As the Taliban drew closer to Kabul during their swift takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, Habiba Ashna woke sweating from a nightmare, only to find she was about to be living one for real.
An employee at the Afghan presidential palace briefly staying in India for medical treatment, Habiba, 32, knew she could not return.
It was not the first time. Three generations of Ashna women have fled violence in their home nation, losing loved ones, their homes and savings in Afghan banks.
“The last time the Taliban came, we were forced to leave,” Habiba told The National from her new home in the US, recalling her escape from the eastern province of Nangarhar in the 1990s.
“And I remember so clearly we were in a car. My mum held me on her lap and covered my head because there were bullets from Taliban fighters flying around.”
Habiba’s mother, Noshaba Ashna, said the brutality of the Taliban’s first rule and its impact on women are etched into the memories of the Ashna clan.
At the time, she was a head teacher at one of Nangarhar’s prestigious girls’ schools, until it was shut down by the hardline group.
“We lost everything,” Noshaba said.
A family of activists and strong vocal women, the Ashnas left the country shortly after to escape Taliban persecution.
In the 1990s and 2022 the group made targets of activists, insisted on a strict dress code and instituted severe limits on women’s lives.
“Habiba was so young then, we left because it was no longer safe,” Noshaba said. “We went to Pakistan through Kunar province, taking a very dangerous route to avoid being caught by the Taliban.”
It’s like we don’t learn anything and keep going back to Afghanistan with the hopes that we can change the situation
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