KABUL - A mother of three from a remote area of northwestern Afghanistan remembers the day the head of a local Islamic State group came to her village, demanding money he said her husband had promised.
“I told him we didn’t have any money but that if we found any we would send it to him. But he didn’t accept that and said I had to be married to one of his people and leave my husband and go with them,” Zarifa said.
“When I refused, the people he had with him took my children to another room and he took a gun and said if I didn’t go with him he would kill me and take my house. And he did everything he could to me.”
Even by the bloody standards of the Afghan war, Islamic State has gained an unmatched reputation for brutality, routinely beheading opponents or forcing them to sit on explosives.
But while forced marriages and rape have been among the most notable features of Islamic State rule in Iraq and Syria they have been much less widely reported in Afghanistan.
While there have been reports in Nangarhar, the eastern province where Islamic State first appeared in 2014 and in Zabul in the south, deep taboos that can make it impossible for women to report sexual abuse make it hard to know its scale.
The group has a growing presence in Zarifa’s province of Jawzjan, on the border with Turkmenistan, exploiting smuggling routes and attracting both foreign fighters as well as unemployed locals and fighting both US-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban.
For Zarifa, the attack forced her to leave her home in the Darzab district of south Jawzjan and seek shelter in the provincial capital of Sheberghan.
“My husband was a farmer and now I can’t face my husband and my neighbors and so, despite the danger, I left,” she said.