Why I am fleeing Afghanistan despite Taliban promises

by Annie Banerji | @anniebanerji | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 18 August 2021 16:00 GMT

Shkula Zadran in the Afghan capital Kabul , 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Handout

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Shkula Zadran dreams of becoming a university lecturer. She does not trust the Taliban to allow women to continue to work and study

By Annie Banerji

Aug 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Shkula Zadran, a 26-year-old university student, is preparing to leave the Afghan capital, Kabul, because she is scared of being killed by the    Taliban, who took power on Sunday.

The Taliban have made reassurances that they will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

Zadran, who studied for a master's degree in international relations, is sceptical.

This is her story as told to Thomson Reuters Foundation correspondent Annie Banerji:

I have been busy packing the past few days and trying to gather whatever I can to leave.

Today I stepped out of my house for the first time (since Sunday). I came to my friend's place. I saw a few Taliban (soldiers) on the way but everything was normal.

There are not many women roaming around. But a friend told me that he saw girls going to school, to universities – of course, with changes in their appearance and clothing. They are far more covered than before.

But that's alright. That's not a big deal as long as they are allowed to pursue their studies and work.

What's going to happen? It's all unclear. This uncertainty is fuelling my decision to leave.       

If we look at the Taliban's reputation, their previous regime and all the turmoil that ensued, it's very difficult to trust them.

My family and I are concerned that maybe they will change their present stance in a few days, or maybe they will start house-to-house searches. We might get killed.

My family has a political background. I have been a vocal critic of the Taliban. We are not sure whether we will survive here or not, and that's why we are leaving. Maybe for a short time, maybe for a few years. But not forever.

I have this dream in my heart to come back one day. But only when my life is not at risk, when there is an opportunity for me to contribute, to work and to grow.

When I come back, I want to start teaching in universities. I also want to be an advocate for women's rights, human rights, transitional justice and conflict resolution in Afghanistan.

I would like to request the Taliban to give security to their critics. I'm willing to work with them if I have to.

They should assure meaningful inclusion of women into decision-making roles, strategic and political. Our workspace should not be limited to low-paying, simple jobs on the sidelines.

Women can play a very important role in conflict resolution and peace negotiations because they do not contribute much to war. They can be very impartial.

If they marginalise the youth or the women, then one thing is for sure - they will not be able to rule this country or its people for too long. They will collapse like any other dictatorship.

I have very strong roots here. I was born and brought up here. I have my house, my friends, my relatives here.

I will miss home. A week ago, I attended my last lecture before semester break. Everyone came to university wearing really nice clothes. Girls came wearing high heels and make up. Everything was very vibrant and happy.

We took photos after our last lecture, but just a few days later everything collapsed.

I've had a very beautiful life in Kabul. We used to go to restaurants, go shopping, go bowling and swimming. I used to go to my music classes. We would walk freely from one area to another, boys and girls together.

All of that seems like a dream now.

But these are not priorities. I'm okay not going for a swim or learning music as long as there is peace, as long as there is law and order. I don't want any more chaos.

This interview was shortened and edited for clarity.

Related links:

Afghan women fear for their jobs and daughters' futures

Six ways life has changed for Afghan women since the last Taliban regime

Taliban pledge peace and women's rights under Islam as they strike conciliatory tone

(Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)