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Hid my press card in shoe when Taliban captured Kabul: Female journo recounts final hours before fleeing home country

Nehal now stares at an uncertain future. She says to be able to seek employment and assimilate herself into a new culture, she needs to first learn the language.

Published: 30th August 2021 12:11 PM  |   Last Updated: 30th August 2021 09:09 PM   |  A+A-

Members and supporters of New York's Afghan community hold placards and shout slogans as they attend a march and protest aiming to raise awareness of Afghanistan's refugee crisis. (Photo | AFP)

Members and supporters of New York's Afghan community hold placards and shout slogans as they attend a march and protest aiming to raise awareness of Afghanistan's refugee crisis. (Photo | AFP)

Online Desk

For 25-year-old Nehal*, the term 'Taliban' only ever found mention in her parents' stories from 1996, when the militants assumed power in Afghanistan for the first time.

But all that changed on August 15, as the forces seeking to establish the new Islamic Emirate stormed Kabul. Nehal's experience of life under this regime, albeit a brief one, will continue to haunt her for the foreseeable future.

Now in Italy, she laments the abrupt end to her flourishing career as a journalist in a renowned media organization but she also counts her blessings.

“I had just left office a little past 10 am on that day, and somehow managed to board a cab when the news (of the city's takeover) broke. I had never seen a Talib before but I instinctively hid my press card inside my shoe and requested the taxi driver to act as my mahram (male relative) in case the Taliban apprehended us,” she explained, adding that she couldn’t return home and had to immediately relocate to a safer location as some fighters had already reached her locality.

For the next five days, in a chaotic and bleak Kabul, Nehal’s sole focus was on being able to leave the country, knowing that staying back entailed certain retribution.

Many of her family members had worked with international organisations, something she says would make them a ‘direct target’ of the Taliban.

"They (Taliban) always lie. They said they wouldn't take over Kabul before August 31, but they did. Despite offering a general amnesty and promising to honour women's rights, they went door to door enquiring about female journalists and the organisations they worked for. There were also reports about abduction of women and forced marriages to Taliban fighters in other provinces. Safety was a huge concern," Nehal said.

ALSO READ | Mixed classes banned by Taliban but Afghan women will be allowed to attend university

After one unsuccessful attempt, and witnessing beatings, rampant firing in the air by the Taliban in their desperate bid to stop people from leaving, Nehal and her kin, including her heavily pregnant sister, finally reached the airport in the wee hours of August 20 after evading three Talib checkpoints.

They were, however, able to enter the premises only after 12 hours of waiting.

Nehal’s journalistic instincts compelled her to capture these snaps outside the main gate as she witnessed the Taliban ‘warning’ those wanting to leave of a grim future in the land of kaafirs (non-Muslims).

Taliban monitor Afghans outside Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 20. (Photo | Nehal/special arrangement)

It was important to document this at any cost and expose the Taliban’s hypocrisy, even if it came at grave risk to my life, she said. “Bohot darr lag raha tha.” ('I was very afraid.')

Inside the terminal, she stood in a queue to enter a camp set up by Italy, with just her passport, educational documents, laptop, and phone.

Nehal was mentally bracing to leave behind the only life she ever knew, all in one single set of clothes.

“It was not easy at all. We had a good life in Kabul. We had stable jobs, high salaries and we had also renovated our house in April but now we’ve to start from scratch. We couldn’t even withdraw any money as all banks were closed. The ATM machines were not working,” she said sighing.

Hundreds of Afghans waited outside Kabul airport in hopes of being evacuated from looming barbarity under the Taliban. (Photo | Nehal/special arrangement)

Nehal now stares at an uncertain future. She says to be able to seek employment and assimilate herself into a new culture, she needs to first learn the language.

"I don’t want to leave journalism. Back in Kabul, I faced a lot of opposition because this wasn’t deemed to be a suitable profession for women. If possible, I will educate myself more here. It is a tough time for us, but nothing is impossible," she insists.

Nehal's will to survive stems from her hopes of a prosperous future for her sister's unborn child, far away from the war and uncertainty that has ravaged her homeland. "We're all awaiting the arrival of that new member," she says, looking ahead.

(*The name of the person has been changed to protect her identity amid security concerns)

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