Following the Taliban’s complete takeover of Afghanistan, a relentless campaign of house-to-house inspections unfolded, ostensibly aimed at recovering weapons and military ordnance. Amidst the chaos and upheaval, Arzoo Kohistani, a vulnerable 17-year-old girl, found herself thrust into the heart of this turmoil. Her brother, a soldier in the republic government, had unwittingly made her a target.
During the inspections, Arzoo, alone at home, faced an intrusion by the Taliban in their quest for her brother’s alleged cache of weapons. Facing her criticism, the Taliban forcibly took her away to the 11th Police District of Kabul and subjected her to torture and sexual assault.
Wasima Kohistani, both a narrator and a victim in this case, had been silent for the past two years, as the shadow of the Taliban’s vengeance had suppressed her voice. Now, she is outside of Afghanistan and has decided to illuminate the darkest corners of this tragic tale in a conversation with Nimrokh, exposing the heinous crimes committed by the Taliban against Arzoo and herself.
The dialogue has been orchestrated by Ms. Parwana Ibrahimkhel, one of the protesting women and the founder of the Women’s Movement for Peace and Freedom. She bore the harrowing weight of Taliban imprisonment and endured torture as a consequence of her civil protest actions.
The story of the arrest:
On Wednesday, November 10, 2021, at 10 o’clock in the afternoon, Arzoo Kohistani sought refuge at our doorstep, her battered and bruised head and face bearing witness to a traumatic incident. I asked her what had happened to her, and she said: “Yesterday, the Taliban took me to the police district and I was there until nightfall.”
Arzoo told me that Maulvi Mohammad Isaq, the PD chief officer, subjected her to brutal physical assault and rape, leaving her in a state of despair and anguish. “I don’t know what to do now,” she said, “I’m desperate!”
Determined to shed light on these atrocities, I implored Arzoo to share her story, which she ultimately consented to. I documented her narrative through videos, with her identity shielded by a veil as she displayed the grim evidences of torture on her body.
On Thursday, November 11, 2021, I shared Arzoo’s disclosure video with foreign media, resulting in its publication. The following day, Friday, November 12, brought an unexpected turn of events as Arzoo was arrested by the Taliban, an event I was initially unaware of.
Around noon, as I prepared for lunch and a trip to the mosque, a sudden and ominous knock on the door revealed Arzoo’s mother, flanked by a group of armed Taliban members.
“This is the girl who filmed my daughter.” Arzoo’s mother pointed at me. As the gravity of the situation became apparent, the Taliban swiftly ordered me to accompany them.
From there, I was taken directly to the 11th police district of Kabul, where I found that Arzoo had also been arrested. We endured a three-hour interrogation at PD11 before being transferred to the Haqqani Network within the Ministry of Interior.
Upon our arrival at the Ministry of Interior, the Taliban derisively labeled us “The Video Girls” and subjected us to physical abuse, including punches and hair-pulling. Our harrowing experience continued as we were confined within the Ministry of Interior for four days, initially sharing a cell before being moved to solitary confinement.
Torture in the Taliban’s Ministry of Interior:
Amidst the walls of the Taliban-controlled Ministry of Interior, Arzoo and I were initially confined to a dimly lit, bare cell, and its unforgiving cement floor and walls. The night unfolded with relentless torment, leaving us with thoughts of despair.
The pain and injuries inflicted upon us made sleep impossible. At dawn, the cell door creaked open, and a Taliban member entered. He went directly towards Arzoo and subjected her to a rape right before my eyes.
I was paralyzed by fear, unable to utter a sound. Following Arzoo, he turned his attention to me. I had no life left in me to escape. “I’m a virgin, please don’t do this to me!” I shouted.
In an invasive attempt to confirm my virginity, he pulled down my pants and spread my legs to see for himself. He aggressively touched my genitals with his hand and released me, but put his pants half down and held his penis in his hand, saying, “Then who is going to take care of this?”
Arzoo and I were separated on the second night, and she was taken to a nearby solitary cell, within my line of sight. That night, the Taliban subjected Arzoo to repeated sexual assaults, as I heard her anguished cries echoing in the darkness. They took turns, entering and departing.
In my cell, I endured brutal physical abuse as they violently squeezed my genitals, beat me, and finally kissed my face madly and left.
In the clutches of the Taliban’s brutality, they subjected us to ferocious beatings, demanding that we confess, proclaiming ourselves as members of the Resistance Front, hired by Ahmad Masoud to tarnish their name.
Throughout the harrowing interrogations and torment, they cruelly removed the nails from both my feet and one finger of my left hand, but Arzoo endured an even more horrific fate, losing all the nails on her feet and hands.
The nights were punctuated by the sudden, menacing entry of Taliban members and their cruel prison guards. I thought maybe this time they would shoot me in the head and end it all, but instead, they frantically violated our bodies. For four long days and nights, Arzoo and I were sometimes confined together and other times in solitary cells.
Finally, thanks to my family’s relentless efforts to secure 25 guarantors, I was released from this hellish ordeal. The last glimpse I had of Arzoo was on the fourth morning of our captivity, following a night of unspeakable horrors that left her unable to walk due to the wounds on her legs and genitals. Her breathing was labored, her voice reduced to a faint rasp as her vacant eyes fixated on the ceiling. The Taliban wrapped her in a blanket and carried her out of the cell.
After Arzoo’s departure, I too was ushered into a room for a final video confession. Behind the camera sat a woman who, unexpectedly, began with a simple question: “How are you?”
Amidst the stifling atmosphere of fear, my tears flowed freely. I discreetly revealed my agony by resting my foot against hers under the table, displaying the evidence of my pulled nails. As she glanced at my mutilated fingers, tears welled in her eyes. A Taliban militant barked, “Get on with it!”
We hastily wiped away our tears. The female camerawoman motioned for me to recite a scripted confession from a sizable sheet of paper placed behind the camera.
In that coerced video, I said: “I falsely used Arzoo Kohistani to tarnish the Taliban’s image, and I hope the Taliban’s leaders will pardon me.” After four agonizing days and nights, I was finally granted my release, never to lay eyes on Arzoo again.
When the videos of our forced confession were made public, I saw that Arzoo had been replaced by another girl, with a man falsely claiming to be her husband. They alleged that they had a domestic dispute and that a girl named Wasima Kohistani manipulated them to discredit the Taliban. This girl was, in fact, one of Arzoo’s sisters, compelled into this charade under the Taliban’s threats to her two brothers. The man posing as Arzoo’s husband was merely a roadside cigarette vendor near Kabul Airport.
Yet, there remained no information about Arzoo herself, the same girl I had seen shrouded in a deathly blanket as she was removed from the prison.
Upon my release, Arzoo’s mother sought answers, questioning me about her daughter, our last conversation, and her aspirations. It was painfully evident that Arzoo’s mother had received no news of her daughter’s fate, alive or otherwise. Two days later, when I visited their home, I discovered they had vacated the premises, and it appeared that it was how the Taliban wanted to close the case of their crime against Arzoo and me.
After that, I never heard about Arzoo and her family. Her body has not been buried in the mountains of Kapisa province, and there is no sign of her anywhere. Her two sisters, one of whom was coerced into the Taliban’s confession, have fled Afghanistan.
Wasima’s second arrest and departure from Afghanistan
I grappled with fear and insecurity in Kabul for a while, finding no shelter in the homes of my family and relatives. A women’s rights activist abroad reached out to me via video call and I displayed my tortured body, my nails ripped from my feet and other scars of abuse. A few days later, she orchestrated my relocation to a safe house where a number of protesting women sought refuge, waiting to depart Afghanistan.
Tragically, the Taliban invaded the sanctuary too, resulting in my arrest alongside the protesting women. This time, I endured a 14-day captivity, alternating between solitary confinement and the ISIS women’s cells.
When the Taliban could not find any evidence linking me to the women’s protests, they released me again. I wandered, displaced within various corners of Kabul for six months. Ultimately, I managed to escape Afghanistan through the assistance of a foundation.
Now, I am residing in one of the regional countries with an uncertain future. Though the physical wounds of my imprisonment have slowly healed, my psyche remains shattered. Nightmares torment my sleep, blood comes out of my mouth and nose, and I hate greetings and kissing faces. Anyone who gets close to me invokes visions of assault.
I still hear the rasp of Arzoo’s final breaths …