I’M sitting in my home in Hastings, a peaceful East Sussex seaside town, my inbox full of pleas for help from Afghanistan – which has now become hell on Earth.
Female university professors. Magazine editors. Doctors. Judges. High profile people in Afghanistan. Everyone knew these women were going to be a target when the Taliban took over.Desperate scenes at Kabul international airport today showed crowds attempting to board one of the few flights out of Afghanistan[/caption] Nadene Ghouri trained journalists in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001[/caption]
But they’re coming to people like me for help. Where are our governments in helping these women?
As a BBC radio reporter, I first went out to Afghanistan in 2001. The British and US governments threw funding at the Afghan media as a way of winning hearts and minds.
I trained journalists for five years, showing them how to report on their new elections, their new democracy.
Many of the women I trained and other friends I made in Afghanistan are still there.
‘Scared to my bones’
I was there for the first election after the Taliban fell. There were queues of thousands of people who came out to vote.
There was one young girl I particularly remember. Her eyes were shining.
She said to me: “I think today that the stars have come from the sky and are in my eyes.”
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Now that girl’s hopes for a better future for her country are in ruins.
And instead of training journalists in reporting on a democracy, I’m now part of a loosely organised international coalition of people trying to help Afghan reporters and others escape the tyranny of the Taliban.
Our Whatsapp group started just four days ago – now we seem to have become the main organising committee. It’s insane.
Today I’ve received messages saying the Taliban are using mosque loudspeakers to announce: “Anyone who worked with the Americans are killable and their women are allowed to be married to the Mujahideen [those engaged in jihad]”.
I also spoke with a group of female university students in their 20s who are hiding, fearing for their lives.
One of them said: “I’m scared to my bones”. They sent me audio of gunfire they heard near their hideout during the night.
Taliban scouring social media to kill
The Taliban are now going from house to house hunting down their opponents and those they accuse of “collaborating” with foreigners.
They are scouring social media to find people who were friends with internationals or who worked for a foreign aid agencies.
The Taliban are now going from house to house hunting down their opponentsNadene Ghouri
I told the university girls they had to take their accounts down immediately, and one of them replied: “But all my photos are on it”. Just like any 20-year-old anywhere in the world would.
They girls are even burning all their university work for their own safety.
One tearfully asked how she could set fire to all of her achievements. Another replied: “Hopefully you will achieve other things – but for now, you have to save your life.”
I’ve been able to refer their names onto a list of possible evacuees.
Currently human rights groups are collating lists of those most at risk and passing them onto our governments who are promising to organise evacuations.
But the planned numbers are a drop in the ocean.
I know in my heart the students probably won’t be regarded as high enough risk to be rescued.
‘We are coming to find you’
Another person I’m currently trying to help is a female TV news anchor.
A few days ago she was presenting the news – now she’s hiding with her children.
The threat of violence didn’t begin today. The Taliban has been threatening and murdering journalists, human rights activists, and opposition politicians for years.
Right now many of these people tell us they have been receiving phone calls from laughing Taliban on their mobiles asking: “Are you scared? We are coming to find you.”
The TV anchor, who I can’t name for security reasons, has been targeted for months. We tried to get money to her over the weekend, but the banks closed on Saturday.
We then tried to get her out of Kabul on a commercial flight by buying her a ticket. But now flights have been grounded, so she wasn’t able to leave.
When she returned home, armed Talibs came to her house looking for her.
Hopefully you will achieve other things – but for now, you have to save your lifeAfghan student
She was able to flee and temporarily stay with a neighbour – but that neighbour decided protecting her was putting his own family at risk, so she had to leave.
That’s how the Taliban operate: a climate of fear that pits neighbours, even families, against each other through threats or reprisal.
I haven’t heard from her in over 24 hours.
While women are at the most risk of losing the freedoms they’ve had over the last 20 years, men are in immediate danger too.
I’m helping a young male musician who’s currently moving from house to house. He’s on a Taliban wanted list.
He went to another safehouse during the night – but we know the Taliban are looking for him. It’s probably just a matter of time before they catch him.
Schoolgirls beaten and teachers caged
In some provinces, it’s unclear who’s in control. Now it’s mob rule, and Taliban supporters think they can act with impunity.
They can murder people. They can beat people. They can do whatever they want and no one will punish them.
Already in the city of Herat, female university students were turned back at the gates and told to go home.
I’m seeing pictures of little schoolgirls this morning going to school in Kabul, which broke my heart. I don’t know if they’ll be allowed to go to school again.
When the Taliban was in power previously, before 2001, girls were not allowed to go to school.
There were lots of very brave women running underground girls’ schools out of basements.
But those schools were frequently raided and all the girls would be beaten, no matter how little they were, and their teachers would be jailed.
They can do whatever they want and no one will punish themNadene Ghouri
We’re currently seeing a glossy facade from the Taliban with English-speaking spokespeople waging a PR battle saying the group has become more moderate and that everyone is going to be safe.
But even if the leadership says that, they’re not in control of their mobs on the ground. And the idea that they’re not going to provide a safe haven for terrorists groups is just nonsense.
Part of the reason the Taliban were able to take the territory they have is that they’ve been fighting alongside remnants of the old al-Qaeda.
We’ve also now got Isis fighting alongside the Taliban. They’ve had moral differences in the past – the Taliban don’t agree with taking “Jihadi brides”, for example, because they see women as the property of other men, and it would be disrespectful to that woman’s owner.
Not that they give a s**t about the women themselves. But they’re joining forces.
I was speaking to a retired British Major General yesterday. He thinks we’ve just handed Isis the caliphate that we stopped them building in Iraq.
‘Moral crime’ cruelty
The reason the overwhelming majority of peaceful, ordinary Afghans supported the foreign occupation for the last 20 years was because we sold them the lie that we were there to support their human rights.
We trained these women as journalists. We gave them jobs in our NGOs. We took nice photographs of them doing sporting activities in aid-funded projects and we put them all over the Internet because we told them it was safe.
We lied to them. Now they’re all in danger.
I was so proud to be British while I was embedded with the British Army in Afghanistan. The British troops, I know, believed in the cause of fighting for Afghan human rights.
Now I think the families of those soldiers were sold a lie too. I know a lot of senior British military officers also feel betrayed.
When I arrived in Kabul for the first time, just after the Taliban fell, the streets were still littered with the remnants of the battles that had been fought just weeks before.
Burned out tanks and destroyed buildings lined the shell-gouged roads.
But there was an atmosphere of absolute joy. Most Afghans I met then were delighted the Taliban had gone.
Life before had been incredibly difficult for people. No movies, no music, no dancing. Even wedding receptions were banned.
Prison was like a dungeon – with babies stuck inside
I’ll always remember one of the first stories I did when I arrived in Afghanistan.
It was in a women’s prison, which was really more like a dungeon.
The jail was full of women who’d been imprisoned by the Taliban for so-called “moral crimes”.
Their preferred method of beating was with a caneNadene Ghouri
That could be anything from not dressing modestly to speaking out against the Taliban, or being abandoned by your husband – even if that wasn’t your fault.
Sometimes the children of jailed women would be left at home to fend for themselves. Other kids ended up in the prison with their mothers.
It was awful. And there were babies in there with their mothers.
Women were also subjected to even more violent punishment at the hands of the Taliban.
They’d beat any woman who didn’t wear the burqa. Women weren’t allowed to leave their house without a male companion.
So many men had died during the war that lots of women didn’t have a male companion because they were widowed.
But even if those widows left the house to try and get food for their children, they would be arrested by the Taliban and beaten.
Their preferred method of beating was with a cane, or thrashing victims on the soles of their bare feet.
There was no mercy shown. But it wasn’t just dangerous for women.
Any man who spoke out against the Taliban would also be at risk, but even lesser transgressions could lead to a beating.
If your beard was deemed to be too short, for example, men would be assaulted.
It was about as medieval and barbarous as you can possibly imagine.
Colossal, shameful mistake
Now I haven’t slept for three days. I’m scrambling to try and help get people to safety before this nightmare is unleashed on the country once again.
Everyone is in a state of panic, shock and grief.
Countries across the EU need to step up and expand their visa programmes to allow more people in.
We’ve been told we can refer names for evacuation flights, but we don’t know when (or even if) they’re going to happen.
And as we’ve got people trapped in basements hiding, how are they going to get to an evacuation flight without a military escort?
We urgently need to send more troops to help those people get out. We have to show them we didn’t sell them a complete lie.
I actively trained young women journalists and put them on the radio. Today, I can’t help feeling incalculable guilt and responsibility for what might happen to them.
Tens of thousands of desperate refugees will be trying to reach our shoresNadene Ghouri
To leave these people behind now the Taliban has taken over will be one of the most shameful stains in the history of the West.
We are going to be paying the price for this, I fear, for a long time to come. We will see an increase in Islamic terrorism. We are going to be less safe.
Tens of thousands of desperate refugees will be trying to reach our shores.
We didn’t have to stay in Afghanistan forever. But withdrawing overnight without a political settlement in place was a mistake of colossal proportions.
But most importantly, there is a whole generation of Afghans in the last 20 years who were raised in freedom, the youth who were represented the future of a modern Afghanistan.
They are the ones we have betrayed. And they will never trust us again.
Nadene Ghouri is an award-winning journalist and co-author of The Favoured Daughter, One Woman’s Fight To Lead Afghanistan Into The Future, by Fawzia KoofiPeople have been wounded as thousands attempt to flee life under the Taliban[/caption] A man pulls a girl up over the razor-wire-topped wall to get into the airport today[/caption] Shocking footage showed people desperately trying to board flights out of Afghanistan[/caption] Taliban soldiers in Kabul today with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades[/caption] Taliban fighters in Kabul – Nadene fears mob rule will mean the group cannot control violence on the streets[/caption]
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