“Taliban is coming, the president will resign.”
This is what 26-year-old Benafsha Faizi heard when she answered her cellphone around 9 am on August 15. She was on her way to work. She soon told her taxi driver to take her back home. She wanted to be with her family.
The situation was already grim. Taliban forces were advancing quickly in Afghanistan. Jalalabad, the key city, which is the capital of Nangarhar province, fell early on August 14. Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Ghazni, Kandahar and more were already under their control. Citizens were scared, unsure of the future.
Recalling the Taliban’s arrival in Kabul, Faizi said the word spread like wildfire. With helicopters buzzing above their heads, a slew of panicked people overwhelmed shops of essential goods and banks. “It all seemed like a dream. None of us imagined this would happen in 2021 because for us, Taliban was the past, it is unbelievable how they took everything back in just 20 days.,” Faizi said with disbelief still lingering in her voice.
This is the first time since their ouster 20 years ago in the wake of the 9/11 strikes that the Taliban have entered the city. They had first seized the capital in 1996. The takeover came two weeks before the United States was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.
“A few days ago the citizens were pushing President Ashraf Ghani to resign, deal with the Taliban and bring peace. And now he has left the country, saying he didn’t want any ‘bloodshed’. With no president, law or government, there are a lot of things that are happening. It is a crucial time for our country” the 26-year-old said.
Ghani, according to sources, fled the country, hours after Taliban fighters showed up on the outskirts of Kabul and their chiefs demanded transfer of power to avoid bloodshed.
Underlining the Taliban’s commitment to Sharia law, harsh social policies and ruthless delivery of justice during their previous rule (1996-2001), Faizi said they were not ready to return to the past. “ It’s been over 20 years, a lot of changes have happened, we do not want to go back.”
The Kabul resident did not seem convinced when Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid Tuesday said forces would honour women’s rights. “They said it will be within the framework of Islamic laws. I am sure the rules for men and women will be different. However, all we want is the freedom and right Islam gave us. If your heart doesn’t allow it, how can you do it?”
Talking to indianexpress.com over the telephone, Faizi, a former TV anchor for a news channel in Afghanistan, also expressed concern for her job. “I’ve had my struggles. After my education, I got the opportunity to work for a news channel, went to India for post-graduation. It was all a struggle. But all for what now? I am not even sure if the Taliban will let me go to work”.
Faizi is currently working as a spokesperson for the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee.
With uncertainty lingering, the former journalist admitted to contemplating leaving the country. But she has her share of worries. “I think about my family and their future. Moving to another country will not be as easy as it sounds. After all, we’ll be termed, migrants.
Faizi also worries about her rights, freedom and quality of life as a migrant in another country. “How will they see us, how will they receive us? We might not find the quality of life we desire, might not find the job that we want to do. it’s not easy.”
The 26-year-old said she’s already had enough of the year when she lost her mother two months back due to Covid-19. “I lost my mother, now I am losing my homeland,” she added.
Faizi expresses her feelings upon seeing her country’s flag being pulled down and replaced with the Taliban’s.” It might be a piece of cloth for some people, but we’ve seen it as our pride, our flag for over 20 years, the feeling was something else”.
Faizi, who has been home for three days now, watching the Taliban take over her country, watching provinces and warlords give up without a fight, has a lot of questions for the world. “Why can’t we live in peace? Don’t we deserve the peace and security other nations provide their citizens? Will Kabul be the same? Will my country get its flag back?.
Despite all the questions, she has one thing clear in her mind. She does not want to be safe without her rights, freedom and achievements intact.
According to Faizi, for the last 26 years, she has lived a content life in her country, enjoying the freedom it gave her. While she is cared for, she is confident, perhaps a bit hopeful too? “We want peace. Will do anything for peace, but not if it means compromising on my rights and freedom”.