Facing the fear: ‘It’s over, the Talibs have arrived in Kabul’

The group started as several hundred Pakistani Taliban fighters, who took refuge across the border in Afghanistan after military operations drove them out of their home country.

August 15, 2021, the day India celebrated its 75th Independence Day, its closest northwestern ally was taken over by the Taliban, an army of Soviet-era Mujahids that came back to power after two decades.

On the morning of August 15, the streets were unusually calm. For a weekday (Sunday is a weekday in Afghanistan), the streets were empty with just a handful of taxis on the road. I was scheduled to meet Laila (name changed to protect identity), the executive director of a project run by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to socially and financially empower women in rural Afghanistan.

I arrived at her office at 9.30am. She was seated behind her large desk in an imposing office, ready to take some hard calls and decisions in the face of the growing crisis in her beloved country. We had a lengthy discussion on how they plan to run the project and how feasible it will be if the Taliban came to power. She seemed hopeful. She gave me the assurance that they will work hand-in-glove with whoever is in power. It is, after all, for the benefit of this country’s women, she said at that moment.

Our conversations were interrupted by a security briefing for women staff in her office that was added to her agenda at the last minute. Laila welcomed me to join this meeting and invited me to speak to her colleagues about the growing security concerns. The room was filled with at least 12-15 women. They all seemed apprehensive of what was to come.

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