One year after the Taliban takeover of Kabul—and later, the whole of Afghanistan—the country’s Christians are in dire straits; following a bungled withdrawal of U.S. forces and personnel in August 2021, they have been forced into hiding, leading lives fraught with peril.
A Monday report—largely ignored by mainstream media—released by advocacy group International Christian Concern reveals the Afghan Christians’ desperate situation. Openly identifying as Christian has been made impossible, forcing Christians to live underground and to operate as a “loosely connected network of house churches.” This way, the report states, the Taliban has worked their hardest to make sure that no life, nor a future, is possible for Christians; for all intents and purposes, they simply do not exist.
According to the report, the Taliban has methods for identifying Christians, such as confiscating suspected Christians’ phones and looking through messages and contacts. Mosques are also monitored so that individuals who do not attend can be identified. In the previous U.S.-supported Afghan regime, Christians experienced relatively more freedom of expression. After the Taliban took over, Christians who failed to erase their phone and social media presence were often discovered and persecuted. Instances of kidnapping, torture (to obtain information about other Christians), ransom demands, and executions have all been reported.
Yet, given this insuperable state of affairs, it is almost impossible for Christians to flee the country. The use of outside help is untenable because they cannot identify themselves as such. Furthermore, since all the Christians in the country are converts from Islam—an act which, according to the Taliban, carries the death penalty—Christians cannot safely avail themselves of any assistance for evacuation.
The only two options are then either to stay or to flee the country illegally. In neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey, prospects are not much better, since apostates are not treated well there either. Iran is especially hazardous, as fleeing Christians run the risk of being sex trafficked. According to ICC Fellow Lina Burkle, the trafficking of Christians is often used “as a weapon of war and domination to undermine and destroy the presence of religious minorities in a specific geographic region.”
Given these dangers, unmarried women, widows, and older people have very little chance of getting out of Afghanistan safely.
The report concludes that Afghanistan’s underground church needs urgent support “as targeted killings and other forms of persecution are rising.” Emphasizing the Taliban’s continued adherence to an “extremist interpretation of Sharia law and Islam,” it wants the international community to “consistently pressure the Taliban to compel behavior change within the regime’s domestic policy.”
According to its mission statement, the International Christian Concern (ICC), founded in 1995, “has served the global persecuted church through a three-pronged approach of advocacy, awareness, and assistance,” while it “exists to bandage the wounds of persecuted Christians and to build the church in the toughest parts of the world.”
International Christian Concern is not the first to report on the state of Afghan Christians after the U.S. exodus. In January this year, Open Doors released its annual Christian persecution ranking. For years, North Korea had the dubious distinction of being ‘top of the class,’ but since the Taliban took power in August 2021, Afghanistan reigns supreme.
As late as May this year, a Taliban spokesman stated that there are “no Christians in Afghanistan” and, even more remarkably, that no Christian minority has ever “been known or registered here.” He then told Voice of America that “there are only Sikh and Hindu religious minorities in Afghanistan that are completely free and safe to practice their religion.”
It is well-known that several Christians in Afghanistan officially registered as such before the Taliban took over; naturally, this means that the current regime could have access to that information, allowing it to subsequently track those registered.
Although there exists no official, let alone more recent, data on Christianity in Afghanistan, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), estimates that 10,000-12,000 Christians could be residing in the country.