Editor’s Note: Afghanistan is experiencing a critical juncture in its history. The United States has withdrawn from their longest-ever war, the government has withered away, and the Taliban have taken control of most of the country, including Kabul. Tired of conflict and anxious about what the future holds, Afghan citizens find themselves front and center during this flux. As our name implies, at South Asian Voices we care about giving voice to all contributors and a platform for individuals in the region to share experiences. Over the coming weeks, South Asian Voices will publish personal reflections from our friends in and from Afghanistan as they trickle in. Accounting for our contributors’ safety is our foremost priority. Some reflections may be anonymous to protect the contributor’s identity. We hope this initiative reminds readers of who stands to benefit or lose the most from sustained peace or protracted conflict.
Reflections of any length can be sent to: [email protected]. We also welcome audio and visual content.
When We Prioritize Guns over Peace
Arash Yaqin is an Afghan native who fled the Afghan civil war and lived as ex-refugee in Russia and Europe for two decades. In Kabul, he worked as a UN capacity-building advisor for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later for the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies. This video was filmed on September 1, 2021.
A Human Tragedy: Receiving Forgiveness Cards for the Guilt of Service to Your Country
As the Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan, the present looks dark and the future looks darker. It took only a couple of days for a regime to collapse, an army to disintegrate, and for society to change entirely. For Afghanistan’s young generation born after 2001, the Taliban’s presence on the streets feels like waking up into a nightmare as one deals with both personal and public grief.
I graduated from a top university in Afghanistan with a bachelor’s degree. It did not come easy as I spent years learning English, passing difficult exams, and spending sleepless nights studying—all with a goal to contribute to myself, my family, and to my country. I looked forward to the days ahead that these efforts had helped put before me, expecting a future where I would be free like any other human being on earth. With the Taliban ruling the country, all I care for now is my own and my family’s survival.
It was a sunny and hot Wednesday afternoon when my brothers and I heard the heavy gunfire as we ate dinner together. We had been discussing the Taliban, but there was no way we could expect the government in Herat to collapse as fast as it did. Everyone started to scramble with fear. After finding out that the Taliban attacked the city, we decided to leave our house for a safer place. On the road, we saw motorbikes and cars crammed full of people and children speeding by. Shops closed and pedestrians were running. It was the first time in my entire life that I left my house to save my life. Our only hope was for our national security and defense forces along with the national resistance forces to fight back. However, they failed to defend the city. The ANDSF were corrupt, but still, we believed in them because they have proven to the people of being capable of defending the country when led appropriately. However, several thousand troops were ordered to surrender with containers full of modern weaponry. Herat fell to the Taliban in a matter of hours, leaving its people filled with shock and dread.
It seemed like not more than two hours before the beautiful three colored flags of the republic changed to white flags of the Taliban. Men armed with American M4s and M16s rode around the city in Humvees and motorbikes with their flags on their vehicles. It was as if zombies attacked the city like they would in the movies. We were still hopeful for support from the air force to get the Taliban out, but they never came. Chaos filled the city as the Taliban moved into government buildings.
As the residents of Herat realized there would be no counterattack, they started to go out into their city. We watched as our city of Behzad, the master of Islamic miniatures, and home of the renowned mystics, Jami and Ansari, and historic cities across Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. Civil servants, police, and army personnel were told to come to receive letters of forgiveness from the Taliban to be secure. Desperate people formed long lines in front of the Taliban fighters to save their families lives and their own.
What I cannot comprehend is what they are guilty of, what it is they must be forgiven for. It is as if service to your country, feeding your family, and living under a republic system is a guilt to bear, one that should be forgiven. These were neither ideologues nor were they involved in the government’s decision-making process—they were simply providing services to address peoples’ day-to-day needs.
People are fearful. Fearful of voicing their opinions against the Taliban, and those who served the county as civil servants stay inside to avoid any danger outside their doors. This is an overstep of human dignity. Besides the betrayal of corrupt leaders, one cannot disregard the role of the international community in this tragedy. They legitimized a terrorist group and empowered them. Whether they like it or not, they bear responsibility. Afghanistan is a country betrayed by its leaders, neighbors, and global leaders.
The Taliban have indeed taken control of Afghanistan, but they are illegitimate, undemocratic, and cruel. They cannot represent all Afghans. Neither their culture nor their version of Islam is compatible with that of ordinary Afghans, especially those living in urban areas. The infant republic fell, but its values are alive still. Afghanistan fell because its leaders were corrupt, and it was arranged wrongly from the beginning. The same is true with the Taliban’s emirate. They might rule the country for short or long, but one day they will fall too. Regimes come and go, but it is only the people of Afghanistan, like me and my family whose lives are and continue to be uncertain and are unlikely to change for good in the near future.
Several days have passed since the Taliban’s takeover of Herat. While it is clear most of Herat’s residents detest seeing the Taliban control the city, people are getting out slowly from their houses to feed themselves and their families with despair, anger, and fear. This human tragedy is a step back not only for Afghans but for our world as a whole.
Afghanistan Is No More
Afghanistan is no more. The past few days have seen a monumental political turmoil, which resulted in the fall of Ashraf Ghani’s American-formed government and the coming to power of a Taliban regime. The rate of the fall of the Afghan army shocked the most informed political analysts and the world’s best intelligence service, the CIA. While there are many speculations about the nature of the fall of the Afghan army, and subsequently the government, U.S. President Joe Biden has chosen to place the blame on the Afghan army and—as he has consistently stated—their “will to fight.”
I feel I must share what many reports and videos surfacing on my social media are indicating: an entirely different picture. A video in the Independent Persian on August 17 shows an Afghan soldier resisting his commander’s order. He cries, “I will not surrender, I will not hand over my weapon…even if the entire Afghanistan surrenders, I will not hand over my weapon.” This was not a single phenomenon: many videos have surfaced on social media that indicate similar occurrences where the order from the top was for the soldier to surrender and hand over their military equipment to the Taliban, but many have refused and fought until their dying breath.
Another important episode occurred in Mazar-i-Sharif, which resulted in the surrender of the city and the escape of Marshal Abdur Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor, two of the most prominent warlords and commanders of the north. After the fall of Herat, a cultural hub of Afghanistan, and one of the biggest cities in the country, a resistance front reportedly formed with Dostum, Noor, and Mohammad Mohaqiq in Mazar-i-Sharif. These individuals had the capacity, military experience, and “will to fight” to oppose any and all attacks on Mazar-i-Sharif and were planning to initiate an offensive to rid the north of the Taliban entirely. However, after two days, news emerged that Mazar fell to the Taliban as well. This was the last potential resistance to oppose the Taliban and, after the fall of Mazar, it was only a matter of time before Kabul, Ghani’s government, and the entirety of Afghanistan fell. Hope was lost, people started panicking, the atmosphere took a different shape, the country was in shock, and fear crept in. After Noor and Dostum fled, Noor tweeted and wrote on his Facebook page, stating that there had been a conspiracy. Noor wrote that “Despite our firm resistance, sadly, all the government & the #ANDSF [Afghan national security forces] equipment were handed over to the #Taliban as a result of a big organized & cowardly plot. They had orchestrated the plot to trap Marshal Dostum and myself too, but they didn’t succeed.”
Recently, an established Western media outlet, Vice, which specializes in reporting on warzones and areas of conflict throughout the world, published a documentary following an Afghan special force unit in Kandahar as they were fighting against the Taliban. The report showed that as the forces were preparing to fight the Taliban at sunset, they received an order from the top to “leave all the heavy military equipment.” This included hundreds of Humvees, trucks, and tanks, and to leave the compound, as an “agreement” had been reached with the people at the top and the Taliban.
It is hard for me to agree with what Biden stated—that Afghans did not have the “will” to fight, but the government—that the United States created for the Afghans—ended up selling their people, soldiers, and country at the end. The Afghan people are left at the mercy of a terrorist organization, which is said to rule by fear, intimidation, and violence. Though they have packaged an image for the consumption of the Western media of a “changed” Taliban, videos and reports are emerging of the repressive nature of the Taliban government just after the second day of their rule. On August 18th the Taliban fired on protesters in the city of Jalalabad, further reports have emerged of kidnappings, along with arrests of people in Kabul with a rocket launcher pointed at them. Thus, it feels as though the Biden administration, the Western world, NATO, and the Afghan government have betrayed the Afghan people, leaving them like the lambs at the slaughterhouse.
Maidi Askari is currently finishing his post-graduate studies at SOAS University of London. He is a Hazara member of the Afghan diaspora.
Editor’s Note: We recognize that the situation on the ground is likely to evolve and that citizen journalism is important for understanding these developments—though difficult to verify. In publishing this series, we hope to represent as many personal perspectives as possible.
Image 2: Aref Karimi/AFP via Getty Images
Image 3: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images