Last week, after promising all children could return to school, the Taliban once again barred girls from their classrooms. The next day I left London to participate in the Doha Forum where I told representatives from around the world that girls’ education should be a condition of diplomatic recognition for the Taliban. We should not recognise their government if they don’t recognise the human rights of women and girls.
Next month, as we close this Podium series on Afghanistan, we’ll be speaking to young Afghan women about education and more. In today’s issue, we meet Afghans who had to leave their homes and find out what their lives are like today. All Afghans — young and old — deserve the chance to live in their country and help it thrive.
Before the Taliban took over Afghanistan last summer, Farhad Khan was a famous young actor in his country’s thriving film industry. Today he lives as a refugee in Pakistan. “I’m even asking people for clothes,” he says to Insider. “Have you ever imagined a film star asking people for things? I’m losing respect in my own eyes.”
Khan believed the Taliban would punish him for being an artist. Since taking power, they have killed musicians for defying their rule against playing music, banned films and television other than their official broadcasts and vandalized and painted over street murals. “I know definitely that I would have died,” says Khan.
His life now is bleak in Pakistan where refugees have limited access to work, housing, healthcare and education. Still he dreams of returning to acting some day. “Go on YouTube and Google and search for my name,” he says. “You’ll see my films. Notice my talent and then give me a chance.”
On the other side of the camera, film director Sahraa Karimi also fled her home in Kabul. Karimi was the first and the only woman in Afghanistan to have a PhD in cinema and filmmaking.
In 2019, she became the first female chairperson of Afghan Film, the country’s national cinema organisation and archive. She’s directed more than 30 documentaries and short films and her first feature film Hava, Maryam, Ayesha premiered at the Venice International Film Festival.
In an open letter last August, Karimi wrote, “Everything that I have worked so hard to build as a filmmaker in my country is at risk of falling. If the Taliban take over, they will ban all art. I and other filmmakers could be next on their hit list.”
Karimi fled to Ukraine and eventually came to the U.S. She is now planning to direct a film of her escape from Kabul.
Like Karimi, hundreds of Afghan refugees ended up in Ukraine last year. Russia’s devastating attacks are forcing many of them to flee again.
Sisters Fazila and Shagufa Haidary once worked as flight attendants in Afghanistan, travelling the world before they left the country last year. The sisters used their knowledge of the Kabul Airport to board a plane amid a crush of thousands hoping to flee. According to a CNN report, the women had no idea where their plane was headed until minutes before take-off.
They landed in Kyiv and, with help from a friend who worked for a Ukrainian airline, they soon found housing in a furnished apartment in the city. They received only a grant of $112 when they arrived and had trouble finding work, but they felt safer away from the Taliban.
Months later, the sisters are in the middle of another war. “We were still in shock from what happened in Kabul, worried about our family,” Fazila told the BBC via WhatsApp messages. “Now Ukraine is under attack, and my family is worried about us."
After The Washington Post published his story earlier this month, Khalid Payenda became a symbol of the huge loss of accomplished men and women in Afghanistan. Once his country’s finance minister, Payenda now lives in Virginia and drives for Uber.
“It eats at you inside,” Payenda said of feeling unable to help his country from afar. “Right now, I don’t have any place. I don’t belong here and I don’t belong there. It’s a very empty feeling.”
Payenda, a Fulbright Scholar and former World Bank official before he served in the highest levels of Afghanistan’s government, continues to speak out for his country. Last week, he was also a guest at Doha Forum where he spoke on a panel titled “How to End An Enduring Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan.”
For more on these remarkable Afghans, read the full stories cited in this article:
Top photo credit: Karim Jaafar / AFP via Getty Images