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‘I feel like a prisoner’: what will happen to those of us in Kabul?

Afghanistan updates

The writer is an award-winning social affairs journalist 

I have not left my home in almost 60 hours. How can I, if what is happening in my country is real? Before this, the terror of the Taliban regime existed only in my family’s stories and on the pages of books. Now they are practically our government. Just like that, my future is being rewritten.

On Sunday I was in the office where I work as a journalist specialising in social affairs, particularly women’s issues, as word spread that the Taliban had reached Kabul, sending my colleagues and I into panic mode. We quickly closed down the social media accounts so that if our office was raided, our personal data would be protected. 

As we fled to the relative safety of our homes, Kabul’s partially blocked roads were reminiscent of a doomsday scene and I had to walk several kilometres. The streets were full of well-dressed, modern women rushing to do the same. Women’s shoes — abandoned in the urgency — littered the roads.

So here I sit, feeling like a prisoner. I do not know what the Taliban will do to me if they identify me as a female journalist who has written hundreds of reports against them.

We know that after seizing other provinces, the Taliban began searching the homes and seizing the documents of government employees, former jihadi commanders, security forces and journalists.

I’ve already hidden my own documents. I’ve destroyed any photos that could prove I am a journalist. And I’ve buried the medal that I received from former president Ashraf Ghani after being named journalist of the year.

The only way I knew what was happening outside is from following developments on Facebook and Twitter. For a while, the Afghan TV news channel was only broadcasting songs, the Koran, or religious poems. Popular channels, such as Tolo News and Ariana News, were simply repeating transmissions. 

Social media has shown me the depth of the tragedy taking place in Kabul: the video footage of the airport where people flocked in the hope of leaving the country, the reports of several individuals being killed. I’ve been told that a friend who works for an American media outlet has been airlifted with their family, but I don’t know where they were taken. 

The Taliban has now started house raids in Kabul, including the homes of journalists. Taliban forces have also carried out searches in the Tolo News office in Wazir Akbar Khan. Its founder, Saad Mohseni, has since shared on Twitter that employees are all safe. 

It is for us women that the situation is the most unfortunate. Over text my friends are asking me what they should do. The Taliban have said that we can go to work if we wear the Islamic hijab, a full-body veil. Yet after capturing the city of Herat in western Afghanistan, they said the university remained open for business, then prevented female students and female professors from entering the campus. 

It is not yet clear what will happen to the schools and universities in Kabul, as it is currently a one-week summer vacation. No one knows what the Taliban will decide now. No one knows what the Taliban will decide after a week.

Even if they do not kill women like me who have worked for many years and raised our voices, if we are forced to stay at home and lose our independence, we are dead anyway.

I call on the international community, the US and Nato, and all countries that can work in these critical circumstances to prevent Afghan women from going back to the dark era of my family stories.

We women of Afghanistan believe the Taliban will never change and under their control we will suffer. What they say and what they do have never been the same. 

Video: How the 20-year war changed Afghanistan | FT Film

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