by Mark Porter in Cannes ♦ August 13, 2022 (UPDATES – see links)
Almost a year to the day since the Allies effectively handed Afghanistan back to the Taliban, our correspondent in Kabul and his family have escaped to safety in the West. Since August 15, 2021, Ali Behzad (codenamed Faisel Bardot) and his wife and two small children have been living in the shadows, in fear for their lives.
He was guilty of two deadly sins: aiding the Western media in coverage of the war that rampaged in his homeland; and the whole family are members of the hated Hazaras, whom the Taliban is slowly ethnically cleansing.
Thanks in part to the generosity of AEJ readers and Facebook followers, visas to escape to Pakistan were obtained last month. From Pakistan, Ali and his wife and his parents were able to fly to Berlin, where they were given citizenship papers by the German government. They are now living in a converted castle in Bavaria whilst mapping out a future.
The escape to freedom was not without hitches.
“We got the nod from a German NGO that our application had met with approval with the German government,” Ali said. “It all happened so fast. We were told to be ready in the morning to be taken to the Pakistan frontier at Torkham. We had all the paperwork except for the visas the Taliban require for its citizens to travel to Pakistan, so they sent us back to Kabul, despite allowing non-Hazara Pashtuns through, without visas. Mercifully, the Taliban had no idea of my journalistic background or that I was flying on to Germany. That would have been the end of us.
“However, with money we raised plus more money borrowed from family in Canada, Ali managed to scratch together the $3,900 needed to pay for six visas. Five days later they were ushered across the Pakistan border.
“The German NGO put us up for ten days in a 5-star hotel at Rawalpindi, before flying us to Berlin and then Bavaria. They have provided us with accommodation and I will start German lessons in a few days’ time. They will help me find work and cover medical expenses and give me a salary until we can support ourselves.
“We have at last stepped out of the nightmare. I can hardly believe it is true.
“I did dozens of reports highlighting the crimes of the Taliban and ISIS and calling them terrorist groups. Although the Taliban have declared a general amnesty they are always arresting journalists and dissidents who have worked against their interests for the past 20 years. Once arrested they are taken to an unknown location. Dozens of journalists have been arrested by the Taliban. and some have been severely beaten.”
Their rescuers were an NGO called GIZ, a Bonn-based service provider dedicated to shaping a “meaningful global future.” It has more than 50 years of experience in areas such as economic development, employment promotion, energy and the environment, and peace and security. “The diverse expertise of our federal enterprise is in demand around the globe – from the German Government, European Union institutions, the United Nations, the private sector, and governments ,” said a spokesman. GIZ is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
“My wife, who worked as a TV cameraman, will at least now be able to work. The Taliban has banned all work for women.
“Better future” proved elusive
The Taliban’s capture of Kabul on August 15 last year capped a lightning advance through the country. The ease of their victory surprised everyone, including the fighters themselves. The world watched in horror as America botched its withdrawal and desperate Afghans thronged the airport hoping to flee. The Taliban swiftly established total control, and the country fell into crisis.
The main problems are financial. The economy collapsed as the West cut off Afghanistan from the global banking system and froze its foreign reserves. Between September and December last year, GDP fell by a third compared with the same period a year earlier.
Most of the country is destitute. Prices for food and fuel were 50% higher in June than a year before. Only one in 20 families has enough to eat.
Despite claims that they have changed and promises of “a better future” for Afghans, the new Taliban behave a lot like the old lot who ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.
The Ministry of Virtue and Vice has been reconstituted and its morality police are out in force, harassing men who trim their beards and women who are not covered from head to toe.
And the Taliban are still offering a safe haven to their terrorist friends. Or safeish: on July 31 an American drone strike in central Kabul killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader after the killing in 2011 of Osama bin Laden.
Women are undoubtedly the worst-off. In two decades under an American-backed government, many had grown accustomed to a degree of freedom. The female literacy rate more than doubled between 2000 and 2018, albeit to only 30%. A generation of women had jobs as doctors, journalists, and lawyers. Now they are once again being forced out of public life; in March the Taliban backtracked on their promise to allow girls back into secondary schools.
- BBC, 16/08/22 ‘I wish I’d never worked for the UK government’
- Channel 4 News, 15/08/22 Taliban celebrate first year in power
- Reuters, 15/08/22 A year on from Taliban takeover, fate of Afghan women and girls must not be forgotten, says UN
- Foreign Policy, 15/98/22 Rare women’s public protest met with violence
- AEJ 12/01/22 Kabul’s Lost Legion
- AEJ 10/11/21 Afghan journalists “homeless in their own home”
- AEJ 20/08/21 Kabul – dark “new normal” for journalists and freedom