“The problem is how to get into the airport” – Afghan woman describes situation in Kabul

Civilians prepare to board a plane during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021

The Czech Republic successfully completed three evacuation flights from Taliban-occupied Kabul last week. On board at least one of the planes were also Afghan holders of long-term residency in the Czechia. However, not all of them have been so lucky, as the case of one girl (who does not wish to be named) shows. Still stuck in a house in the Afghan capital, she contacted Radio Prague International and spoke to us about her situation. The interview was recorded on Saturday, August 21.

As far as I understand, you are a long-term residency holder who studied in Prague. You have been trying to leave Afghanistan, but have been unable to do so. Is that correct?

“Yes. I tried it. Two days ago they called us through my dad’s office that there is an airplane going to the Czech Republic and that we have to go to some gate and that they will take us. But when I went there, I saw something that I have never experienced before in my life.

“In every corner you could see shooting and people running around. I was screaming in the car for almost half an hour before I got back home, because I had not seen such a situation ever before. It was horrible.

“It’s like there are two options - either you manage to get through to the airport or you will die, because there is shooting all around."

“I have a family friend, my aunt, who is also here on holiday. She is a US green card holder. We also have a family friend who is a US passport holder. However, they also cannot get into the airport.

“It’s like there are two options - either you manage to get through to the airport or you will die, because there is shooting all around. The troops are shooting, the Taliban is shooting and that’s not their fault. People are pushing them to do that actually. ”

Maybe it is best if we start from the beginning - if you could describe chronologically the past week and a half – what it was like before the Taliban arrived and then after. How has the situation changed gradually?

“They arrived on Sunday afternoon. Before that it was normal. We were not afraid. But now people, including myself, live in a degree of fear.

“We don’t know what will happen if one goes outside. When we are at home I feel safer and like nothing is happening outside. Personally I haven’t been going outside since the Taliban arrived.

Taliban fighters display their flag on patrol in Kabul,  Afghanistan,  August 19,  2021 | Photo: Rahmat Gul,  ČTK/AP

“When you do go outside you see fewer people than before. Most of the shops have been closed over the past several days, but today I heard that most of the shops are opening. The Taliban are calling on people to go to work and live normally, but there are still some who do not trust what the Taliban says and live in fear. So I would say that it’s not so much about what will happen to you, but more about the fear. There is a fear of what will happen when you go outside, even though it is much safer than before.

“When I was going to Afghanistan before, I was only afraid of some sudden danger, like an explosion. Now, however, the people I know are less afraid of someone killing them to steal their phone, of robbers, or of bomb attacks. One is more afraid that if they will go around and shout at the Taliban then they will do something to them. It is an unpredictable situation.”

You went on holiday to Afghanistan so…

“Yes. I finished my MBA and came home to celebrate with family and friends. It turned out really bad.”

The reason I was mentioning that is because no one expected this to happen, especially so fast. I guess neither did you?

“The Taliban are calling on people to go to work and live normally, but there are still some who do not trust what the Taliban says and live in fear.”

“No. My dad is in the media and they are more aware of what is happening around here. But even my dad didn’t know that this would happen so soon.”

Earlier you told me that you have been in contact with Czech authorities. The third evacuation airplane also had some permanent residency holders. Responding to information that some Afghans with permanent residency are trying to get back to the Czech Republic, Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhánek said that they would negotiate their evacuation on [NATO] allied flights. Have you got any flight offers, or are you just in the dark?

“There are flights which are offered by my dad’s office as well, because they are also in contact with Czech officials and are trying to get out.

“The problem is not the flights themselves. Of course, when you get into the airport, there are so many options. The problem is how to get into the airport.”

Are you getting any advice on how to do that from the official channels?

“They say: ‘Try your luck, go and try’. I went there. I tried. I don’t have the courage to try that again. I would rather stay at home.”

So this journey to the airport is something you have to do completely at your own risk?

Hamid Karzai International Airport,  Kabul,  Afghanistan | Photo: Shekib Rahmani,  ČTK/AP

“Yes. We asked them if there could be some special assistance, somebody who could actually take us to the airport, because I am here with my mum who is over 61 and she is not someone who could actually face that crowd, and all the shooting around. That includes me.”

Do you know if there are lots of people in Kabul in the same situation like you?

“Yes, there is my aunt who is a US green card holder. She travelled to Afghanistan also on holiday. She has a US green card, but is also unable to get into the airport. She agrees with us that we are not going to put our lives into greater risk by standing around the airport with the shooting and bullets flying around.

“We also have a family friend whose family are US passport holders. They also prefer staying at home rather than staying at the airport, because that carries more risk.”

Since this whole situation caught you so unawares, do you have enough supplies? You were saying that the shops are reopening, but that there is still fear and that you are staying at home. Are you in a position to wait it out, in other words?

“Yes. We have supplies. We have a home here. Women, including girls like myself, are not going out freely like before. I personally do not want to go out. However, we have men, for example our cousins, who can go out and bring home stuff like food.

“The problem is not the flights themselves. The problem is how to get into the airport.”

“The price for food is incredibly high, but we are fortunate enough that we can support ourselves. That is not a problem.”

How have things changed for women since the Taliban arrived?

“Right now, it is very early for any conclusions of course, but so far things have not changed so much in this regard.  It’s just the beginning though.

“They have promised in the media that they will not do anything, that they will let the women go out and work. Thus far, I haven’t heard about any cases where they have harmed a woman, or that they haven’t let women out. They haven’t done such a thing.

“However, what has changed for some women, including myself, is that we are afraid of going outside. So far, that is the main thing that has happened to me and I am sure that is the case with most of the girls here.”

We have been hearing various reports about what is happening in Afghanistan, including the fact that the Afghan president fled before Taliban forces arrived. How do you feel about this seeming collapse of the Afghan government and its forces?

Photo: Czech Army

“I know that when the president left the country, that was when the military, as well as most of the government and the people lost their morale. That is when the confidence and courage was lost. The people felt: ‘Well, if the president cannot stay in this country and control it then how can we do that’?

“It’s like in a family where the parents have run away and you are the children. The president was the head of the family, the head of the country. When he left Afghanistan, the people were lost of course.

“Personally, answering this question as myself, that was the scary moment for me too. I felt that that was the end.”

I am going to be interviewing an official at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday. Is there any question that you would want me to ask them, in regards to your situation and getting out of Afghanistan?

“The price for food is incredibly high.”

“My question would not just be aimed at Czech representatives but also at other officials, including from the US. When they say to the people that they will get them out, they have control of the airport, but none outside of it. They do not have any good system on how to get the passengers safely to the airport. If a passenger’s life is not safe on the way to the airport, how can they get there? That is what they should be thinking about.

“Of course the US, the Czech Republic and all of their allies will get the people safely out of Afghanistan, but they don’t know how to get the people to the airport. That is the problem. I am sure that if they had a good management system outside of the airport, we would not be witnessing this situation today.”

Do you have any hopes that the situation regarding safe travel to the airport might change with time? That perhaps some deal might be worked out with the Taliban in this regard?

“That is what I am hoping for. However, based on what I hear from people, the situation outside of the airport has been getting worse.

“I heard that, on Friday, a German who was trying to get there was shot while inside his car. I also heard of many women getting shot, because they are shooting in the air and those bullets can hit anyone.

“I know that when the president left the country, that was when the military, as well as most of the government and the people lost their morale.”

“They claim to do this to push people away, which is right, but I don’t think that it’s the correct way by which to order the people.”

I went on to ask Ambassador Jitka Látal Znamenáčková, who is the Deputy Head of the Czech Permanent Representation to the EU and the Permanent Representative to the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union, about whether the issue of ensuring the safety of passengers on their way to Kabul Airport is being discussed on the EU level.

“There will definitely be some coordination attempts also around the airport organised by some EU member states.

“In this case, I am pretty sure that our ministry is in touch with the ministries of other EU member states and they are discussing how to proceed with the evacuation further. However, I think the basic thing is to remain in touch with our Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”