Two years in Afghanistan under the Taliban Regime
The 15th of April 2021 was the day I said goodbye to my loved ones and to my beloved country thinking that I would return with new knowledge and experiences. To land on my favorite job, help my people with education, to support my family when I return. But little did I know that my dream would remain just a dream.
It was difficult but enjoyable to move away from my homeland and live in a place where I don’t speak the language or understand the culture. In Bishkek, it was challenging to find people who spoke English; however, now that I’ve learned Russian, I can get by with a little bit of poor Russian. There were times when I got lost and ended up at a location with a one-story building. Then, I understood that I had left the city and was now in a village. Thankfully, I would run into folks who would be willing to guide me in the right direction. I found some very lovely locations when I got lost, including lovely ancient homes, my favorite kind of gardens, and other locations for photography.
Aside from the enjoyment I experienced throughout my first few days, I missed my family. I did my best not to let it come through when I spoke to them, but my voice was always trembling. My coordinator at school had informed me that there would be a one-month winter break, and I would be able to travel to see my family, I told my father. Even if a month was less, returning was still beneficial. I started purchasing mementos for my family in July. I purchased my sister a pen and a bracelet, as well as a pair of earrings for my mother.
My homesickness was getting worse by the day, but I tried to console myself by saying that I would return when things changed in August.
One of my regular activities was listening to the news. In August, listening to the news about Afghanistan drove me mad. The Taliban were taking over one or two regions every day. Each Day that passed as provinces came into the Taliban’s hands made me more and more anxious. My family had to flee for their safety, leaving behind everything. I was suffering since I was unable to contact them for days. After many days, I was able to get in touch with them, but they were lying about where they were due to security concerns and because they did not want me to worry about them. Instead, they claimed that they were at home and that everything was OK. How was I supposed to not worry about them and how could anything be OK when the Taliban were gradually taking over the capital, Kabul. Everyone I knew on Facebook and was in a conversation with was talking about how the Taliban were taking over the provinces. I was unable to eat or sleep. How was I supposed to, while my family was in hiding? All of these things were taking place as I was getting ready for the AUCA admission exam. I was unable to study because I could not concentrate.
The Afghan president left the country on August 15th, leaving behind millions of people who had voted for him and chosen him to be their voice. Taliban soldiers landed in Kabul that day. People were in fear. Everyone frantically moved about. Some people were closing their businesses, others were leaving their homes, while others who worked for the government or an NGO changed into a different outfit. Everyone attempted to protect their families and themselves. A video of Afghans racing to the airport, shoving or stepping on one another to board the US military jet, with some even hanging over the front wheels of the aircraft went viral. Two persons were seen falling from the sky in the footage after the jet took off. The shock I felt while watching the video lasted for days. It was a mess. It demonstrated how afraid people are of the Taliban and how many are prepared to leave the nation under any circumstances.
As soon as I learned what had happened, one of my former coworkers called me. His breathing was brisk, his voice trembling. I asked him about his well-being and he asked about my family. I told him that they were in Bamyan. He replied: “Tell your father to leave Bamyan as soon as he can” he retorted. As soon as I heard this, I hung up the phone and called my family immediately. No one picked up. I kept calling, and calling, but no answer. Every time I called and got no answer, I felt as though I were being pulled to the ground. Though I kept assuring myself they would be secure, my thoughts would not go away. I was left with no choice except to pray. After numerous failed attempts, I was finally able to speak with my parents that day. I was very insistent that they leave the country. They declined, remaining in Bamyan.
It was unsafe to travel to Kabul as well. When the Taliban first controlled Afghanistan, they launched rockets into several Kabul neighborhoods while battling with other organizations, killing thousands of civilians. Predictably, the same thing happened this time.
After the 15th of August, everyone rushed towards the airport, trying to find a way to pass the gates and reach the US military to get an allowance to enter the airplane. People were stepping on each other, not looking who was in front or behind, they just kept moving forward. Military personnel were screaming and cursing but no one was listening. Everyone showed them a paper they had. In the provinces, people had run to the mountains with whatever they were wearing. Most people lost their infants while escaping from thirst, hunger, and cold. Because people could not tolerate it, they came back to their homes. In Kabul, going to the airport had become a race.
I did not witness any of this but later in June of 2022, my roommate who was evacuated by AUCA and experienced this trauma, told me how she had to wake up early, how she had to tolerate the harsh sun and the thirst, how children were crying and how everyone was pushing each other. I was crying as I listened to her talk. I was in pain knowing people had to see and experience that incident.
On the 1st of September, 2021 I had orientation at the university. I started my new chapter of life with a heavy heart and a mind filled with the saddening pictures and videos I had watched on social media and the news. Every time I wanted to focus, I thought of my family. The volunteers in the orientation week were trying to make us – the Afghans – engaged in the activities, but how could we engage when we had lost our motherland and when our families and people were in danger? My appetite had gotten weak since the day I got to know that the Taliban were capturing Afghanistan, but in the last days especially the orientation weeks, I ate nothing. After the orientation ended, I fainted. The doctor advised me to eat well but I could not, knowing my family could not eat well. I had forgotten to look after myself.
Every human right is violated in Afghanistan. As the Taliban took over Afghanistan, they fired women who were working in government sectors. They asked women to cover their faces while appearing on TV and refused to have interviews with women. No radio is allowed to broadcast women’s voices on a radio. Slowly they closed universities then schools and any other educational centers. Recently they have closed beauty salons. Women who had protested and raised their voices against the Taliban were arrested. According to a Foreign Policy article, women who have been jailed often describe being raped in groups and having their breasts and genitalia beaten so they can’t show their wounds. They relate stories of family members who were abducted into sex slavery to serve as Taliban “wives” or killed by the “vice and virtue police” for refusing, having their remains afterward discovered by the side of the road or dangling from trees. Women who spoke with Foreign Policy claimed that being identified would be the equivalent of being executed (O’Donnell, 2023).
Minorities were targeted in their sacred places. Hindus were killed in their temples while they were praying. To keep themselves safe, all Hindus from Afghanistan have left the country. Hazaras (a minority ethnicity in Afghanistan) were always targeted by the Taliban whether it was a school, mosque, wedding, hospital, road, or education center. Military personnel and judges were all killed. People fled the country. Some made it to a safe place and are living in difficult situations. They are struggling with finding jobs, learning a new language, and adapting to a new environment. Some are refugees who do not have legal documents to stay there and are at risk of being kicked out of the host country.
Four decades of war had taken away fathers and brothers of Afghan families. In the past twenty years, women who had studied and had created jobs for themselves or other Afghans had become the breadwinner and supporters of their families. But with the fall of Afghanistan in 2021, women for the second time are locked in the four walls of their houses. Finding a loaf of bread has become a challenge. 34 million Afghans live in poverty, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and as a result of the country’s security issue, humanitarian aid operations have drastically decreased (UNDP, 2023).
With the coming of the Taliban, NGOs are closed, and the Taliban have fired previous government employees and instead have hired relatives of the Taliban who do not know about that particular office. Good prices have skyrocketed, and people cannot afford even simple things. To not starve, Afghans started selling their houses. By selling every household item they had, they bought food for their family members. After everything in the house was sold, they sold their kidneys, families even sold their daughters. Poverty has made people even sell their children who are dear to their hearts. Note that during history the ones who suffered the most were women. This applied to the history of Afghanistan. Now, again, women are being victimized. When selling children, only girls are sold, not boys. Girls are considered as less valuable than boys.
Nothing exists in the name of freedom of speech in Afghanistan. The media landscape has undergone a significant transformation since the Taliban came to power, according to a survey by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA). Since August 15th, 231 newspapers have had to close their doors, while more than 6,400 reporters have lost their jobs. Four out of five female journalists no longer work, making them the most severely affected group (RSF, 2021). Due to the restrictions imposed by the Taliban in the media, most journalists cannot report on what is happening in Afghanistan.
The last two years have taken away everything Afghans had achieved in 20 years. Those who were educated and could help with the development of the country have fled. The Talibans say there is security when in reality, everyone is being suffocated by the restrictions implemented by them. According to the Taliban, both peace and security are present. Maybe there is no war between two opposing groups or between the government and a terrorist group, as there was in the past, although as ISIS has blown up some places, there is no security. People are not secure if they have worked with the military, they do not have financial security, speech security, opinion security, or education security. Both peace and security are missing.
As I am writing this, I am remembering how I tried to recover from the shock I received two years ago and how my heart aches every time I see the suffering of the people in Afghanistan. I hope things will become better and people will never have to experience such incidents again.
Shocking footage of Afghans falling from sky after clinging to US plane. YouTube. YouTube, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/shorts/OrJxqEwIcxU.
“Frantic Scenes at Kabul Airport as Afghans Try to Flee Taliban.” Reuters, August 16, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/frantic-scenes-kabul-airport-afghans-try-flee-taliban-2021-08-16/.
“Topshot – Afghans Crowd at the Tarmac of the Kabul Airport on August…” Getty Images. Accessed November 1, 2023. https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/afghans-crowd-at-the-tarmac-of-the-kabul-airport-on-august-news-photo/1234707431.
“Afghan Women Stage Rare Protest to Demand Rights under Taliban: ‘We Are Not Afraid, We Are United.’” CBS News. Accessed November 1, 2023. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/afghanistan-news-women-protest-taliban-demand-rights-education/.
Dominguez, Gabriel. “Afghans Face Starvation as Economic Crisis Worsens and Taliban Struggles.” The Japan Times, March 2, 2022. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/03/02/world/afghanistan-economic-humanitarian-crisis/.
O’Donnell, Lynne. “The Taliban’s Hatred of Women Is Fundamental to Their Hold on Power.” Foreign Policy, 21 June 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/06/21/taliban-afghanistan-women-violence-united-nations/.
RSF. Since the Taliban Takeover, 40% of Afghan Media Have Closed, 80% of Women Journalists Have Lost Their Jobs. 20 Dec. 2021, https://rsf.org/en/taliban-takeover-40-afghan-media-have-closed-80-women-journalists-have-lost-their-jobs.
UNDP. “UNDP Warns That Restrictions on Women’s Rights Will Worsen Economic Catastrophe in Afghanistan.” UNDP, https://www.undp.org/afghanistan/press-releases/undp-warns-restrictions-on-womens-rights-will-worsen-economic-catastrophe-afghanistan.