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Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Opinion | I Worked With the U.S. in Afghanistan. I Thought I Would Be Saved. - The New York Times

The Airlifts Have Stopped, and the Taliban Are Looking for Me

Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

By Rasheed

"The writer is an Afghan who worked on U.S.-government-funded projects in Afghanistan for nearly three years. He and his family members remain in Afghanistan, and he is identified only by an abbreviated form of his first name out of concern for his safety.

When the last U.S. plane left Afghanistan, celebratory Taliban gunfire rang out through the night in Kabul. The sound told me that all hope was lost.

I am 38 years old; I remember life under the Taliban, the shock of that time. One day when I was young, we were visiting Kabul and staying with family. A young relative suggested we go to the sports stadium to see if we could catch a match.

A big crowd was waiting but there were no sports. A woman was taken out of a car in the middle of the stadium; she was covered by a big scarf. A man with a microphone described her crime. Then I heard the shots. The Taliban killed the woman. I was so scared, I was unable to sleep for many nights. I have never forgotten.

I was completely against the Taliban ideology and what they stood for. So the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 felt like the beginning of a new life. It gave me hope that there would be good days to come for my country. That’s the main reason I sought work with American organizations in Afghanistan.

As the U.S. withdrawal became imminent, I thought my service alongside the Americans meant I would be saved when they left. The last U.S. plane has departed, and the airport is in the hands of the Taliban. But I will not stop trying to find a way out of Afghanistan; the lives of myself, my family and so many others are in so much jeopardy.

When the Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15, fear overwhelmed the city. News that the United States would evacuate Afghan allies sent thousands of people rushing to the Kabul airport. I rushed to get home to my family.

My former employers submitted the paperwork for me to be evacuated. I waited and hoped to be put on a flight list. The call never came. I heard stories of people with no documents or improper documents making it onto planes. The erratic and mismanaged evacuation was disappointing and heartbreaking for me and many other Afghans who served in the toughest conditions with their U.S. partners.

Today people like me who worked with or on behalf of the U.S. government are in even greater danger. Many already have been threatened, beaten or even killed because of service to the United States. We know we will face bad days now that the U.S. withdrawal is complete.

When it was clear that Kabul had fallen, after checking on my family I fled my house and sought shelter with a neighbor because I feared the Taliban would come looking for me. And they did. That week, fighters came to my home.

A relative told me later by phone that she told the Taliban fighters who knocked on the door she was just a cleaner, that the family had left a week earlier. They came back an hour later, and my relative gave the same explanation. The fighters told her to pass along a message: They were looking for me and I needed to get in touch. If I didn’t, what happened next would be my own fault.

That encounter only reinforced my fear that I face imminent danger. I also come from a military family; my father was in the army and fought the Taliban. Working for transparency and democracy was my way of demonstrating the patriotism and morality my father taught me.

Glyn Kirk/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

I worked on USAID-funded projects to support and observe Afghanistan’s electoral process for nearly three years. I am now employed by an international nonprofit. My former employer submitted the paperwork for my special immigrant visa and then for the P-2 visa program, for Afghans who worked for American contractors, nonprofits and news outlets. A U.S. lawmaker wrote a letter urging that I be granted immediate access to the airport and put on a flight.

But that never happened. Now the airlifts have stopped.

With the Taliban takeover, Afghans are now in the same situation we were 20 years ago. All the work we did — and all the money, equipment and training paid for by the United States — was a waste.

Despite the many challenges that faced Afghanistan during the U.S. occupation, we had a normal life. We were optimistic about our children’s futures. Now, we see no future. My daughters most likely will not be able to complete their education. We will be forced to live under the Taliban’s ideological and cultural constraints, which we do not believe in.

We no longer feel safe and secure. The only hope we had was to leave and start a new life. That dream has become a nightmare. There is no life anymore; people are just breathing.

The Taliban have said that they will respect human rights and the rights of women, but we do not expect that to last. Their current tone is probably due to international pressure and the desire for international recognition of their rule. Once they achieve that, I believe they will switch their tune and their true ideology will emerge.

Already our daily lives have been disrupted. Food prices have surged and our currency has lost value. It’s no longer possible to get a passport, and without a passport, it will be impossible for many Afghans to move to third countries, as we’re now required, to await special humanitarian visas.

Afghanistan is no longer the country I loved. There is no guarantee that the Taliban will honor the assurances they gave the United States to allow eligible Afghans to leave the country.

Still, I will try any possible way to get me and my family out, even if it means losing my life in the process. I will do so for my children’s future."

Opinion | I Worked With the U.S. in Afghanistan. I Thought I Would Be Saved. - The New York Times

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