Afghan-Australians criticise Australian academic for ‘praising’ his former Taliban captors in Kabul

An Australian academic who was held hostage by the Taliban for three years before being released in a prisoner exchange deal has been criticised by members of the Australian-Afghan community after he said he would be celebrating the regime’s year in power on his return to Kabul.
Timothy Weeks, a former English teacher, was captured by the Taliban along with a colleague from the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in August 2016.

He and colleague Kevin King were released in 2019 in exchange for three senior commanders of the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction known for staging guerilla-style attacks on US-led NATO forces and Afghanistan soldiers.

Since his release, Mr Weeks converted to Islam and has praised the Taliban over the last few years.
Overnight, videos of Mr Weeks dressed in traditional Afghan attire touching down at Kabul airport have emerged.
In one clip, Mr Weeks, who is also known by his Muslim name Jibrael Umar, says he is there to celebrate the Taliban’s first anniversary back in power.

“I first came to Afghanistan six years ago, as you know, in 2016, and I came here with a dream to learn about Afghanistan, and now I’m coming again to complete my journey,” he said.

‘Warm-heartedly welcomed’

“I’m also coming to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, who I have stood behind.
“I spent three and a half years with Taliban soldiers, and I saw these people in a light that nobody else has been able to do,” he said.
The Taliban said he was “warm-heartedly welcomed”.
“The Afghan nation is known for its magnificent hospitality tradition. Mr Jibrael deserves this hospitality the most for his unwavering love for this country and its people,” spokesman Khalid Zadran said in a tweet.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it is aware of reports of the visit, and urged Australians anywhere in the world not to engage with the Taliban as it may have consequences under the nation’s sanctions law.

DFAT also reminded people that its travel advice for Afghanistan is ‘Do Not Travel’ due to the extremely dangerous security situation and the very high threat of terrorist attack.

But the visit has raised concerns here in Australia from members of the Afghan community.

Amnesty International Australia Refugee Rights Campaigner Zaki Haidari described the visit as “outrageous” and said the footage was “disturbing to watch”.

‘What is there to celebrate?’

“To see the footage of him brings a lot of anger and frustration to the community,” he told SBS News.
“There’s nothing to celebrate of the Taliban regime.
“What is there to celebrate? 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?”

Ahmad Shuja Jamal, a former director-general for international relations and regional cooperation at the Afghan National Security Council, said the public should be mindful of others who had been given similar treatment by the Taliban.

“I think we all need to think of the other people who have been given a hero’s welcome or VIP treatment by the Taliban,” he told SBS News.
“One of them is Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the other is the attacker that killed Australian soldiers – Hekmatullah – and among them are also thousands of Taliban who have their hands red by the blood of Afghans.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a US drone strike last month in a Kabul residential neighbourhood.
The rogue Afghan soldier Hekmatullah killed three Australian soldiers in a 2012 green-on-blue attack in Uruzgan province.

“I hope he sees that duality of the life that he and his family get to choose in Australia and freely and versus the life imposed (by the Taliban), that he supports, for the Afghan people in Afghanistan,” Mr Jamal said.

Who is Timothy Weeks?

Mr Weeks travelled to Afghanistan in July 2016 to work as an English teacher at the American University in Kabul.
It was not long after that he was kidnapped at gunpoint on the way home from evening classes.
In an interview with SBS Pashto in 2020, Mr Weeks described his treatment at the hands of the Taliban.

“Sometimes I felt like it was ‘good cop, bad cop’ because [one commander] would beat me, and then the other ones would come in and they were so kind and compassionate towards me,” he said.

In 2017, the Taliban released a video of him and King pleading for their release, and later that year, Mr Weeks appeared in another video calling for the Australian government to negotiate for his release.
“I don’t want to die here alone, not here,” he cries. “Please, please help secure my release, so that we can go free from this place.”
He was freed in November 2019 during peace talks between the Taliban and the US.
In 2020, Mr Weeks travelled to the Middle East to witness the signing of the peace deal between the two sides.
He was pictured in a tweet by Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujaheed in traditional Afghan attire, sitting with Anas Haqqani, the high-ranking Taliban commander who was released from Afghan captivity as part of the same prisoner exchange that Mr Weeks was involved in.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been contacted for comment.

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