Due to the Taliban takeover in August, one Afghan student is unable to leave the country
Arzou*, a 19-year-old Afghan student, was set to begin her first year at Concordia this fall studying political science and economics. However, following the Taliban’s military invasion of Kabul, the nation’s capital, Arzou could not flee Afghanistan and had to set her university education aside.
Since May 2021, the terrorist group has made military advancements in over 200 districts of Afghanistan and took full control of Kabul on Aug. 15. This conquest put an end to the 20-year war between the Taliban and the United States, as the former President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, escaped the country and the U.S.-backed government collapsed.
The Kabul airport became the last source of hope for both Afghan citizens and foreign nationals, who desperately tried to escape the country before the airport was shut down. In an exclusive interview with The Concordian, Arzou shared her memories of the day she will never forget.
“Everyone was rushing to the airport, including those without a passport or a visa. The traffic was incredibly bad. I saw with my own eyes how the Taliban was celebrating on the streets and preventing civilians from reaching the airport. […] They were being very violent towards everyone, even the women and children.”
On Aug. 27, over 100 civilians and U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing outside the airport, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. Earlier that month, locals were also seen holding onto a U.S. Air Force plane during take-off as panic erupted on the runway.
As of now, there are no passenger flights to the outside world from the Kabul airport, making it a dead end for Afghans who are trying to escape. Due to the Taliban’s iron grip on the airstrip, only domestic and humanitarian aid flights are currently permitted.
“It was the reason that I couldn’t attend Concordia this fall, sadly. I was very excited to start a new chapter of my life,” said Arzou.
The student explained that her rights are at serious risk in Afghanistan, as the Taliban announced it would only grant women rights “within the limits of Islam,” based on the group’s own interpretation of Islamic law.
At Kabul University, female students were told they are no longer allowed to leave their residence without a male guardian. Meanwhile, women’s beauty salons in the capital have been vandalized with spray paint, in order to cover the models’ faces on storefronts.
“Women are forced to wear the chadari, which covers the woman’s entire body from head to toe with a slight opening in the eye region — something I would call a prison cell,” said Arzou.
She added, “I don’t want my many years of education to go to waste. I don’t even want to believe that the Taliban had taken control of my homeland — I remember all the stories from my parents who went through similar terror in Kabul 20 years ago.”
On Sept. 7, one week after the last American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, the Taliban announced its new government — led by Mohammad Hasan Akhund, a former influential figure in the Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001.
The new, all-male government has already disbanded the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and instead founded the Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to enforce Islamic law. These actions have crossed the “fundamental red line” outlined by the UN Human Rights Council at the Geneva emergency meeting:
“[This line] will be the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls, and respect for their rights to liberty, freedom of movement, education, self-expression and employment, guided by international human rights norms,” stated UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Aug. 24.
The current state of Afghanistan has left Arzou angry not only at the Taliban regime, but also at the United States for its past actions. For instance, in an effort to negotiate peace talks between the former Afghan government and the Taliban, the Trump administration agreed to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in 2020.
“[This controversial decision] helped the Taliban start this extreme violence. The U.S. literally exploited our land and used our natural resources, and now left the country in this state,” Arzou exclaimed.
Nevertheless, Afghan women are actively protesting against the Taliban regime on the streets of Kabul, in pursuit of freedom, equality, and fair representation in the government. Despite the Taliban’s use of metal batons and whips against the demonstrators, such protests show no signs of slowing down.
“They aren’t the same women they were 20 years ago,” Arzou explained, “and we just won’t give up on our goals. I am hopeful that one day, I’ll also contribute to rebuilding my country.”
If circumstances allow, Arzou hopes to begin her studies at Concordia University in the winter semester of 2022.
*to protect the subject’s identity, we are using her preferred pseudonym.
Graphic by Madeline Schmidt.