness.
After the US military evacuations stopped, this group got an 80-year-old grandmother out of Afghanistan
The U.S. military stopped evacuating vulnerable people out of Afghanistan at the end of August, but volunteer groups have continued to see who they can save. © Provided by Washington Examiner Task Force Argo features Department of Defense personnel, active duty service members and veterans, special operators and intelligence analysts, coming together with one goal in mind: “To bring home from Afghanistan every U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident, the immediate and extended family members of U.S. citizens and LPRs, and our Afghan allies and partners.
© (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times) Taqi Daryabi, video editor of the Afghan daily Etilaatroz, backs up the paper's digital archives for safekeeping. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Naqdi soon received the same treatment. His left eye is still speckled with blood, and he has lost hearing in his left ear.
Almost a month after the savage beating, both Taqi and Naqdi were on the same Oct. 3 evacuation flight to Doha, the Qatari capital, with Daryabi. An hour after they boarded the plane, Taliban fighters barged into the Etilaatroz office, demanding to know where Daryabi was and warning staff members not to mention that the Taliban had come calling.
This week, at another women's rally in Kabul, Taliban enforcers again attacked journalists and threatened to beat demonstrators for participating. © (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times) Sakina Amiri, center, and other reporters continue working at Etilaatroz, an investigative newspaper, despite the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The situation is now especially difficult for women working in the media, given the Taliban's suppression of women's rights. The day Kabul fell to the Taliban, Fatima Roshanian, the 27-year-old editor and publisher of Nimrokh, a feminist magazine, started frantically burning whatever issues she had lying around the office before any fighters could barge in. She’s now in hiding in the capital. The magazine is all but shut down.
US set to appeal UK refusal to extradite WikiLeaks' Assange
LONDON (AP) — The U.S. government is scheduled to ask Britain’s High Court on Wednesday to overturn a judge’s decision that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be sent to the United States to face espionage charges. In January, a lower court judge refused an American request to extradite Assange on spying charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret military documents a decade ago. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser denied extradition on health grounds, saying Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.
“During the first week of Taliban rule in Kabul, I would wake up, wash my face, put on my clothes and start to leave home for the office. But then I would remember the Taliban are in Kabul, that it is all finished,” she said.
“One thing is clear: People like me have no place in this country for now.” © (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times) A news segment is recorded at Radio Television of Afghanistan, a national public TV channel, in the Afghan capital, Kabul. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times) © (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times) Employees watch as a news segment is recorded at Radio Television of Afghanistan in Kabul. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Some have decided to continue. As one of the largest media outlets in the country, Tolo, a private Afghan broadcaster with a staff of some 400 people, still operates its news division, said Khpolwak Sapai, deputy head of the unit. Although dozens of employees left during the U.S.-led airlift in August, the company managed to bring in replacements and turn other positions into remote work from abroad.
Sapai said female staff members were still showing up to work at the station and appearing onscreen in news broadcasts.
“The new regulations, they’re very general and it’s difficult to understand what they mean. But somehow we are still producing news and analysis, at least 20 stories every day,” Sapai said. He acknowledged difficulties in covering events not sanctioned by the Taliban, such as the women's protests last month.
“But it’s different these days. We have social media. Everyone has a smartphone. We’re relying more on citizen journalists,” he said.
China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan Move to Create United Front on Afghanistan
"We should positively view the timely development of bilateral and multilateral dialogues and cooperation with Afghanistan on fighting terrorism," China's top diplomat said.In their second such meeting, the senior diplomats from Afghanistan's six neighboring countries and Russia gathered virtually and in person for a conference in the Iranian capital of Tehran on Wednesday in an effort to further align their views.
Those journalists who have left are haunted either by the guilt of fleeing the country they loved or by the nightmares that warp their memories of the life they abandoned.
“When you’re in the country and you’re dying, you die once. But when you’re out of the country, the way people look at you, mistreat you, feel sorry for you — you die every single minute,” said one Afghan newspaper journalist who was evacuated to another country in August and who requested anonymity for reasons of security.
“You die … because you’re a refugee. … You’re just a number, like millions of others, and then who cares about refugees?” © (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times) Zaki Daryabi, founder of the Afghan daily Etilaatroz, plays table tennis with his younger son, Azhman, at the paper's office. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Daryabi still hopes to salvage what he can of Etilaatroz, which means information of the day in Dari. Sitting on his bed in a refugee camp in Doha, he is coordinating the newspaper’s now-scattered staff. Some of them remain in Kabul; others were evacuated under the auspices of various U.S. organizations and await onward visas or had reached Europe. Daryabi has been trying to raise funds online.
The newspaper is a small organization, but he speaks with obvious pride when he recounts how he, a farmer’s son from a village near Ghazni, built a newspaper from the ground up. It now has a daily circulation of 2,000 to 3,000, plus hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. Over the years, it has published hard-hitting exposes of government malfeasance and corruption; one memorable investigation in 2017 showed how former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani brokered land deals in return for election support in 2014.
Daryabi often describes the paper as his oldest child, whose survival he has always acted to guarantee.
But at stake now is the general survival of fair and independent news in Afghanistan — and the fledgling civil society that the industry was helping to build, he said.
“If national and local media are shut down, what is being reported from Afghanistan will be incomplete,” Daryabi said. “Afghanistan should not be without journalists or media again.”
Times staff writer Marcus Yam contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
As US freezes funds, a harsh winter awaits cash-strapped Afghans .
With $146bn in assets frozen and limits imposed on bank withdrawals, a humanitarian crisis unfolds in Afghanistan.The top watchdog report says that over the 20-year US occupation, Washington spent $146bn in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, including $89bn on training and supporting the country’s National Security Forces “which no longer exists”.