The morning air is fresh and the silence on the streets of Kabul became unsettling on the Monday the reinstatement of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan became a reality, two decades after the US invasion that toppled the fundamentalist Taliban regime. That tranquility contrasts with the chaos that ensued at the city’s airport as thousands of Afghans desperately tried to board a plane to take them out of the country — an effort that, in most cases, was in vain. In the rest of the city, an uneasy calm reigns: there was no fighting, as was feared, but confusion and growing fear monopolize the conversations between the residents.
“I feel like I’ve lost everything,” laments Marzia Panahi, owner of the Namad art gallery. “When I woke up this morning, I was very depressed, I wanted to disappear, but I thought about my family and that gave me encouragement.” Panahi says that many of his entrepreneurial friends feel the same way. She created her gallery a year ago and planned to open an exhibition next month, but her dreams have now faded. Not only did she have to temporarily close the establishment, given the uncertainty about what will happen and who is in charge now, but her university also closed, which prevents her from completing the last two months of her degree in International Relations. “We heard gunfire on Sunday morning and I thought we needed to get out of here, I wanted to cry… I don’t want to leave my gallery”, he says.
“Young people wanted to change this country, we had many dreams and plans for the future, for us and for Afghanistan,” he continues. If he stays in Kabul, Panahi believes he will be in danger, but leaving it all behind and remaking his life in an unknown place like Pakistan, his chosen destination for now, was not an easy decision either. “I don’t know how long I would have to hide if I stayed. I worked as a journalist and for the Government, the Taliban have many reasons to kill me”, he says, referring to the assassination campaign that for months had these workers as targets.
“We will start again, even if it means we have to go abroad first and then return. My plan is to go to Pakistan first and then hopefully pursue my studies in another country. I’m going to strengthen myself and then I’ll come back here”, says the gallery owner.
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A thick fog of confusion and fear descended over Kabul on Monday, as its inhabitants anticipated what the future of their war-torn country would look like after the transition of power from the pro-Western government to the Taliban. The vast majority of stores remained closed because their owners were afraid to leave: they preferred to hide in the safety of their homes.
Deeba, mother of a 10-year-old boy, has been tormented for days with the prospect of losing her freedom with the arrival of the Taliban. “We have been living a free life, we will not have that life if the Taliban come to power. I live with my mother, my sister and my son, there are no men in the house. Under the Taliban government, women cannot leave their home without a male partner, so what do we do?” she says, crying.
Rohina Haroon-Walizada and her husband Walid managed to book a flight to France on Saturday, the day before the capital fell to fundamentalists. Rohina’s parents were in the same situation just under 30 years ago, when they made the great sacrifice of emigrating with their family to Pakistan in 1994, at a time when the country was mired in a brutal civil war that brought the Taliban to power. in 1996. His aim is, like his parents’, to ensure that their children have opportunities and access to education.
“A generation later, history repeats itself,” says Rohina. “All this sacrifice was in vain”, he laments. “That’s why we are so sad. My father suffered the same way we do now. so many years have passed… and nothing has changed.”
Athlete Nabi (pseudonym) believes that the progress of the last 20 years will completely collapse. That there will be nothing left of what was done. He and his girlfriend, whom he doesn’t want to be identified with, desperately tried to get the travel documents so they could escape to a safe place. “It’s impossible, because everything is closed. Our plan is to go to Pakistan and then to Turkey, because getting a Turkish visa there now costs only $8,000 per person. From Pakistan it’s easier,” he says.
“The situation is terrible. The Taliban is everywhere. Many feel that we’ve just lost all the advances we’ve made over the past 20 years, especially for women. Now we just have to sit and wait.”
Both are athletes, and she received threats from fundamentalists for dedicating herself to the sport, says Nabi. “It is terrifying to see the Taliban in Kabul. I’ve seen them many times in other parts of the country, and I’ve seen what they’re capable of. Last year my friends and I were on a bus in Ghazni. The Taliban detained the vehicle and arrested a person whom they accused of working for the government. They let us go and then they shot that person,” he said.
“The situation changes every minute. We have no idea of our future. If I stay here, maybe I won’t be able to continue with the sport, which is my passion, or do my job, or interact with foreigners. I need to leave”, he concludes.
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