Taliban targets families of exiles: interpreter reveals violent intimidation

British Army interpreter tells of threats to his relatives forcing them to flee

The in-laws of British Army interpreter Mohammad Ajmal had to flee their home in the dead of night after threatening visits by Taliban fighters. Photo: Mohammad Ajmal
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The Taliban have begun a violent intimidation campaign against families of people who worked for international military forces, The National has learnt.

Relatives whose family members worked as interpreters or in other roles for British or American troops have been threatened with violence or worse since the militant group took over Afghanistan.

In one harrowing account shared by a former interpreter, the in-laws of the Afghan exile had to flee their home in the dead of night after threatening visits by Taliban fighters.

Mohammad Ajmal spent nine years with British troops during the heavy fighting in Helmand province, acting as an interpreter after leaving the Afghan army aged 18.

In 2018 he was removed from Afghanistan by the British after Taliban extremists visited his home village in Paktia province telling relatives that they would “chop off my head” if he returned.

Under the Afghan relocation scheme, he was flown to Coventry, UK, along with his wife and two young children.

But at the end of last week the Taliban twice visited his father-in-law’s home near the town of Gardez, Paktia, and violently confronted him in front of his wife and four children.

“On the first visit the Taliban told him that they were looking for me and for my father-in-law to call me and tell me to return to Afghanistan otherwise he would not see his kids again,” Mr Ajmal, 31, told The National.

“They then returned a few days later and said ‘we’ve given you a warning and you didn't listen to us’. They grabbed my father-in-law by the collar and threw his mobile phone on the floor. They shouted ‘we're going to take your daughter and your sons with us because you didn't listen! If we take them then you won’t see them again’.”

The family began pleading not to take the children and some neighbours arrived. They intervened telling the Taliban that Mr Yousaf had no way of getting his son-in-law to return to Afghanistan from Britain.

The Taliban were persuaded to leave and immediately Mr Ajmal was briefed of the events by terrified family. “I told them that straightaway what they needed to do was to move the location, right now,” Mr Ajmal said.

The family hurriedly packed and a little after 2am made their way on foot to find transport.

Glancing over their shoulders in fear that the Taliban would be following them, they took a taxi to Wardak province, close to Kabul. But by then the capital city had descended into chaos and acting on the advice of contacts, they made their way to the Pakistan border crossing at Spin Boldak.

Arriving late in the afternoon and without passports, Mr Yousaf was only able to get his wife and children across the border as it closed at 4pm and the police told him there was not enough time for him to cross. He nervously waited for another day before he too was able to cross after making a small payment.

The Yousaf family is now living altogether in a single room at a house in the Pakistan city of Karachi but still cannot dismiss the fear of Taliban retaliation.

“They are scared because the Taliban have strong relationships in Pakistan and communications everywhere but at least they are safer now,” said Ajmal. “I just want to get them to safety in the UK but I have heard nothing from the British government on what we should do. This has been a very difficult time for all of us.”

Ajmal said he had other interpreter friends whose extended family had been threatened and were now either in hiding in Afghanistan or refugees in Pakistan.

“We are all desperate to be reunited because it seems that the Taliban are intent on seeking revenge on families who had members who worked for foreign forces.”

British policy still remains unclear on whether extended family members such as in-laws will be allowed into the UK, although the government has suggested it might be something considered.

The Home Office said the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme remained "open for anyone who is eligible".

"We know that more needs to be done to support those who are at risk and not eligible for ARAP, which is why we are urgently working to establish our new, bespoke scheme to provide protection for Afghan citizens identified most at risk, and are insisting that safe passage continues for those who want to leave,” a Home Office spokesman said. The department was unable to comment on individual cases.

Updated: September 01, 2021, 7:51 AM