Afghan voices from India: How refugees in New Delhi are coping with the arrival of the Taliban
On August 15, the Afghan Armed Forces, trained and equipped by the United States for almost a decade, surrendered to the Taliban as they took over the capital city of Kabul within a day.
Thousands of Afghan refugees around the world are in deep turmoil, afraid about the family and loved ones’ destiny back home. The militant group has been projecting a moderate face ever since it took hold of the country - from announcing ‘general amnesty’ to ‘respect of women’s rights’.
"There were already speculations of the Taliban takeover but no one thought that it would happen with such lightning speed"
We spoke with some of the refugees in the Indian capital of New Delhi, who recount how the historic event has affected their lives and the difficulties they face while living as refugees:
Mohammad Anwar, 46, runs an Afghani restaurant in Jangpura Extension, New Delhi. He is from Kabul and has been living in India for the past three years.
When the Taliban took over Kabul, it rekindled the old fears and wounds in me. My encounters with them began in the early nineties when I was about to get married. My wife, who is also my uncle’s daughter, was being approached by another man, who was a cousin from her mother’s side. He wanted to marry her as well. But because he was a Taliban member, my wife detested him. So she chose me over him.
In turn, her Talib cousin didn’t want me to marry her. However, despite their objection, we got married. But soon, they began to harass us. I had a CD and DVD cassette shop and they said it’s haram in Islam to do this business, and issued warnings to close the shop. When we didn’t stop, they planted a bomb outside our shop. The blast killed my father but I survived miraculously. They openly took responsibility for the blast.
That was not the end. Then, they began to ask for my daughter. That Talib cousin of hers began to ask me for my 10-year-old daughter. He said in order to guarantee the safety of your family, give me your 10-year-old daughter in exchange for my wife. That was when I could not take it. I thought, now this is enough. I knew that if I refused, they could take her by force. They have guns, machinery etc, what could I do? If they could make a blast happen in my shop, they could do anything.
So I stealthily left Kabul along with my wife and children and came here as a refugee.
But now even here the situation has become painful and problematic. I have to pay Rs. 40,000 (around £400) for the restaurant's rent and there are no customers around. My apartment’s rent is Rs. 15,000 (around £150) and for the past two months, I haven’t paid that either.
When my landlord asks for money, I tell him “Where would I get it from? I don’t have anything at all? Should I steal people’s money now?”
If I had the money, why wouldn’t I pay my rent? Not only that, the electricity bill from the past few months has summed up to Rs. 25,000 (around £250). In short, I have a debt of Rs. 200,000 (around £2,000). It’s not a small amount, this is a lot of money. I have four children to be taken care of, including their school fees. There’s a lot of stress.
"He [Talib] said in order to guarantee the safety of your family, give me your 10 year old daughter in exchange for my wife. That was when I could not take it. I thought, now this is enough"
Now the Taliban has returned. But even if things turn out good, I can’t go back to Afghanistan.
The Indian government just says that they will issue visas to Afghan nationals but it’s all just on papers. When we came here, we did not even receive proper documents which could help us get a sim card.
Mohammad Muneer, 21, local baker:
All of us are not in our senses now, it’s a terrible terrible situation.
When I came to New Delhi I was little. I have been living here for seven years now. Even here, it’s not like everything is great. After the pandemic took hold in India, most of the Afghans left India and went back home.
When they went home, the Taliban captured the country. Some of them want to come back now but they can’t. Most of them got stuck there because once you leave India before completing your two years, you are blacklisted for five years.
Now the airports are shut as well, so no one comes here. All of our work depends on Afghan people but right now the business is bad as well. We have not paid rent for the past two months, such ais the condition of our business.
Our problem here is only the government – they do absolutely nothing for us. Our neighbours and Indian shopkeepers are very good and helpful. In these tough times, the government should have at least given us asylum seeker status but we have only the blue paper from UNHCR as an ID card which is almost useless.
As we are refugees, we can’t go home before completing two years. And if we go home, we have to pay a penalty of Rs. 50,000 (nearly £500) per month. We are a family of nine people, how many penalties will we pay them?
Saeed Ahmad Safi, 23, Kabul. He received a scholarship to study Bachelor of Business Administration in India.
In May, when the coronavirus was at its peak in India, I decided to go back to Afghanistan. I ended up staying until August 8. I would have stayed there longer but because without transcripts and [provisional] certificates, we don’t get a job in Kabul so I had to come back here.
There were already speculations of the Taliban takeover but no one thought that it would happen with such lightning speed.
"A large population of Afghanistan is young, under 25, and getting educated in different parts of the world. They are against this thing. They are against the Taliban rule"
On August 16, I woke up and checked my Facebook and Twitter account. There was news everywhere that the Taliban was inside the presidential palace. It felt like it’s just a bad dream. I didn't believe it until I saw Chris Alexander's tweet, who is the former Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan.
At that time, I said to myself that this actually has happened. Everything had turned upside down, the government had run away and abandoned its people, and a large number of people were rushing to the airport. It was total chaos.
That night, no one slept in Afghanistan.
For four days, I couldn’t speak to my family. They were tapping people’s phone calls and their IP addresses, and the internet was blocked. Finally, after four days, I got a call from home. They were happy that I had flown to India at the right time but I was worried about them.
When the call ended, I told myself that I had come to India to study for three years with the hope that it would be the foundation of my growing career. I wanted to settle in Kabul and be with my family. But now how can I? I still have to go home one day but right now it’s just unimaginable.
The Taliban now talks of general amnesty, but these are just talks. Nothing like that ever happens. They had also said that we won’t go into Kabul until all the evacuations happen but they didn’t do that. What they are currently doing in Afghanistan is, their soldiers are going from door to door with biometrics. They take all the fingerprints and check if this person has worked with the previous government. I am afraid for most of my uncles who have worked with either the Department of Defence or Law. After my father's death, I was supported by my grandmother and my six uncles, but I don’t know what the future holds for them now.
But I am happy for one thing: a large population of Afghanistan is young, under 25, and getting educated in different parts of the world. They are against this thing. They are against the Taliban rule.
Shoaib Shafi is a writer and independent journalist based out of Kashmir. He writes on culture, social and political issues in India.
His work has appeared, among other publications, in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, National Geographic Traveller, The Independent, Verso Books, Mint Lounge, The South China Morning Post, Przekrój. Magazine and The Drift Magazine.
Follow him on Twitter @writingsshoaib