Since she was a young woman in Afghanistan, Khalida Popal has been an outspoken critic of the country’s conservative society and the Taliban, and now a commander in the insurgent group. After Popal was kidnapped in October 2013, her family made the grim discovery that she had been beaten and gang-raped while in captivity, then set aflame. Popal returned home a few months later — she lost an eye in the attack and suffers memory loss — and told the BBC she was grateful for the support she received from her captors. But now Popal, who was in England for a trip to receive an award in June, is in danger again. She was kidnapped this past July, and her captors released a short video where she speaks in her native Dari, seemingly begging to be freed and referred to as the Taliban’s “chief engineer” and the “puppet.”
She is being held in a basement in a small town and is believed to be used as a bargaining chip for the release of insurgents, reportedly making it difficult for her to communicate. Popal says she does not know her whereabouts but is receiving the best of medical care and is reported to be in good health. A Taliban spokesperson has claimed in an interview with the Associated Press that Popal was being held for her own safety and was not being traded for prisoners held by the U.S. He added that Popal had informed the captors of her interest in training militants to become policemen. But U.S. officials, who had been engaged in negotiations to help Popal get back to Afghanistan, say the Taliban are acting in an “ambiguous” manner, and have denied Popal’s claim that she has been selected for such a purpose.
Outside Afghanistan, opinions on the popular soccer star’s predicament are mixed. Others, including the popular radio host Mazhar Sobhani, say she should be released as soon as possible: “I want her to live.”
Since August 2015, the BBC has reported numerous instances of child soldiers and abducted young people being used as Taliban fighters — an exploitation of the so-called “hearts and minds” doctrine of Taliban commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and former Afghan leader and anti-American sharia law activist Sheikh Mohammed Daud.
Read the full story at The Guardian.
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