Nearly two decades after the United States invaded Afghanistan, the nation’s capital of Kabul has fallen back under Taliban control.
According to USA Today, “the chaotic reports emerging from Kabul cap more than two decades of American efforts in the country to root out terrorism and transform the nation into a functioning democratic state. Thousands of American lives and nearly $830 billion in official spending, those efforts have resulted in failure.”
President Biden announced last spring plans to withdraw all American troops by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that drew the U.S. into its longest war. The Biden administration’s plan extended by four months the Trump administration’s withdrawal deadline of May 1.
Still, the announced military exit has ignited chaos, with criticism levied at the White House for not having a sound plan for leaving amid increased violence. Christians in Afghanistan have said they are filled with fear and uncertainty under an extremist Islamic group that has gained control of the country again.
A Brief Background
Home to some 37 million people, Afghanistan’s population is approximately 99.7% Muslim (84.7-89.7% Sunni and 10-15% Shiite), with the few remaining non-Muslims comprising the remaining 0.3%, as reported by the CIA’s World Factbook.
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2021 Annual Report, released in April, the USCIRF recommended Afghanistan be included on the State Department’s Special Watch List “for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) and continue to designate the Taliban as an ‘entity of particular concern’ for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by IRFA.”
“Although the Afghan constitution stipulates followers of religions other than Islam may exercise their faith within the limits of the law, conversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy,” the annual report states. “This crime is punishable by death, imprisonment, confiscation of property, or deportation according to the Afghan government’s prevailing interpretation of Sunni Islam’s Hanafi school of jurisprudence, which according to the constitution applies if there is no relevant provision in the law.”
Afghanistan also ranks second on religious persecution watchdog Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it’s most difficult to be a Christian. But for the last three years, Afghanistan has vied with North Korea for the No. 1 spot on the list.
Converts Face Dire Consequences
Throughout Afghanistan, small populations of minority religious communities exist in secret due to fear of reprisal.
According to International Christian Concern (ICC), “Afghanistan’s Christian community is almost exclusively comprised of converts from Islam. Some estimate the Christian population to be between 10,000 and 12,000, making it the country’s largest religious minority group. However, due to extreme persecution, the Christian community remains largely closeted and hidden from the public eye.
“Their status as converts makes Afghan Christians direct targets for persecution by both extremist groups and society in general. In Afghanistan, leaving Islam is considered extremely shameful and converts can face dire consequences if their conversion is discovered.”
Essentially, converts have two options: flee the country or risk being killed. And as the Taliban takeover unfolds, many Christians are fearing for their lives as fleeing the country is becoming more and more difficult.
“We are telling people to stay in their houses because going out now is too dangerous,” a Christian leader in Afghanistan, whose name is being withheld for security reasons, told ICC. While a general amnesty has been announced by the Taliban, this leader fears that Christians will still be targeted by Taliban fighters patrolling the streets of Kabul and other cities.
“Some known Christians are already receiving threatening phone calls,” the Christian leader told ICC. “In these phone calls, unknown people say, ‘We are coming for you.’”
Following the Taliban’s victory, there have been no targeted killings of Christians reported in Afghanistan. However, Christian leaders fear that it is only a matter of time before killings are reported.
“It will be done mafia style,” the Christian leader explained. “The Taliban will never take responsibility for the killings.”
A ‘Tragic’ Outcome
“What’s unfolding in Afghanistan is tragic,” Franklin Graham said on Facebook. “… The Taliban who took over the country are Islamic extremists who have no mercy and no respect for human life. This ill-thought-out decision of the Biden/Harris administration means a death sentence for many freedom-loving Afghans.
“… Tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for America as translators and in other jobs are left as targets for these butchers because there was little thought given to a plan to get them out safely. The Taliban considers women sub-human, and they have a reputation for killing women who have been educated. Mothers who teach their daughters to read and write are executed by these brutal Islamic extremists. Every woman who has received an education in the last 20 years is now at risk. And think of the prospects ahead for Christians and other minorities in the country. The blood of this nation will be on the hands of the Biden/Harris administration. And on top of these tragedies—how can any country in the world trust America now? Our enemies are laughing at us. May God have mercy on the United States of America.”
Before the Trump-brokered treaty, the U.S. Senate, led by Republican support, had passed in 2019 an amendment that the U.S. “certify that conditions have been met for the enduring defeat of al-Qaeda and [the Islamic State] before initiating any significant withdrawal of United States forces from Syria or Afghanistan.”
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said on Twitter: “These are the lives of actual people. And there are small pockets of followers of Jesus about to face persecution most of us could never dream of. Pray for peace for the country’s sake. This is devastating.”
Above: Afghans wanting to escape the country gather around the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16, 2021.
Photo: UPI/Alamy Live News