A Taliban spokesman told Israel’s Kan news on Tuesday that the Islamist militia group will respect the rights of minorities in Afghanistan, including those of the country’s last Jew. It did not appear that the spokesman realized he was talking to an Israeli TV station, however.
The Taliban, a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim insurgency in Afghanistan, completed its conquest of the country this week, as the United States made a hastily executed withdrawal from the capital, Kabul, that brought chaotic scenes as thousands of people scrambled to board planes out of the country.
Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen, currently in Qatar, has been on a media blitz over the past few days, giving English-language interviews to international media, in an effort to reassure the world that the return of Taliban rule to Afghanistan will not be the nightmare scenario that many in the West expect under the group’s hardline interpretation of Islamic law.
Roi Kais, the reporter from Kan state TV who spoke by phone with Shaheen, identified the name of the station, but did not specify that it was an Israeli broadcaster.
“We identified ourselves as the Kan news channel, but we didn’t stress that we are an Israeli media outlet,” the reporter acknowledged in the item.
“Which TV are you?” Shaheen asked. “Kan news. Kan news,” came the reply.
The reporter asked Shaheen about the future for minorities under the Taliban, among them Zebulon Simantov, believed to be the last Jew left in the country.
“I don’t know the last Jew,” Shaheen said.
“We don’t harm minorities. There are Sikhs and Hindus in the country, and they have their religious freedom.”
“People don’t need to fear and run away,” Shaheen said, insisting that the planned implementation of Sharia law won’t bring more deaths, but rather “more peace and stability.”
“I don’t understand why people are running away, nothing will happen here,” he said. “We want to make sure there will be peace, not like in the past.”
Shaheen said that the past two decades of US presence in the country, during which Washington tried to establish a democratic political system, was an “occupation that the Afghan people didn’t want.”
But he said the country’s new rulers are keen to cooperate with the international community to rebuild the country, including with the US.
“We want to help with building anew the country and want there to be freedom,” Shaheen said. “We hope the Americans will come here and have good relations with us.”
In April, Simantov, 61, said he would leave Afghanistan for Israel after this year’s High Holidays season, which begins in September.
But Simontov was quoted Tuesday saying he would not leave the country: “I will not leave my home,” he was said to have told WION TV.
His wife, a Jew from Tajikistan, and their two daughters, have lived in Israel since 1998. But Simantov has stayed in his native Afghanistan to tend to its lone synagogue, located in the capital Kabul, through decades of violence and political turmoil, including a period of Taliban rule and the country’s war with the US.
“I managed to protect the synagogue of Kabul like a lion of Jews here,” he once said to Arab News.
Simantov, a carpet and jewelry seller, was born in the Afghan city of Herat, which decades ago was home to hundreds of Jews. He eventually moved to Kabul, but fled to Tajikistan in 1992 before returning to the capital city.
Without him around, the synagogue would likely close, ending an era of Jewish life in the country that scholars believe began at least 2,000 years ago.
Kan also asked Shaheen about the congratulations that the Taliban had received from the Palestinian terror group Hamas on its success in taking control of Afghanistan.
Shaheen said that though he is grateful for the sentiment, there are no ties between the two groups.
“If Hamas congratulated us on our freedom and the end of the occupation that is great,” he said. “But we have not cooperated with Hamas in any area. We fought against occupation only in Afghanistan.”
Hamas praised the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan on Monday, calling it “a victory that came as the culmination of more than 20 years of struggle.”
In a statement, the terror group said it “congratulates the Afghani Muslim nation for the downfall of the American occupation in all Afghani territory.”