Mid-August, Afghanistan began afresh a violent new chapter with the return of the Taliban. Thousands of Afghans have now fled their country fearing for their lives, reprisals and revenge attacks even as the Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, offered amnesty to Afghans, including government officials, in the group’s first press conference.
But many of those who could not make their escape and are stuck in the country do not trust the words of the Taliban, as reports of revenge attacks come from the ground. Ahmed Khan (not his real name) returned to Kabul in April last year to begin a promising career as a high-ranking official in the former government. That dream now lies in tatters. Since the Taliban takeover, he has been hopping from one secret location to another, on the constant move to protect his whereabouts because he does not trust the Taliban of keeping its word. From an undisclosed location in the Afghan capital, Khan spoke to Outlook Magazine's Simi Charakarti about his plight and the despondency in Kabul, even as he awaits word on an emergency visa from India.
You have been a former government official and are currently in hiding. Why is that when the Taliban are reportedly saying their detractors have nothing to fear and promising them amnesty?
A lot of ex-government officials are hiding in undisclosed locations in Kabul because they are afraid of the Taliban. And they have to be afraid of the Taliban because in the last 20 years they stood against this group and this group was attacking people and civilians and the government of Afghanistan. So how is it possible to just trust them this easily? Taliban has not gained the trust of the nation yet and they are in the examination stage. But that trust cannot be gained so easily by this group because as I said for 20 years they have stood against the government its officials.
The Taliban has been telling Afghans they have nothing to fear. But we don't just want their words we want to see it in action. They are promising security and empowerment of women, the sharing of power with different ethnic groups in Afghanistan, creating an inclusive government – these are all matters that need to be seen in action to believe.
What is the mood in Kabul now? We saw immense tragic scenes around the airport but there are still so many people who could not leave?
A lot of pain, fear and panic is going on around people because a lot of people have lost their jobs and they don’t have the basic means to provide for their children. And they are hoping to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Panic and fear are widespread across the city, nobody is roaming outside after 8’o clock at night. It’s just chaos here and panic is very high. So many people still got stuck in Kabul. They cannot go out because airports are locked. Some people’s lives are in serious danger. But they are still waiting for their visas and their documentation, and for the activation of the airports. Nobody could believe that it would happen so soon, but it has happened, and that is the reality. Those people who got evacuated were working with the US government or with the European Union or part of other international communities. The ones who got the chance left and many others nationals are still stuck. They are hoping that the airport gets activated and they get evacuated from Kabul. A lot of changes have come to the centre, the capital of the country and to the other cities. One of the major problems is that all the transactions and the bank systems are interrupted. Everything is in chaos. Everybody is unemployed and at home. Nobody can work outside.
Did you ever think that Kabul will fall so fast?
It was very difficult to believe. I would have predicted a year or at least six months but
My prediction was a year or at least six months under attacks and the pressures of the Taliban group. Noone would have believed that Kabul would fall. But unfortunately, it has fallen.
On the day of the Kabul airport attack, more than 100 Afghans were killed in that attack. Where were you? What happened?
The day the attack happened at Kabul airport was one of the darkest days of my life. I could see people just standing outside the airport and hoping to leave the country and get evacuated. The attacks and the people that got killed, so many children were among them. Everybody who has a heart and could call themselves ‘human’ could cry after seeing the scene which was created there. That day I was at home and I was just shocked after seeing the attack.
ISIS -K has claimed responsibility for the attack. Amid the Taliban takeover of the country, did you know about this group’s existence in your country?
Based on facts, figures and official reports, there are ample active groups across the border of Afghanistan engaging in terrorist activities. ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Kabul airport. It is shocking because, in the past two decades, there was never even a mention of ISIS-K in Afghanistan. And now, they are targeting civilians leaving Afghanistan. That is shocking.
Who are the Taliban, according to you? What do you think they want?
According to me, the Taliban are an informal and extremist Islamic group. They were apparently fighting against the US, claiming that they are fighting against the invasion of Afghanistan. They believe they are fighting to take power from foreigners and make them leave Afghanistan. They don’t believe in a republic of Afghanistan, they don’t believe in people’s vote, they are just claiming that this country will be an Islamic emirate. They don’t have formalized hierarchy. As I said, if you compare it with a government, they are an unformalized group. They don’t believe in women working in government and social media and all. That is clear for everyone.
You have a long and fond connection with India. What is the help that you seek from the Indian government?
In the earlier government, there was a very good relationship between Afghanistan and India. Afghans and Indians still share that relationship. And I have heard the news about the emergency online visa which is provided by the Indian government for Afghans who want t leave. I was one of the applicants and applied for the visa on the 18th of August. I am still waiting for it but the process is very slow. I hope they are working at it and paving the way for the evacuation of the people stuck on this side people.
What would you like to tell the international community?
The international community – their duty is – what can I say? Because formally knowing Taliban is one scenario and commitments that apparently Taliban are talking about are another. This is not the first time the Taliban is ruling Afghanistan. If the same ideology of the 1990s is again being implemented in the nation and the international community keeps mum, it will not be accepted or forgotten by the people of Afghanistan. Because the international community and our neighbouring countries should all focus on a humanistic approach to helping Afghans. Yes, politics is inevitable but we should think about the humanistic aspect. They need to put the promises that the Taliban are making to the test. That's the only way that they can rule the country.
What now for you? Is there anything else that you would like to say?
What worries me the most about the situation in Afghanistan is that the people are still in danger here. The borders are closed, our neighbouring countries are not allowing us inside and people's lives are in danger. That is the saddest situation
This is what is hurting most Afghans. That our country with such a big history and such a great culture, with such a great brotherhood, and so many ethnic groups, is facing such a problem in the region. No one is able to leave since the whole system is jammed. That is the worst experience that I have had. Not only me but a lot of Afghan youngsters will face problems. The unemployment rate is very high, and the whole system is interrupted, disturbed. We created this system in the last 20 years, it’s very difficult to create another system dissimilarly. So, a lot of challenges are on the way and critical and dark days can be expected ahead. I hope all the Afghan youngsters survive this situation.