Taliban 'spokesman' calls female BBC News presenter live on air

Chilling moment Taliban ‘spokesman’ calls female BBC News presenter live on air to insist people in Afghanistan were ‘safe’ and faced ‘no revenge’

  • BBC news anchor Yalda Hakim received call from Taliban spokesman live on air
  • She put Suhail Shaheen on speakerphone during BBC World show on Sunday
  • Mr Shaheen told people of Afghanistan that ‘their properties, their lives are safe’
  • He added that the Taliban were the ‘servants of the people and of this country’ 

This is the chilling moment a Taliban leader called up a BBC news presenter live on air and claimed people in Afghanistan were ‘safe’ and there would be ‘no revenge’.

BBC World News anchor Yalda Hakim received the call from the terrorist group’s spokesman Suhail Shaheen on her mobile phone during her show on Sunday.

She quickly put the phone next to a guest microphone so viewers could hear Mr Shaheen claim victory as the Taliban recaptured Kabul after 20 years in exile.

He said: ‘We assure the people of Afghanistan particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe, there will be no revenge on anyone.’

Mr Shaheen described the Taliban as the ‘servants of the people and of this country’ and said the group’s leaders were ‘awaiting a peaceful transfer of power’. 

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen (pictured in March 2021) spoke to BBC News on Sunday

US soldiers stand guard along a perimeter area at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan yesterday

Ms Hakim, who joined the BBC in 2012, fled her native Afghanistan as a child before being brought up in Sydney where she went to school then studied journalism.

The extraordinary 30-minute interview, which has been widely shared, began with Ms Hakim saying: ‘Mr Shaheen, can you hear me?’ Mr Shaheen replied, saying: ‘Yes.’

BBC interviews the Taliban: Yalda Hakim talks to Suhail Shaheen

Here is a transcript of the first few minutes of Yalda Hakim’s interview with the Taliban’s Suhail Shaheen on BBC World News on Sunday:  

  • Yalda Hakim: ‘Mr Shaheen, can you hear me?’
  • Suhail Shaheen: ‘Yes.’
  • YH: ‘Er, OK, we’ve just got you on the phone, so we’re just going to see if we can put you on speaker. Can our viewers hear that? Can you speak sir, can you just introduce him?’
  • SS: ‘Yes, I’m Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, member of the negotiations team of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and spokesman of the Taliban.’
  • YH: ‘Is that fine? Can our viewers hear that? OK. Mr Shaeen, there is a lot of chaos and confusion in Kabul at the moment. Can you just help us understand what the Taliban plan to do at present, and next?’
  • SS: ‘Yes. There should not be any confusion in Kabul, we assure the people of Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe, there will be no revenge on anyone. We are the servants of the people and of this country. Our leadership have instructed our forces to remain at the gate of the Kabul, not to enter the city. We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power.’
  • YH: ‘When you say peaceful transfer of power, what do you mean? What is actually likely to happen?’
  • SS: ‘It means that the city and the power should be handed over to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and then in future we will have an Afghan inclusive Islamic Government in which all Afghans will have participation.’
  • YH: ‘When you say participation, do you mean one vote, one person? What do you mean by participation’
  • SS: ‘No, participation means that we will have in the Government other Afghans. They will be part – we will have them in the future Government.’
  • YH: ‘But it will all fall under the umbrella of the Government of the Taliban, the Islamic Emirate as you describe it?’
  • SS: ‘Yes, there will be, as I said, an Afghan inclusive Islamic government.’

Working out how she was going to get him on air, Ms Haki, said: ‘OK, we’ve just got you on the phone, so we’re just going to see if we can put you on speaker. Can our viewers hear that? Can you speak sir, can you just introduce him?’

Mr Shaheen, who is based in Qatar, said: ‘Yes, I’m Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, member of the negotiations team of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and spokesman of the Taliban.’

Ms Hakim continued: ‘Is that fine? Can our viewers hear that? OK. Mr Shaeen, there is a lot of chaos and confusion in Kabul at the moment. Can you just help us understand what the Taliban plan to do at present, and next?’

And he replied: ‘Yes. There should not be any confusion in Kabul, we assure the people of Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe, there will be no revenge on anyone.

‘We are the servants of the people and of this country. Our leadership have instructed our forces to remain at the gate of the Kabul, not to enter the city. We are awaiting a peaceful transfer of power.’

Ms Hakim said: ‘When you say peaceful transfer of power, what do you mean? What is actually likely to happen?’

And Mr Shaeen said: ‘It means that the city and the power should be handed over to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and then in future we will have an Afghan inclusive Islamic Government in which all Afghans will have participation.’

Continuing to press him, Ms Hakim said: ‘When you say participation, do you mean one vote, one person? What do you mean by participation’

And Mr Shaheen: ‘No, participation means that we will have in the Government other Afghans. They will be part – we will have them in the future Government.’

Ms Hakim asked him: ‘But it will all fall under the umbrella of the Government of the Taliban, the Islamic Emirate as you describe it?’

And Mr Shaheen said: ‘Yes, there will be, as I said, an Afghan inclusive Islamic government.’

Ms Hakim then asked: ‘Will there be a delegation going to Doha tomorrow to speak with Mullah Baradar, as there are a lot of rumours that he has arrived in Kabul, and the current president Ashraf Ghani has handed power over to him?’

But Mr Shaheen replied: ‘Mullah Baradar is here in Doha, he has not gone to Kabul, these are just rumours.’

Mr Shaheen also revealed Islamic government under Sharia law was the aim of the resurgent Taliban. 

He also refused to rule out the former regime’s former brutal repression methods, such as public executions and removal of limbs. 

‘I can’t say right now, that’s up to the judges in the courts and the laws,’ he said. ‘The judges will be appointed according to the law of the future government.’ 

The BBC’s Yalda Hakim fled her native Afghanistan as a child and was brought up in Sydney

Taliban fighters take control of the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday

The BBC’s Ms Hakim fled her native Afghanistan as a child before being brought up in Sydney 

Praise for Ms Hakim’s handling of the Taliban spokesman flowed quickly on social media.

Public face of the Taliban: ‘Surprisingly courteous’ former newspaper editor is ‘spokesman’ for regime 

Muhammad Suhail Shaheen is presented as the public face of the Taliban and has been carrying out interviews in recent days to defend the terrorist group’s surge to power in Afghanistan.

He was educated at the International Islamic University in Islamabad and Kabul University, and is the former editor of the English-language, state-owned Kabul Times.

Mr Shaheen was also Deputy Ambassador at the Afghan Embassy in Pakistan but is now a spokesman for the Taliban based in Qatar.

He described himself on BBC World News on Sunday as a ‘member of the negotiations team of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and spokesman of the Taliban’. 

Former BBC India correspondent Andrew Whitehead, who interviewed Mr Shaheen after the 9/11 attacks, said he was ‘everything that you don’t expect a Taliban representative to be – calm, courteous, composed, and willing to answer questions and enter into conversation rather than simply ram home a message’.

Mr Shaheen has had a Twitter account since February 2019 and now has more than 340,000 followers. 

Fellow broadcaster Aasmah Mir called her ‘an absolute boss’ for the ‘mindblowing’ interview.

Reporter David Shukman said she showed ‘phenomenal skill’ and the BBC’s Australian correspondent Shaimaa Khalil said the interview was ‘must watch’.

Ms Hakim attended Sydney’s Macarthur Girls High School in Parramatta before attending Macleay College.

She then worked for SBS before landing her role with the BBC in 2012.

In 2015 she told ABC’s The Drum how her family used people smugglers in order to leave Afghanistan and seek asylum in Australia.

‘I see myself as a woman who’s Australian, who works for an international organisation but I’m Australian, I’m a product of this society,’ she said.

Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will unveil a ‘bespoke’ resettlement scheme for vulnerable Afghans as efforts to get British nationals and other support staff back to the UK continue.

No 10 said Mr Johnson would give more information about the refugee scheme in the coming days, with the policy anticipated to be focused on helping women and girls.

In Afghanistan, British armed forces numbers are to be bolstered to 900, with a further 200 announced by the Ministry of Defence yesterday.

They will be involved in the push to bring UK nationals home and secure the safety of selected Afghans, an effort that has intensified since the Taliban took Kabul following their lightning offensive which has shocked the West.

The decision to send in additional troops follows frantic scenes at Kabul airport that left seven people dead, including some who fell from a departing US military transport jet.

However, in a defiant statement, US President Joe Biden said he stood ‘squarely behind’ the decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, vowing not to let the war enter a ‘third decade’.

Despite Allied intentions to withdraw armed forces entirely by next month, both the US and the UK are sending in further troops to assist with evacuation efforts, a move that armed forces minister James Heappey said would make controlling Kabul airport easier.

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