The Ghorband Valley lays northwest of Kabul in Parwan province, part of the historical Silk Route linking Kabul and Bamyan. The valley was considered a strategic road during the invasion of the Soviet Union, and some parts of this valley were used as bases for Gulbudin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami militants and then the Taliban to put pressure on their Northern Alliance opponents in Parwan and Bamyan provinces.
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The Taliban's Return
During the first years of the US invasion of Afghanistan, the military bases of the Taliban were destroyed. However it seems that they have returned to their bases and are trying to regroup. Ghorband is one of those areas the Taliban have managed to penetrate, despite its location in one of the more secure provinces of the country.
With it becoming a Taliban base, the strength of the Taliban has grown, appointing their own shadow district governor who has hundreds of fighters loyal to him. The assassination of Bamyan's provincial council chairman Jawad Zuhak last year, the attacks on military convoys and the enforcement of Taliban's harsh rules among the locals are the proof of their presence in the valley.
In the Shinwari district, the place to where we are travelling is a small valley called Hirokafshan. The entrance to the valley is marked by a police checkpoint. According to some, there are other police checkpoints located at the high mountains over the district.
The police at the checkpoint we are passing claim they have to work hard to protect it from frequent Taliban attacks. The night before we arrive at the district, it has come under massive Taliban shelling.
Public Execution of a Woman
The extent of the Taliban presence here has been highlighted with the recent public execution of a woman known as Najiba. The valley became known worldwide after the amateur footage of the execution, which happened in June in the Hirokafshan valley, was released to the media in July. The valley is reportedly controlled by the Taliban shadow governor.
The Other Side to the Story
Najiba was reportedly executed on the charge of adultery. Some residents said that she had escaped her husband's house with a person called Zmrai but returned to the village after a while. There are no precise reports about her return to the village, but the residents said Najiba was found in the house of another man called Qader, who was both her brother-in-law and a high ranking Taliban official. Qader was also said to be behind the killing of another Taliban commander Mullah Ezat, however this claim needs more investigation.
The released footage shows Najiba being accused of escaping her house and having illicit relations with another man. It then shows her being executed after the verdict is read out, with at least nine bullets fired into her - by her husband.
A Second Woman Sentenced to Death
What the footage doesn't show is that the Taliban also sentenced three others to death: Zmrai, Qader, and Qader's wife for allowing Najiba into the house.
Zmrai escaped from the village. Qader was not killed that day but has subsequently been killed after by Taliban fighters, according to residents. And the execution of Qader's wife was delayed because of her pregnancy, but she has since escaped the district.
The Village Reaction
After the footage of the execution hit headlines, human rights activists raised their voices and criticised those present at the scene. However, as our visit to the district uncovered, most of the residents had the same views as the Taliban, many of them even surprised to see us in the area wearing jeans, because no one wore such clothes - all were wearing the traditional Afghan garb. The children refused to eat the food we offered, a simple potato-based snack bulani, calling it ‘haram' - that is, prohibited in Islam.
Most of the villagers we spoke to welcomed Najiba's execution and praised this act of Taliban.
Taliban's Denial of the Execution
In the face of the public outcry in Afghanistan and around the world over the execution, the Taliban refused to admit their hand in killing Najiba. However, our investigation confirmed that it was the Taliban who captured her, who issued the verdict, and while no they did not kill her directly, the weapon was offered to her husband by the Taliban.
Controversial Silence of the Mullahs
In Afghanistan, a group of mullahs have gathered in an association called the ‘Ulema Council' and have commented on many incidents. The idea is for the council to provide an Islamic viewpoint and clarify the correct teaching on controversial issues. But while they have done so in some cases, they also keep quiet in others. The Ulema Council have said nothing of Najiba's death. Their silence was criticised by the human rights groups, and even some members of the Ulema Council, because it is believed their silence is politically driven. Indeed, some analysts believe the activities of the Ulema Council are more government-related than Islamic-related.
President Karzai himself was said to have questioned the footage, saying it was necessary to ascertain whether the footage was ‘accurate or a fake'.
Expansion of Dark and Extreme Views
After the collapse of the Taliban, there was an increasing optimism about freedoms in Afghanistan, among them the freedom of expression and freedom of thought. But, such optimism has lost ground overtime.
Afghanistan has seen an increase in dark and extreme opinions, but the response to this has been silence - a questionable one. Any serious effort to protect these freedoms seems to be lacking in the government.
Such ignorance by the government and other leaders such as the Ulema has paved the way for such dark and extreme opinions to take hold in the various areas of the country. Despite the unpopularity of such opinions, we cannot expect any change here if the top echelons of our country's leaders do nothing.