FRONTLINE: Leaving Afghanistan
Monday, August 23, 2021
Credit: Courtesy of FRONTLINE (PBS)
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FRONTLINE Investigates the Consequences of “Leaving Afghanistan” & Reveals “India’s Rape Scandal” in Two Special Reports
As President Joe Biden withdraws U.S. troops from Afghanistan nearly 20 years after the U.S-led invasion, FRONTLINE presents "Leaving Afghanistan" — a timely and revelatory report on the rising fears of civil war in the increasingly unstable country, and a new, emerging threat: Iran’s growing influence.
From acclaimed Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi, who has covered the war between the Taliban and the American-led coalition since its inception, this special report reveals what America is leaving behind: a country that may be on the verge of a deadly sectarian civil war, with the Sunni Taliban on the rise and majority-Shia Iran seeking to expand its power.
“It’s worse than the past. It’s worse than what I’ve seen in my life,” says the Peabody Award-winning journalist. “I can see a civil war in Afghanistan again.”
Quraishi exposed the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan in 2015’s "ISIS in Afghanistan." In last year’s "Taliban Country," he reported that not only was the Taliban once again wielding power in Afghanistan, but the threat from ISIS continued to loom large.
Now, "Leaving Afghanistan" shows how the U.S. withdrawal is paving the way for increased sectarian violence — and expanded Iranian influence.
Quraishi uncovers claims that an Iranian-backed Afghan militia, the Fatemiyoun — drawn from Shia Afghan refugees in Iran and also from the Hazara Shia minority in Afghanistan — is operating on the ground inside Afghanistan, and, some say, even present inside the government and military. Iran said it had supported Afghan fighters in Syria, but that they are no longer active.
“They intend to build a Hezbollah in Afghanistan amongst Afghans themselves,” a veteran of the Iran-backed Fatemiyoun militia tells FRONTLINE. Another Fatemiyoun member says, “In every military division, even inside the government, there are Fatemiyoun.”
Quraishi gains access to a militant wing of the Taliban that’s fighting what it says are Fatemiyoun fighters sent from Tehran, and whose leader vowed to murder or enslave every Shia in Afghanistan when the Sunni Taliban return to power.
He finds that some members of the Hazara people, long the targets of Taliban persecution and attacks, are taking up arms and forming militias to defend themselves now that the U.S. is leaving and the Afghan army is in retreat. And he explores the possibility that Iran may use the threat to the Hazaras as a reason for direct military intervention.
“Afghanistan is on the brink of a very dangerous civil war,” Muhammad Mohaqiq, the spiritual leader of the Hazaras, tells Quraishi. “I am in favor of a responsible NATO withdrawal, but leaving a situation where everyone is fighting each other, that’s not right. They should only leave when peace and security in Afghanistan are assured.”
With civil war seemingly coming closer every day, Quraishi finds, the only constant is the suffering of the Afghan people.
“People will defend themselves. Too much has happened,” says a Hazara man whose brother was killed by Afghan government forces while peacefully protesting. “People will defend themselves to their last drop of blood.”
In the hour’s second segment, "India’s Rape Scandal," with FRONTLINE and Channel 4 in the UK, journalist Ramita Navai investigates a wave of shocking rape cases in India — some of them drawing in politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — and allegations of cover-ups, despite the fact that the government has vowed zero tolerance.
Navai focuses on two cases in the populous state of Uttar Pradesh. First, she explores the case of a teen girl who accused Kuldeep Singh Sengar, then a powerful BJP politician, of rape.
“Her allegation is that she tried to get a complaint registered against Kuldeep Sengar, but his name was repeatedly dropped out of the charge sheet and the complaint,” says Aishwarya S. Iyer, a journalist for The Quint who has reported extensively on the case. (The state’s chief minister publicly rejected criticisms that Sengar had been protected.)
The girl did not give up — even after her father was killed, and then her lawyer and two aunts.
“It’s incredible how strong-willed this woman is,” Iyer says. “To see death so close, to see your family being consumed by a complaint that you are raising and to still be at it .… It's a stunning, stunning story.”
Sengar is now in prison for the girl’s rape and his role in her father’s death, but still has a loyal following. The girl told FRONTLINE that she has been receiving death threats and is under 24/7 police protection.
Navai also investigates another alarming rape case in Uttar Pradesh that raised more allegations of political coverup. Nineteen-year-old Manisha Valmiki said she had been raped by four neighbors. She’d been strangled and her spinal cord was damaged. In their report, the police noted she had been violently assaulted but did not include her allegation of rape until eight days later, as media reporting gained pace — meaning crucial evidence went uncollected.
Doctors involved in Manisha’s treatment told FRONTLINE that police and local officials asked them to downplay any evidence of rape.
“The government, the party, is trying to squash this case because the men are from the same caste,” Manisha’s cousin Niraj Kumar says.
After Manisha eventually died, police cremated her body without the family’s consent: “We weren’t even allowed to look at her one last time,” Kumar says. And now, the trial of the four men alleged to have raped Manisha has been delayed by COVID.
One of India’s most respected and senior legal figures told Navai these cases should be a wake up call for more accountability when it comes to violence against women.
“Why should anybody, you know, remain silent when something like this happens? You know, they should speak out. It doesn't matter who the perpetrator is — the government, the state, the police machinery, everyone should come out in the open and say that this is wrong,” says Madan Lokur, a former judge on the country’s Supreme Court.
Watch On Your Schedule:
FRONTLINE’s two-part hour featuring "Leaving Afghanistan" and "India’s Rape Scandal" premieres Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Both stories will be available to watch in full at pbs.org/frontline and in the PBS Video App starting that night at 7/6c. The hour will premiere on KPBS TV and on YouTube at 10/9c.
Join The Conversation:
A FRONTLINE production with Clover Films. The correspondent is Najibullah Quraishi. The producer is Jamie Doran. Filmed by Mikel Konate. The senior producer is Molly Knight Raskin. The executive producer for Clover Films is Jamie Doran. "India’s Rape Scandal" is a Quicksilver Media production for GBH/FRONTLINE in association with Channel 4. The correspondent is Ramita Navai. Produced, filmed and directed by Jess Kelly. The producers are Monika Ghosh, Swati Gupta and Riddhi Jha. The executive producer for Quicksilver Media is Eamonn Matthews. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.
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