"I want my Afghanistan back"

by Rahel Saya

This article was written by Rahel Saya, an Afghan journalist who escaped from Kabul after the 2021 Taliban takeover. It was written just before a suicide bomber attacked a learning center in Kabul, on Friday 30th September, killing tens of teenage students, most of them Hazara girls. The attack was followed by demonstrations worldwide organised by the Hazara diaspora, using the hashtag #StopHazaraGenocide

Afghanistan is a country with 40 million people, a country in the heart of Asia, the 41st largest country in the world. After 21 years, it is again under the rule of the Islamic Emirate. How difficult this situation is, represents the topic of this article, written by an Afghan woman who wants to tell the reality of her country mentioning all the negative events that have happened in a year and a month.

For 403 days the Afghan people, especially women and children, have been deprived of their most basic rights. The right to education has been taken away from girls, and the future seems nothing but a dark picture.

The situation before the Taliban

During the 21 years before the 2021 Taliban rise to power, the people of Afghanistan, especially the women, came out of the iron prison of the former Taliban government and started to fight for their constitutional and human rights. They studied with all their strength and enthusiasm. They joined politics and worked in a civil society. They fought against both hidden and open violence and made many sacrifices in order to gain their identity and freedom.

And despite all the challenges, women and men of Afghanistan had significant achievements in all the political, social, economic and cultural fields. Afghanistan had gradually acquired the color and smell of development. Although there were problems and a war was going on in all parts of Afghanistan (and the main victims of the war were the women), the people of Afghanistan still had hope for the future.

For 21 years Afghan women were able to study up to the doctorate level, they fulfilled their citizenship responsibilities and participated in the political, social and economic fields to the extent of running for the presidency. For 21 years men gradually accepted that women can also work outside their homes, side by side with them in public and private organizations. During this period many of our male compatriots who were refugees in the neighboring countries returned to Afghanistan. Although they’ve always had a patriarchal spirit, had to accept the fact that women are not supposed to be confined to the homes. Although they faced many threats, even in the work environment, such as harassment in the streets, rape, slander and defamation, Afghan women never gave up their will and freedom.

Before 2021, Afghanistan was moving towards modernization, thanks to thousands of kilometers of roads, airlines, facilities and the Internet. By improving their level of education, health and living standards, the young men and women of my country saw the progress as a foundation for a brighter future.

What happened on August 2021:

From August 5th to August 14th, 2021, the provinces of Afghanistan fell one after the other, and finally on August 15th Afghan Taliban militants entered Kabul and took control of this city. On this day, 21 years of the Republic were closed and the government of the Islamic Emirate came into force. The fall of Kabul, however, within a few hours from the very first moments, raised big questions: How such a thing happened? Why the "300,000-strong Afghan army" didn't put up the slightest resistance? These questions will forever remain unanswered in the minds of the Afghan people. It was far from a foregone conclusion that the Taliban would be able to rule the entire territory of Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and army did not resist and quickly accepted Taliban rule. On the same day, the U.S. military hastily left Afghanistan and its people alone on the battlefield. Now August 15th is recognized as an official national holiday in Afghanistan. During that day the Taliban celebrated their one-year anniversary. Activities were held in Kabul to commemorate this day and many local people celebrated the end of the occupation of Afghanistan by chanting anti-American slogans. The people of Afghanistan call August 15th, the day of "black history" and the Taliban call it the "victory of Jihad" against America and its allies. After the domination of the Taliban group in Afghanistan, women lost all their achievements completely.

Girls' schools above the sixth grade have been closed. The right to continue working has been taken away from women, all-round restrictions have been imposed on them. Those who raised their voice for justice and whose slogan was “Bread, work, freedom and political participation,” were forcibly taken from their homes and transferred to an unknown prison. There is no security, especially for women, and the depth of this crime and violence is not correctly reported and documented. Poverty, hunger and misery threat to the lives of millions of Afghan people. The violation of women's rights, gender inequality, discrimination and prejudice against the civil rights are getting worse every day and have completely destroyed freedom of expression.

Reporters Without Borders and the Association of Free Journalists of Afghanistan have published a joint report saying that with the Taliban taking control of the country, 40% of media activity have stopped and 80% of journalists, including women, have become unemployed. In this report, which was published on December 21st, 2021, it is stated that the fall of Kabul had a negative impact on the work of journalists, especially women, in this country, and during this period, 6,400 journalists and those who were involved in media lost their jobs. Female journalists have suffered the most: four out of five of them have lost their jobs.

According to the report currently there are no female journalists among 15 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan. Just a few days ago the Taliban imposed new restrictions on women who work in the media:

- Women and men who host programs together must be separate from now on.

- Women do not have the right to interview male guests.

- Women in the media should wear black clothes. 

- The workspace of women and men should not be the same.

No one but an Afghan person can understand what dark and dirty days the people of Afghanistan have seen in the last one year and one month. The world only sees the pictures of the situation, but no one except an Afghan can feel how painful these pictures are. We cannot ignore the fact that Afghanistan is living in a very critical situation and besides all the problems, the issue of the economy is one of the most worrying problems. Many international organizations have warned of an increase in the economic crisis in Afghanistan after the rule of the Taliban. During the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, about 500,000 people, most of whom are women, have lost their jobs and the rate of unemployment is constantly increasing.

After the Taliban seized power in August last year, the commercial and economic sectors were hit hard. International aid was stopped and the Taliban government faced many economic restrictions.

And what about the future?

I really would like to draw the future with the image I have in my girlish world. My Afghanistan with its high mountains, its big deserts and its green meadows. With boys and girls in schools. With men and women working together. Parents with their children in courtyards and streets. Grandmothers and grandfathers having evening assemblies outside the houses. Peasants in the fields with their kettles of green tea. Real peace, again, in my Afghanistan. I know that this seems impossible, but I am not hopeless and I believe that after this great darkness that has engulfed my people there will be lighter. A light that will not allow any other darkness to enter. This dream is not only my dream, but the dream of each of us Afghans. Whose person does not want freedom and peace? Who wouldn't want to close their eyes easily and enjoy a sweet sleep without worries? Whose person does not want to taste the true and sweet taste of freedom and the possibility to show a true self? Today, I consider my responsibility to be the voice of my people. And I want all national and international organizations to be with the people of Afghanistan. Across the history, the world has witnessed all the miseries of Afghanistan. Let's not leave alone the real fighters and victims of Afghanistan's history, who are women and children. Our efforts will pay off and one day I will write again about our round-the-clock efforts. Let us take the Afghan people by the hand from all corners of the world and not let them endure these terrible days alone, one of the most helpful things we can do is to say: We are with you!

Rahel Saya

Analysis by Rahel Saya, journalist

4 October 2022

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