‘NGOs and Western countries sold us out to the Taliban,’ say the Afghans left behind

A day after the last American evacuation flight took off from Kabul airport on August 30, thousands of vulnerable Afghans still hope to board a Western flight out of Afghanistan. Many of those left behind are in danger from the Taliban, having worked with foreign countries or been openly critical of the Islamist group since 2001. They told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that they fear for their lives and still hope to leave the country at any cost.

Taliban flags in hand, a crowd celebrates the US army's departure from Afghanistan. Photo taken in Kandahar on August 31, 2021.
Taliban flags in hand, a crowd celebrates the US army's departure from Afghanistan. Photo taken in Kandahar on August 31, 2021. © Twitter

Many Afghans hoped to get on one of the last evacuation flights and waited in front of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul until the last minute. Now, the Taliban controls the airport, as well as virtually all Afghan territory. For those who were unable to leave, a new period of anxiety has begun. 

‘Dozens of Taliban came to our house’

Saeed (not his real name), a journalist who lived and worked in another a provincial city, fled to Kabul with his family. 

When the Taliban occupied our city we moved to a secret location because we knew they’d come after us. We were deeply afraid. Even more so when our neighbours told us dozens of Taliban came to our house. They asked our neighbours, “What has he been doing since we took over?”

I told my neighbours: “I’ve done nothing wrong. All my life I’ve been a journalist.” 

Before the Americans left we were afraid, but at least we had some hope. We knew there were people out there thinking about us, trying to help us. We thought we’d be able to leave this hell, but no. All of our hopes faded away last night [August 30]. The Taliban took control of Kabul airport. There are no more evacuation missions and we are left behind. Even if commercial flights resume, I don’t dare go to Kabul airport. The Taliban are looking for me: am I really going to go to the airport and show them my passport and say "Hello, here I am"?

I have no hope, but I’ll do anything to save my family’s life. If I have to, I’ll try to get across one of the land borders with a smuggler.

A video posted on Twitter on August 31, 2021 shows a “symbolic funeral” of US and NATO forces held in Khost, Afghanistan.

‘They came to her house and shot her’

Sara (not her real name) is a women's rights activist living in eastern Afghanistan. Like the others we interviewed for this article, we are disguising her identity for security reasons.  

Something has changed since the first days of the Taliban takeover, and it’s painful to admit. Before the Taliban took over, women’s rights activists in Afghanistan had a feeling of sisterhood, trying to support and help each other. 

But now family and friends, and even activists, have lost trust in each other. We have seen some former NGO staffers start collaborating with the Taliban. We’re afraid they’re giving up our names and addresses The main reason is that people want to save their own lives and the lives of their families. They don’t care about others. They’re even ready to lie.

I have been reaching out to my bosses in the NGO where I worked until two weeks ago. They haven’t answered. I’ve heard that they left Afghanistan with their immediate families on evacuation missions – which is normal – but also with their extended families, their mother, father and cousins, who were ordinary citizens who faced no danger. Activists like us were left behind.

Three days ago, the Taliban – or ISK, we don’t know for sure – assassinated one of my colleagues. She was a women’s rights activist and nurse.

They came to her house and shot her in the forehead. They kidnapped her husband, and their kids were left alone. Their families refuse to talk about the incident because they are afraid the kidnappers will kill the husband too. I have had nightmares since her assassination. There’s no way out anymore. Either I have to risk my life by coming out of hiding and trying to get to a land border. Or I stay here until the Taliban forget about me, and I don’t know when that will be.

A video posted on Twitter on August 31, 2021 shows Taliban leaders, including Anas Haqqani, at the Kabul airport.

‘We’re changing houses every three or four days’

Others talk about their feelings of being left behind by the Western evacuation effort, like Hebat (not his real name), who worked as a human rights activist in a city in northern Afghanistan:

I’m devastated. I feel like we are in a trap. I’m terrified but I can’t show it, so my son feels safe. We’re in hiding with relatives. We’re changing houses every three or four days. But how long can we keep that up? How can I earn money for my family? How long can I tell my son he has to stay inside and can’t go out to play?

I used to work for NGOs, Afghan and international ones. They kept calling me and asking for this or that. Most of the time I worked voluntarily, but I was happy to do it. I was doing it for my people and my country. But now I feel naive.

I’ve been asking the NGOs for help since my city fell to the Taliban – to help save my life and those of my family. But it’s like they’ve disappeared. None of them has answered my SOS messages. Not one. I’ll find a way to get out of Afghanistan eventually. I’m sure I will. But I’ll never forget the NGOs who abandoned us. Like the US government and all the Western countries, they sold us out to the Taliban.

A video posted on Twitter on August 31, 2021 shows life returning to a semblance of normalcy outside the airport in Kabul.

‘Evacuation flights from Kabul were all filled with NGO bosses and their families’

Reza (not his real name), who works in the humanitarian health sector in a city in central Afghanistan, says he has decided to resume his work – discreetly. 

In our city, you see fewer and fewer Taliban fighters in the streets. They have mostly gone back to their villages. However, the city remains firmly under Taliban control.

At first, I wanted to get out like everyone else in my situation. But then I realised it wasn’t possible. The borders are closed, and evacuation flights from Kabul were all filled with NGO bosses and their families. There were no more seats left for NGO workers out in the provinces like me. So I decided to continue my work as an activist.

For the last few days, I’ve started venturing out to continue my work as an activist again. Yes, I’m afraid, and yes, it’s dangerous. But we can’t shut everything down and just leave people in the hands of the Taliban.

I’ve been going out and collecting data and photos for the NGO I work for. We plan to write health-related articles based on the data and publish them in the Afghan media under a fake name. I try to lay low, to not draw any attention to my work.

I’m disappointed in the international community and our Afghan bosses. But I wasn’t doing the work for them before the Taliban took over, and I’m not doing it for them now. I’ve always done it for the Afghan people, and I continue to do it for them.

French President Emmanuel Macron had proposed, with the support of Germany and the UK, the creation of a protected zone in Kabul to continue evacuating eligible Afghans. The Taliban has rejected this proposal. However, spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter that “every Afghan with legal documents can travel abroad and proper facilities will be provided to all Afghans for their travel after the opening of the civilian part of the airport".