KABUL — An Australian teacher who was kidnapped in Kabul by Taliban forces in 2016, then held hostage for three years before being released in an exchange deal with U.S. officials, returned here Friday and announced that he planned to “celebrate” the upcoming one-year anniversary of Taliban rule.
Australian ex-hostage returns to Kabul to ‘celebrate’ Taliban rule
Weeks converted to Islam during more than three years in Taliban captivity and changed his name to Baar Muad Jibra’il after returning home. During his many months as a prisoner he “saw these people in a light that nobody else has been able to do,” he said, adding that he has long “stood behind” the Taliban and continues to do so.
Video: Timothy Weeks, an Australian citizen who was taken hostage in Kabul and later released as part of an exchange, returned to Afghanistan today. He said attending the ceremonies celebrating the Islamic Emirate’s first anniversary is one of the goals of his trip. pic.twitter.com/LtStXJ3aME
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He recently announced to Australian press his plan to return for the anniversary of Taliban rule, saying he now considers himself “an Afghan and a Pashtun,” the ethnic group of the Taliban, and that he wants to help the Afghan people through a new charity in Australia. The country is facing a severe humanitarian crisis, with many Afghans unable to find enough food, according to international aid groups.
“I ask the world to understand the Taliban and give them time,” Weeks said in a recent interview with Turkish media.
But Weeks’ visit and supportive comments toward the Taliban drew immediate criticism from international human rights groups, many of which have recently denounced the regime for suppressing women’s rights and refusing to let teenaged girls attend school.
Zaki Haidari, a refugee rights advocate at Amnesty International in Australia, told broadcaster SBS that Weeks’ visit to Kabul was “outrageous” and “brings a lot of anger and frustration” to the large community of Afghan refugees and exiles.
“What is there to celebrate?” Haidari said Saturday. “The fact they are violating women’s rights, that they are not allowing girls to go to school, and leaving millions of people to poverty and hunger, including children?”
Weeks has described himself as spiritually transformed by his experiences in captivity. Despite being beaten, deprived of food, kept in solitary confinement and becoming severely ill, he has said in press interviews that he came to “adore” the Afghan people, and also told an interviewer that he admired the Taliban fighters for their tenacity.
Weeks was one of two faculty members kidnapped in August 2016 from a van near the American University in Afghanistan, a large private institution in Kabul where he had been teaching English for several months. The other was an American, Kevin King, 13 years older than Weeks, who had taught English there for two years.
Soon after they were abducted, U.S. Navy SEALs unsuccessfully attempted to rescue the captives in a secret raid in rural eastern Afghanistan. In early 2017, both men appeared in an emotional 13-minute video filmed by their captors, looking weak and haggard. Both pleaded for the U.S. government to negotiate their release in exchange for Taliban prisoners being held in U.S. military custody.
But it was not until two years later that the men were released in an exchange for three senior Taliban members. One of them was Anas Haqqani, now a top member of the current Taliban leadership in Kabul. In 2020, Weeks met Haqqani in Qatar, where they exchanged notes and found something in common: they had both written poetry in captivity.
In contrast to Weeks, King has kept a low profile since his release and has been reported to suffer ongoing health problems. He is now nearing 70.
Weeks’ public praise for the Taliban, just days before the first anniversary of its takeover of the country, stands in sharp contrast to the concerns many international groups and Western governments have expressed recently about the Kabul regime’s tightening repression of women, as well as other serious problems.
“The last year, since the Taliban takeover on August 15, 2021, has been an absolute disaster for human rights in Afghanistan,” Heather Barr, an associate director at Human Rights Watch in New York, wrote in a recent report.
She said Afghans have been facing “two different extremely severe crises at the same time” – a humanitarian crisis driven by the cutoff of foreign aid and funds, and an “attack on human rights, with extrajudicial killings, attacks on media freedom and very notably a rollback of most of the rights of women and girls.”
Taliban officials have struggled to organize a government and provide services to 39 million people after years of fighting a guerrilla war.
They have also faced internal tensions between moderate officials who want to modernize the country while observing Islamic laws, and more doctrinaire, senior religious leaders who reject Western society and seek to restore the harsh Islamist way of life that characterized their first period in power, between 1996 and 2001.