As It Happens·Q&A

Kabul activist says people are afraid to leave their homes as Taliban patrol the streets

A social activist in Kabul who has spoken out against the Taliban says he fears for his safety and is hunkering down in his home after Taliban forces seized control of Afghanistan's capital city.

'I'm really worried about my own safety and my own family,' says man who has spoken out against the Taliban

Taliban fighters stand outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday. Kabul's streets have been eerily quiet as residents hole up inside, wary of the patrolling armed insurgents.  (Reuters)

Story Transcript

A social activist in Kabul is hunkering down in his home after Taliban forces seized control of Afghanistan's capital city.

He says he fears retribution for having spoken out against the militant organization that has carved a path through the country over the last week, taking control of major cities and provincial capitals ahead of the planned withdrawal of the last U.S. troops at the end of August.

Thousands of people rushed to Kabul's international airport on Monday hoping to escape. Large crowds stormed the tarmac, some so desperate to flee they clung to a military jet as it took off and plunged to their deaths. At least seven people were killed in the chaos, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

But in stark contrast to the scene at the airport, Kabul's streets have been eerily quiet as residents hole up inside, wary of patrolling armed insurgents. 

As It Happens guest host Helen Mann spoke to one such resident — an activist who CBC is not naming for his own safety. Here is part of their conversation. 

How are you holding up?

The situation in Kabul is totally chaotic and we are in a crisis and in a vacuum of power. 

The former president, Ashraf Ghani, fled and left the country in such a chaotic situation, although the Taliban had guaranteed his safety, but he still left the country in such a bad situation.

The bazaars and markets everywhere, all these institutes are closed. We tend to be at home, especially those who have had a background of social activities, being an activist or journalist and other professions like that.

You describe chaos. Many of us have seen the video [and] images of the scene at the airport in Kabul. Is that the kind of thing being reflected in the streets of the city as well?

Absolutely. I think what we all saw in the airport was a little bit more than we have [seen] in the streets and the roads. 

Taliban's presence is … scary for all people, and especially for the women whose rights are at stake. So they are in a very bad situation, and I can say that almost no woman [is leaving] their home.

How worried are you about your own personal safety and that of your family?

I'm really worried about my own safety and my own family, because I've been a social activist for a long time, almost for 10 years. I have been a voice and advocated for the rights of women, for the rights of the children, human rights, freedom of speech. And whenever Taliban violated all these rights, I have been an anti-Taliban voice.

They tend to have a kind of revenge [for] the people, and especially for the activists, and we have seen the evidence of that in many other provinces, such as Kandahar.

Do you, yourself, hope to leave? 

I absolutely think of leaving the country. Unfortunately, I really love my country and I would love to work for it. But under the Taliban, if there is going to be a Taliban regime just like [in the] '90s, I'm definitely thinking to leave, because I would not want my family and my sisters and brothers or my mother to live under such strict restrictions.

WATCH | Chaos erupts at Kabul airport after Taliban takeover:

Panic in Afghanistan prompts surge to Kabul airport

4 months ago
Thousands of people tried to jam their way into Kabul's international airport to escape the country after the Taliban's swift takeover. The French ambassador was also seen boarding a military helicopter to be moved to safety. (Reuters) 0:57

The Taliban have said that they will respect human rights, but they haven't been very specific about what that means. What are your thoughts on what you might expect from them now?

Taliban have actually changed from the '90s. What we have seen in the '90s, they may not be implementing and practising all those practices. 

But there is a big difference between what we have been practising in the last 20 years, and what they are trying to do now. There is a huge gap between their thoughts and the new generation.

Sixty to 65 per cent of the population consists of … people who are below 30 years old. So it's a new generation who has not seen Taliban, who have not [lived] under the Taliban. They have only heard through media, they've seen news through media, and they've only read about the early history. So that's why they are totally devastated. And I don't think for the people of Kabul and other urban areas, Taliban would be ever acceptable to live under.

The British defence minister has said that he foresees a civil war. Do you think that's a possibility?

I would not expect and want a civil war for my country, since we cannot tolerate and afford a civil war in any means, since we have been practising war for the last 20 or 30 years for the political means. 

And, of course, the international community also cannot afford to reach out to that war because, unfortunately, we have been abandoned by the international community. After 20 years of continuous war, they abandoned us and left us in chaos.

PHOTOS | Scenes from Kabul as the Taliban takes over:

Who do you blame for the situation the country finds itself in now?

The war in Afghanistan, Helen, it has a lot of dimensions, from internal dimensions to international and to regional dimensions. So it wouldn't be easy to blame one group for that. 

We have had our own shortcomings inside Afghanistan, for which we can blame Ashraf Ghani.

The Taliban and all the other insurgent groups, they are all proxy groups of many other countries who are living in our neighbourhoods. And for that reason, I would blame the international community. 

But more than all, America. United States being a superpower of the world, when they were thinking of withdrawing from Afghanistan and making a deal with the Taliban, they made a deal with the Taliban in Doha. But the deal could have been much better. 

I think if, had the deal been condition-based, and the conditions were a political settlement coming to accepting meaningful negotiations and coming to reaching an agreement with the government of Afghanistan and also approaching towards regional and international consensus, all these elements would have helped Afghanistan towards a much better and stable nation.

But, unfortunately, America never cared about all these things, which really matter a lot to the people of Afghanistan. The only thing that matters for the Biden administration was their evacuation and their withdrawal, and they have done that.

This is going to have a huge backfire in the future, because unfortunately, America and some of our other international allies, they have given legitimacy to extremists and fanatic groups, which is going to give the courage to … other insurgent groups or extremist groups in other parts of the world. 

What do you expect to happen tomorrow and in the coming days?

[The Taliban] are in Afghanistan. They are controlling Afghanistan. But they also have to accept the real new Afghanistan of 2021. It is a changed country. Most of the youth are educated. Most of the youth would want their rights to be practised, to be respected and to be considered.

The long-term view of Afghanistan that I see as a young person with a bright oversight, would be to have a democratic system where the government is responsible to deliver for the people and respect their rights.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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