Writer: Liaqat Saei
Caution: In the first and second parts, I wrote about my wife’s efforts, challenges, and career in various government departments. In this article, as a final part, I intend to reflect on the impact of the fall of the regime on our life and the problems that arose from it.
Displacement and homelessness period
Two days before the fall of the Republic, when I was speaking with my colleagues in the Ministry of Refugees’ yard, we almost all believed that the Taliban could not take control of Kabul for at least one year later. We analyzed after the fall of the remote provinces, the military forces would withhold to Kabul, and a strong military concentration would shape in Kabul. On the other hand, President Ghani in those days had appointed General Sami Sadat as Kabul Public Security Officer, while the police chief, the head of security, and the commanders of the 101 Asmayee Zone were still in their positions. This was indicating that the President had a special plan to protect Kabul. On the morning of August 14, when the Taliban had not yet entered Kabul, I was getting ready to go to the office when Khaterah said with concern: “Today the situation is not good at all and anything is possible. You have a governmental car. Let us not go to the office today. She was right and I could not leave her alone at home in that tense situation. So we did not go to the office that day, but we were both anxiously checking the news sites at all times, we were bored. My friends and colleagues had the same situation. Their only concern was to save their lives and the lives of their families. Everyone was wondering whether they would survive or not with the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul.
The next day, on August 15, 2021, at the same time as the Taliban invaded Kabul and the news of the escape of the President and his entourage spread, the hopes of the people of Kabul were dashed, and everyone believed that there were no more two ways. One; They must leave the country immediately by any means possible, and second; Hide in places that do not attract the attention of Taliban forces to leave the country at the right time. The difference between the two was only at the time, but both eventually led to displacement and leaving the country. Khaterah, who still remembers the bitter memories and dark days of the previous Taliban regime, was terrified by the fall of the regime again. She lived in Pole_Khomri and Mazar_e_Sharif, two provinces where the Taliban committed the most crimes in the first period. In addition to those bitter memories, another issue that deeply concerned us and could have become a serious and potential problem for us was our positions in government and our work experience with foreign and civic institutions, that the Taliban were strongly opposed to their activities. The main activities that we were proud of until that day, but since then, which have become a problem for us, were the following:
We were both high-ranking government officials, and almost everyone knew us in the area where we lived. We were afraid of the informants living among the people, and they could cause us any trouble.
Before getting a government job, I had experience working in the media and civic and social activities in Balkh province, and I was still a familiar face and media person.
Khaterah, in the form of her social activities, had created the first wall of kindness in Kabul, which was widely reported in the media.
She had experience working with TORAN, an organization funded by the IRI (Republican Institute of America) whose mission is to institutionalize democratic values through training programs to learn about the electoral process, voter rights, and how to better identify a candidate as well as methods of monitoring the election process.
Khaterah also previously worked with the Swiss HELVETAS Foundation, which has been implementing projects to empower women economically, create jobs for women, and promote vocational training in remote parts of Afghanistan.
In addition, Khaterah voluntarily assumed the responsibility of the economic deputy of the central zone of the Promot project besides her main duties.
This project was one of the largest projects funded by USAID to strengthen women’s economics and employment and was implemented under the supervision of First Lady Rula Ghani.
Given these activities and the Taliban’s deep enmity with such institutions and individuals, we did not consider it advisable to stay and wait for the situation to improve. Although like many others, we emailed and described the situation to every address and authority that worked to evacuate people at risk, unfortunately, none of those authorities did the necessary cooperation. After disappointing with the help of the mentioned institutions; We had no choice but to go to the nearest neighboring countries.
Now that we had decided to go to the neighboring countries, one of our other problems was the large volume of our work documents, each of which had been obtained over the years with a lot of effort. But that day they put us in danger. When we saw that no institution contacted us for evacuation. It was of no use to us to keep all those documents, so we removed any documents, duty cards, or photographs and documents that could somehow relate us to the above-mentioned duties and activities. The next day, with a completely different appearance and cover, with a fake identity, we went to Kandahar then Pakistan.
Khaterah was wearing a burqa on the Kabul-Kandahar road. She cried and grief along the way whenever she saw how the Taliban soldiers used government vehicles with pride, but I could not sympathize with her because I was afraid that I might get attention and someone notices our ethnicity. During one day and night, we did not even get out of the car to eat, there were Taliban everywhere and even those who were not Taliban members had worn the Taliban style. We arrived in Kandahar before sunrise. I already knew that there was a famous Jaghori hotel in Kandahar, so I spoke Pashto to a taxi driver standing by the road and told him to take us there. When we settled in the hotel room, Khaterah did not even dare to take off her burqa and take a breath, although my mental state was very bad, because of the consolation of my wife’s heart, I did not show up and told her about hope and good days ahead.
Early morning, we decided to move to Spin Boldak. We, who both had Pakistan’s one-year visas, and our border crossing documents were complete, though we could easily enter Pakistan. When we reached Boldak, it was so crowded. We met people who were all walking toward the Pakistani border. Since we had a visa, we thought the line of people containing visas might be separate, so I spent a long time looking for that line. When I could not find it myself, I asked one of those who were in the same crowd about the line of visa holders, he said with a bitter laugh:” Dear patriot; there is no difference between visa holders and non-visa holders. (We are all on the same line, follow this line).” We had no choice, so like thousands of others, stood in the crowd and walked step by step. The air was very hot, and the dastar and blankets I had wrapped around myself multiplied the heat. At least I could breathe fresh air. But Khaterah who was wearing a burqa and hidden work documents under it was about to faint several times from the heat. That day we crossed the border with great difficulty and with strange adventures, and finally, in the evening we reached the house of one of our relatives in Quetta. After a few days in a relatives’ house, with the little money we brought with us, we rented a house in Quetta and provided the most basic living facilities. Actually, we were not living, we were just breathing and regretting.
Less than a month and a half after our settlement in Quetta, rumors of the arrest of former Afghan government officials in Pakistan were circulating until one day we learned of several people we knew who had just arrived in Pakistan were arrested by the Pakistan intelligence service and taken to an unknown location, so we made sure the rumors were true. The situation was getting worse every day, so much so that we did not even dare to leave the house to buy necessities, and if we needed anything, we would call a friend of ours who lived there and he would buy it for us and bring it home.
One night, as we were talking about the good memories of the past and laughing at our present status, Khaterah said at once and in all seriousness:” Let’s return to Afghanistan, we have the same situation in both countries. We live in secret and have no freedom, but at least we are not immigrants in Afghanistan and we are not called scapers.”
I myself, who was very tired of that situation and had seen the Taliban general amnesty order through the media, was so pleased with this offer. So we packed up and returned to our homeland the next day. A homeland that was a graveyard of our good dreams and memories. When we came back to Afghanistan, we did not inform our closest friends, and for fear that someone might see and know us, we did not even go to our previous house, and instead, with a completely different appearance, we knocked on the door of a close relative’s house. We received a very warm welcome. The next day, when I asked our host about the situation in Kabul and how the Taliban treated former government employees, he told me that I should be very careful and even go to a remote province where no one knows me. Going to remote provinces was not suitable for us because no one would have dared to cover the issue if we were identified and arrested in the provinces, while in Kabul some media outlets were still operating half-dead. So we rented a shelter in the suburb of Kabul, in a poor area, and lived there for a while, hoping that amnesty would improve the situation. But as spring was coming and the foundations of the Taliban government grow stronger; The situation for senior government officials was deteriorating and there was less hope for a better future for Afghanistan. On the other hand, International organizations refused to hire us because we were government employees in the past and they thought it may cause problems. Realizing the bitter truth that the amnesty decree was a lie, we accepted in despair that Afghanistan is no longer a safe place for us, and finally, with little savings, after much effort, got a Kenyan visa. We brought all our belongings and packed them in two suitcases and we left for the land of exile and an unknown future with a heart full of regret.
Translated by: Ali Rezaei