On 10 August, the United States intelligence warned that the Afghanistan government will collapse in 30 to 90 days and the Taliban could take control. Five days later, Kabul fell, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled, and Washington witnessed another 1975 Saigon-like situation.
The nation which had only recently started showing signs of recovery from the destruction of a 20-year-long war returned to the dark times it had left behind.
Pictures and videos emerging from Afghanistan, especially the capital city, are devastating and heartbreaking.
Inside a US transport taking off from Kabul. Extraordinary. pic.twitter.com/rAAeFb2QQb
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) August 16, 2021
The fear of the Taliban and the return of fundamentalist Islam to control the country was most evident at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Thousands were seen jostling for space in the aircrafts that would take them out of the country. Many tried to climb a ladder connected to the side of a passenger boarding bridge to board a parked aircraft.
— Ahmer Khan (@ahmermkhan) August 16, 2021
Perhaps the most bone-chilling was the sight of helpless people hanging on to dear life from the landing gear of a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster II as it took off.
One of the most iconic and symbolic scenes of our generation. US Air Force *excuses* itself through fleeing (and falling) young Afghans at Kabul’s airport, among other insane scenes pic.twitter.com/KNr81vlnyn
— Hassan I. Hassan (@hxhassan) August 16, 2021
Videos that have been widely shared on social media also show two black dots falling from the sky as the aircraft flies away to safety. Those ‘dots’ were two Afghans who hopelessly dangled from the wheels of the military aircraft to escape a lifetime of misery under the repressive Taliban.
Women in peril
At the highest risk in the country are women. Between 1996 and 2001, when the Taliban had complete control over Afghanistan, women were forced to wear burqas and denied education. Stoning and public executions were common for violating the Taliban’s strict codes, including adultery and theft.
Around a month before the Taliban took control of Kabul, the group issued a statement instructing local religious leaders to find girls belonging to a certain age group to be married to its men.
“All imams and mullahs in captured areas should provide the Taliban with a list of girls above 15 and widows under 45 to be married to Taliban fighters,” the letter issued in the name of the Taliban’s Cultural Commission said, according to The Sun.
In areas of their control, the Taliban have already instructed women not to step out of their homes alone. While gaining control of Kandahar and Herat through July and August, the Taliban removed women from their workplaces. Men, too, have been told to follow the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam.
Many Afghan women journalists, judges and healthcare workers have been killed in multiple attacks since the peace talks, backed by the US, began between the Taliban and the Afghan government in 2020.
Women who escaped from Afghanistan and arrived in India were reduced to tears as they narrated their plight.
“Our friends are going to get killed. They [Taliban] are going to kill us. Our women are not going to have any more rights,” said a woman who arrived in Delhi from Kabul on 15 August.
#WATCH | “I can’t believe the world abandoned #Afghanistan. Our friends are going to get killed. They (Taliban) are going to kill us. Our women are not going to have any more rights,” says a woman who arrived in Delhi from Kabul pic.twitter.com/4mLiKFHApG
— ANI (@ANI) August 15, 2021
Afghan women living in India also share the concerns of those fleeing the country.
“Compared to Delhi, there is less freedom in Afghanistan. It is just not about freedom of clothes but also freedom of mind,” a woman who left the country four years ago told NDTV on 16 August.
#WATCH | Delhi | Afghan national Zara breaks down over the current situation in her country, says,”…Never felt so helpless, disappointed, and hopeless … All our 20-year achievements have just been washed away in days…” pic.twitter.com/5LCvR22ONO
— ANI (@ANI) August 16, 2021
Many women have posted videos appealing for help. Among them was Sahraa Karimi, the first woman to be appointed director-general of state-run Afghan Film. She went live on Instagram where she was seen running on a street in Kabul amid the chaos.
An emotional Karimi also posted an appeal on Twitter, saying: “I still cannot believe this happened, who did happen. Please pray for us, I am calling again: Hey ppl of this big world, please do not be silent, they are coming to kill us.[sic.]”
Taliban surrounded Kabul, I were to bank to get some money, they closed and evacuated;
I still cannot believe this happened, who did happen.
Please pray for us, I am calling again:
Hey ppl of the this big world, please do not be silent , they are coming to kill us. pic.twitter.com/wIytLL3ZNu
— Sahraa Karimi/ صحرا كريمي (@sahraakarimi) August 15, 2021
Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad took to Twitter to share another video and wrote: “This is not a clip from a scary movie, This is the reality in Kabul. Last week the city hosted a film festival & now they running away for their lives. Heartbreaking to watch but the world is do nothing.[sic.]”
“Taliban have entered the city and we are running away. Everyone is afraid.”
This is not a clip from a scary movie, This is the reality in Kabul. Last week the city hosted a film festival & now they running away for their lives. Heartbreaking to watch but the world is do nothing pic.twitter.com/90PzxqLPYE
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) August 15, 2021
Alinejad posted multiple videos of Afghan women and girls crying and appealing for international help.
“We don’t count because we’re from Afghanistan. We’ll die slowly in history,” a young girl is seen saying in a video while wiping her tears.
“We don’t count because we’re from Afghanistan. We’ll die slowly in history”
Tears of a hopeless Afghan girl whose future is getting shattered as the Taliban advance in the country.
My heart breaks for women of Afghanistan. The world has failed them. History will write this. pic.twitter.com/i56trtmQtF
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) August 13, 2021
Zarifa Ghafari, the youngest and first female mayor in Afghanistan, has been the target of the Taliban since she came to power in 2018 in the Maidan Wardak province. Her father, General Abdul Wasi Ghafari, was shot dead in 2020.
“I’m sitting here waiting for them to come. There is no one to help me or my family. I’m just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can’t leave my family. And anyway, where would I go?” a fearless Ghafari told i News.
What Joe Biden said
The 46th US President has come under severe criticism for his administration’s handling of the crisis and the intelligence failure of the estimated 90 days’ time of the crisis. Yet, Biden defended his government in a televised address from the White House on 16 August.
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” he said.
“I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. So, what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,” Biden added.
Regarding ensuring peace in Afghanistan by any military force, the US President said, “The events we’re seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan, that is known in history as the graveyard of empires. What’s happening now, could just as easily happened five years ago, or 15 years in the future.”
How to help Afghans
According to the International Organization for Migration, around 4 million people were displaced in Afghanistan in 2020 alone. The figure which stood at 1.2 million in 2016 was half a million in 2013. While the COVID-19 pandemic and the drought worsened the situation, the return of the Taliban hastened the refugee crisis.
Calls to provide refuge to Afghans are growing in the West as well as Asian nations, including India. The need of the hour is to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan and urge others to support these refugees.
Here are a few major organisations trying to help them.
Women for Women International:
An emergency campaign has been launched to help Afghan women. The group is raising US$ 500,000 in donations and says that a generous donor will help match up to the amount by contributing dollar for dollar. The organisation also says that its team in Afghanistan is monitoring the developing situation.
London-based Afghanaid said on its official site that it is currently responding with emergency assistance to families who have lost their homes and livelihoods. It is raising donations to support its cause.
Save the Children:
The group states that nearly 10 million children need help in Afghanistan immediately. According to the group, around 80,000 children have been displaced in the last two months. It also says that though the group is doing all it can to help, some areas are inaccessible.
International Rescue Committee (IRC):
Underlining the grave risk to those who helped the US in Afghanistan, the group says that around 550,000 people, of whom 80 percent are women and children, have been displaced this year. Additionally, 18 million people require humanitarian aid.
Besides donations, the IRC has also requested people to email the White House and urge President Biden to act immediately to ensure an orderly evacuation of Afghans who helped the US besides helping the millions in need of aid. It also requests its followers on social media to spread awareness about the crisis.
International Committee of the Red Cross:
In a Twitter post on 16 August, the ICRC said, “We are committed to supporting the people of #Afghanistan. The humanitarian needs are huge from weeks of heavy fighting. Thousands were injured, while hospitals were damaged or destroyed. We will not reduce our presence. We have worked here for 30 years. We will not stop now.”
We are committed to supporting the people of #Afghanistan.
The humanitarian needs are huge from weeks of heavy fighting.
Thousands were injured, while hospitals were damaged or destroyed.
We will not reduce our presence. We have worked here for 30 years. We will not stop now. pic.twitter.com/tWMYnfxN53
— ICRC Afghanistan (@ICRC_af) August 16, 2021
In a statement on 10 August, the international organisation said that it has treated 4,042 patients wounded by weapons since 1 August in intense fighting in several areas of Afghanistan.
This article first appeared in Lifestyle Asia India.