'Hard to do anything but pray': Afghans living in Sask. reflect on Taliban takeover

Many Afghans living in Saskatchewan say they feel helpless while loved ones back home in Afghanistan work to survive as the Taliban regains control of the country.

Militants regained control of Afghanistan Sunday, leaving many worried about loved ones in the country

Saskatoon residents Sangin Niazi and Sultan Ali Sadat both fled from Afghanistan to Canada as refugees in 1998, after the Taliban took over the country. (Omayra Issa/CBC News)

As the world watches the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan, Sultan Ali Sadat says he feels numb. That's because he's lived through it before.

Sadat remembers what it was like coming to Canada as a refugee the last time militants took over Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

But this time he's monitoring the turmoil on social media from the safety of his Saskatoon home as relatives offer text message updates of the rush to prepare.

"They tried to get money from the banks but the banks were all closed — there was no taxi, there was no transportation. People left their cars in the middle of the street before the Taliban came," Sadat told CBC's Saskatoon Morning on Monday.

"It's hard to do anything but pray for them."

The Taliban have been swept across much of Afghanistan, recapturing large areas as the last of U.S. troops withdraw from that country. Host Leisha Grebinski speaks to Afghans now in Saskatoon, Sultan Ali and Sangin Naizi, about the impact events back home are having on their lives. 11:49

The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. It ended a two-decade campaign that saw Canada, the U.S. and their allies try to transform Afghanistan.

The Canadian government — along with more than 60 others around the world — signed a statement later that night, saying those who want to leave Afghanistan must be allowed to, and airports and border crossings need to remain open.

"Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility — and accountability — for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order," the statement read.

On Monday, thousands of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul's international airport — some so desperate to escape the insurgency they held onto an American military jet. At least seven people died, U.S. officials said. 

'Back to square one'

As she watches the Taliban regime set in back home in Afghanistan, Sangin Niazi is overwhelmed with emotion. 

The Saskatoon mother said she's surprised how quickly militants were able to take over, triggering the international community to leave the country.

"I'm numb, disappointed, devastated and upset to see that after 20 years it's happening again," Niazi said.

"Every sacrifice that the Canadian and American armed forces made, the millions of Afghans who devastatingly lost their loved ones … everything they've done in the past 20 years has been pushed back to square one," Sadat added.

Saskatoon's Sangin Niazi said she and her family are keeping in touch with relatives back home in Afghanistan as the Taliban takes control of the country. (Submitted by Sangin Niazi)

Despite the Taliban claiming it doesn't want to hurt Afghan civilians, Niazi said many don't trust its government.

Before fleeing the country in 1998, Niazi said she watched as, under its rule, schools were closed to girls and women weren't allowed to go to work.

"I have no hope that girls will have freedom and be happy again [in Afghanistan] so I'm worried about them," she said.

"We were thinking that this country would get better — that people would at least have freedom and a peaceful life, but I don't have hope on the Taliban."


Jessie Anton is a Regina-based journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. She’s been sharing stories from across the province on television, radio and online since 2016, initially getting her start in the rural weekly newspaper world. Email her:

With files from the Associated Press and CBC’s Saskatoon Morning