By Linda Burkle. PhD
I recently had lunch with Hanif, an Afghan scholar and green card holder who was caught in the chaos at the Kabul airport as throngs of desperate people attempted to flee last month. Hanif witnessed first-hand people falling from departing planes and an infant being trampled to death. He went without food and water for a least thirty-two hours while trying to get out of the country as the Taliban controlled the airport. Because of his persistence and the advocacy of current and former colleagues in the U.S., he was finally able to board a departing plane.  He was one of the lucky ones, able to escape and return home to his family in the U.S., where he works at a university. Hanif chronicled his entire ordeal in a gripping account. 
While the media has largely moved on to cover the latest news, the crisis in Afghanistan continues unabated. Multitudes of desperate U.S. citizens, green card holders, and Afghan allies are still trapped and needing of extraction. They are being actively hunted by the Taliban, moving from place to place to avoid capture and death. Without the assistance of U.S. military and government intervention, some private religiously based organizations, as well as former military are stepping up to conduct rescue operations. One such organization is the Nazarene Fund, which has successfully extracted many Afghan Christians. Glen Beck, a well-known radio personality, personally raised money and has been instrumental in this rescue effort. He stated, “Afghan Christians are marked not just for death but to be set on fire alive because they’re converted Christians.” For unknown reasons, in some cases, the U.S. State Department has obstructed these extractions. Some have been successful however, often using covert methods. 
For those unable to escape, a life under national Taliban rule has become a nightmarish reality, particularly for religious minorities. Women particularly are impacted. Over the past twenty years under the U.S.-supported government, women have been free to receive education, and many achieved professional careers and government positions. While the Taliban assured the world that it would continue to allow women to have an active role in civic life, this has not been realized. Girls and women now cannot work nor attend school. They are virtually prisoners in their own homes, living in constant fear of being attacked or kidnapped. 
On August 30, 2021, the United Nations Security Council issued a resolution that includes this statement: “[The Security Council] reaffirms the importance of upholding human rights including those of women, children and minorities, encourages all parties to seek an inclusive, negotiated political settlement, with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women, that responds to the desire of Afghans to sustain and build on Afghanistan’s gains over the last twenty years in adherence to the rule of law, and underlines that all parties must respect their obligations.” 
The resolution also addresses the Taliban’s assurances made on August 27, 2021, that Afghans are free to travel without obstruction, both domestically and internationally. Thus far, the Taliban have openly violated such commitments since their seizure of the government. Although several countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, India, and the U.S., offered to extract vulnerable Afghans, such efforts were met with limited success and often resistance.  Multiple flights to extract U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans (i.e. American allies, Special Immigrant Visa designees and their families, and Afghan Christians) have been blocked. Sources indicate that some have been tortured and executed.
Prior to the Taliban take over, Afghanistan was already considered one of the worst countries for persecution of religious minorities. Christians represent a very small percentage of the population and largely have been underground, meeting in secret. The exact number of believers is unknown. As converts from Islam, they face extreme persecution including death, even from their own family.  Under Taliban rule, their situation has become even more precarious and dangerous. There have been recent reports of Taliban checking cell phones for evidence of Bible apps and reviewing mosque attendance records to ferret out Christians. Many are known and have received death threats from the Taliban. Some have been able to escape but most are in hiding. They have turned off their cell phones to prevent tracking, which also may impede attempts at rescue.
On September 15, 2021, a group of U.S. Senators led by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Preventing Recognition of Terrorist States Act, which would direct the U.S. Secretary of State to designate the illegitimate Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as a state sponsor of terrorism and the Taliban as a terrorist organization. The bill would also impose sanctions against foreign individuals who knowingly provide assistance to the Taliban and require the U.S. government to ensure that taxpayer dollars do not go to foreign terrorist organizations in Afghanistan.” 
In the past, Afghanistan relied heavily on foreign aid to fuel its economy. Afghan scholar and University of Nebraska Omaha professor Hanif Sufizada discussed the nature of the Afghan economy in a recent article. “Most of the developmental and infrastructure spending that has taken place since 2001 has come from other countries. The U.S. and other international donors covered about 75% of the government’s non-military spending during those years. In addition, the U.S. spent $5.8 billion since 2001 on economic and infrastructure development.” Despite this investment, epidemic corruption contributed to the collapse of the Afghan government. “A report from May 2021 suggested that $8 million was being embezzled out of the country every day, which would add up to about $3 billion a year,” continues Sufizada. 
As the international community condemns the Taliban take over, a number of sanctions are being imposed and aid is being revoked. “Roughly $9.4 billion in Afghanistan international reserves were frozen immediately after the Taliban took over Kabul. The International Monetary Fund suspended more than $400 million in emergency reserves, and the European Union halted plans to disperse $1.4 billion in aid to Afghanistan through 2025.” 
The Taliban has developed a variety of revenue streams which undergirded their successful takeover of the country. “In the 2019-2020 fiscal year alone, the Taliban raked in $1.6 billion from a wide variety of sources. Most notably, the Taliban earned $416 million that year from selling opium, over $400 million from mining minerals like iron ore, marble and gold, and $240 million from donations from private donors and groups. U.S. intelligence agencies and others believe that various countries, including Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China, have helped finance the Taliban.”  It is likely that they will continue to expand these revenue sources as well as imposing various taxes to finance the country’s economic infrastructure.
While the future of Afghanistan is uncertain and regressive under the Taliban, one thing is certain; the plight of Christians and other religious minorities will only get worse under their rule. Up to this point, the church in Afghanistan has been growing despite persecution and we pray that growth will continue as people seek the peace and comfort that are only found in Christ.
Dr. Burkle retired from The Salvation Army in early 2019 where she oversaw an array of social services in a multi-state region. Along with the State Attorney General, Burkle Co-Chaired the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force. Dr. Burkle holds a doctoral degree in international relations. Dr. Burkle has worked with persecuted peoples in a number of countries, and her dissertation focused on religious persecution; specifically regarding Iran, Iraq, Sudan, China, and Burma (Myanmar). Dr. Burkle resides in Omaha, Nebraska. She has three grown children and eight grandchildren.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates.
- Personal face-to-face interview with Hanif S. on September 16, 2021
- September 27, 2021, Text message update from Deputy Chief of Staff for US Congressman Don Bacon (who has been working since early August to extract US citizens and allies from Afghanistan).