A Q & A with Open Doors Communications Director for Asia on the volatile situation in Afghanistan:
Could you give us an update on Afghanistan? What’s the situation on the ground?
The situation is still very chaotic—there are lots of things happening in the country.
The Taliban are trying to establish their government. Some things are very secure, such as all the checkpoints, and they have local governors installed. But then other things are more complicated for them—they are in control of the airports in Kabul, but according to the media, they have now asked the Turkish government to supply a crew to control the airport on their behalf.
They’re the conquerors, the victors, and they want to show that they are there. Many bad things are happening, but it’s different from region to region or village to village. It depends on the local commander—what would he do?
Some women are already being kidnapped, taken from their houses, and forced into marriage, although we don’t know the exact number. Of course, many women will have to buy burqas, especially in the big cities. In many rural areas, it was like the Taliban never left during the last 20 years. For them, it was still the same, very strict. In other places, there was more freedom, but now they must go back. We also know from local sources and the media that many women haven’t returned to work because they’re afraid they will be punished for it later.
There is a lot of fear. It’s not just the girls who are at risk; it’s the boys too. The Taliban may recruit them. This is a difficult time to be a parent in Afghanistan—how can you protect your children?
And then there are the Christians who face all that and must hide their faith. They are thinking, how much does the Taliban know? How much do my neighbors know? Will they betray us?
Maybe someone will accuse you of something that you have not even done, but they so fear for their own lives that they must give the Taliban something. So, it’s a country ruled by fear now.
We understand that there may also be food shortages very soon.
How about the recent bombings, the recent airport attacks? Will we see more acts of terrorism like that in the coming days?
That bombing shows us that the Taliban are not the most radical group in the region. The Islamic State in Khorasan might be even more extreme, and they don’t agree at all with the Taliban. There is history there.
There might be more fighting and instability. Overall, the Taliban has seized control of the country, but there might still be conflicts with those other terrorist groups moving forward.
How about the church and the secret believers in the country—are they being hunted down? Have there already been cases of torture of Christians?
There are so many rumors, and a lot of organizations spread exaggerated messages.
Looking at the facts, there is no official church for indigenous believers in the country. The last church building that was there was destroyed 50 years ago.
The number of indigenous believers is relatively small. That makes them more challenging to reach. Are they being hunted down? They’re a target. When you get a house visit, the Taliban want to see if you are a good Muslim in their eyes, according to their standard of what makes a good Muslim. So, if you are a Christian, you’re not just a bad Muslim; you are an apostate—and you will be targeted.
The Taliban are hunting down anyone who is not with them—that includes Christians.
Many people say that Christians were a lot safer in the last 20 years, and the church has grown. The church might have grown, but it has little to do with the Western troops’ extra safety. Our World Watch List is proof of that because the persecution score for Afghanistan increased over the past 20 years. Now we have the added layer of the Taliban taking complete control.
A message from a local source:
“It’s only thanks to you, to your prayers, that we’re still here. If it had not been for your prayers, we would have been long gone because the situation is very difficult.”
Is it true that believers are being evacuated out of the country by international ministries?
All the government evacuations have stopped now, but these private evacuations are not something that we can confirm. We are not able to say if or how many Christians were able to leave. Of course, like all citizens, Christians are afraid. They might want to stay in Afghanistan because of their beliefs but want to keep hidden and serve Jesus in secret. Or it might also be that they make a run for the border, or they would like to escape, but they can’t—all these scenarios are happening.
There’s one more thing we should point out: there are thousands of people who realize this is one way to gain sympathy, so they are saying they are Christians, but they are not. They are claiming this to get out of the country. This puts a lot of people at risk, even those who are not believers.
What will the future look like for those who have fled the country?
Life for the refugee is very hard. Most western countries don’t want to take in refugees or as few as possible. So people who have fled will have to go to the refugee camps in nearby regions, although those countries may not be happy with them either.
The circumstances in refugee camps tend to be very bad. Winter is coming, and it will be cold as well. Their primary need for shelter must be met, but not only that—what about education for the children? What about food? What about prospects? You don’t speak the language. You may not know if you can stay, or if you have to go back, or if you want to go back. Maybe you have been separated from your family. This is a huge human tragedy.
Can we talk about our work with refugees?
Yes. We do relief work among refugees from Afghanistan through the help of our local partners. We must be very strict to protect the partners we work with; therefore, we cannot comment on this further.
How can we pray for believers in Afghanistan?
The number one thing is for survival and safety. This is the physical thing.
The spiritual thing is that they would trust in Jesus, rely on Him, and that we will be faithful to the end. Some are afraid that the end will come very soon, and they would like to stay faithful at that moment. If that’s realistic, nobody knows; only God knows if they are likely to be killed. But we hope not, and we’re sure that the church will survive, but it’s going to be very difficult.
Provide emergency relief to believers who are persecuted in the crisis