US pullout through eyes of an Afghani expat
Some tried to hold onto planes as they took off, but they plummeted from the sky to their deaths. Meanwhile, mangled body parts of those hoping to flee were found in the landing gear housing. It was not America’s finest moment, and odds are that many of those who aided the United States in its 20-year war will be forced to remain behind—languishing in Afghanistan and under the Taliban’s tyrannical rule.
It was during this time that I happened to be in Turkey and bumped into an outgoing Afghani expatriate living temporarily in Istanbul. As a precondition for this article, I promised to protect his identity and his family’s, and I will only refer to him as Muhammad.
While quick to quote the Koran and talk about his faith, Muhammad has embraced a more secular lifestyle compared to the theocratic society in which he was born. He has adopted a dapper style of dress, he’s clean shaven, and he speaks with a hint of an English accent, which he gained from watching his favorite British actors on Netflix. Muhammad is known to flash a smile and effortlessly woo passersby with his charm, but when discussing Afghanistan and his family who remain there, he’s stoic.
Muhammad worries for his future and his family’s. He explained that as the United States slowly began withdrawing from Afghanistan, the emboldened Taliban sought to retake the country, but they announced that they were reformed, would extend rights to women, and would govern with temperance. But this was only a ruse intended to limit their opposition. “They haven’t changed,” Muhammed lamented, and now they are in control.
News reports prove Muhammad right. Civilians are being killed in droves, and women are being abused in unconscionable ways. “My female family members aren’t allowed to leave their homes,” Muhammad told me. In fact, a few days after this conversation, the New York Times reported, “A Taliban spokesman urges women to stay home because fighters haven’t been trained to respect them.”
This “respect” that they speak of is refraining from murdering or raping women. The truth is that women will likely lose most—if not all—of the rights and liberties that they gained over the past 20 years and face death if they resist. This goes for all women. Even the first elected female mayor in Afghanistan’s history announced that she expects the Taliban to kill her.
Muhammad talked at length about the struggles that women now face in Afghanistan, and went on to describe how things have changed for his entire family, including their appearance. His father has donned a long beard in an effort to avoid the Taliban’s violent ire. “He now looks more Taliban than even the Taliban,” Muhammad tried to joke, but facial hair is the least of their concerns. Muhammad seems resigned to Afghanistan’s bleak future: one of oppression and fear.
As Muhammad explains it, he’s not safe—even in Turkey. He is an Afghani citizen who resides in Turkey on a type of work visa, which he must apply for on an annual basis. Failure to obtain a renewal would mean that he would have to return to his homeland. His fear is that the Taliban will pressure Turkey to reject these applications—forcing such expats to journey back to Afghanistan. If this comes to fruition, he could lose his dream of economic prosperity and would forfeit many of the freedoms he enjoys in Turkey.
He has desperately sought to forestall this from happening. He asserts that he spoke with the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul where he explained his concerns and asked for help. He believes that if he can get permission to move to America, then he will be beyond the Taliban’s reach, but the U.S. Consulate rebuffed him. “They said you’ll be fine in Turkey,” Muhammad reported to me, but he has little faith in their word, and understandably so.
Only time will tell what becomes of Muhammad. Despite our very different contexts, in parting, he complimented my fiancée and me, gave this Christian some Quranic advice, and wished us the best. All of this struck me as a great kindness from someone whose future is in a dangerous limbo.