t was past midnight on 9 August 2021, and I was immersed in writing when my phone pinged: a message from a contact at the Indian embassy in Kabul. They said the Indian mission in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif was evacuating and offered me a seat on the flight.
There were reports the city would collapse soon and fall to the Taliban. I had already left Mazar, but it was hard to imagine that this historic, metropolitan city could topple so easily. It was too well fortified, as I had witnessed during my recent reporting trip, with hundreds of Afghan forces patrolling its gates.
Concern for colleagues gnawed at me. As the US-led foreign troops were withdrawing from Afghanistan, an emboldened Taliban had been taking province after province. They captured Kabul, abandoned by its government, on 15 August and Afghanistan, and particularly its women, lost any semblance of freedom.
I checked in on a friend in Mazar – Dr Akbari, at heightened risk due to her work in reproductive rights among vulnerable women. Akbari had made enemies, in particular with a Taliban commander, by providing contraceptives to his 13-year-old bride, against his wishes.
Staying with Akbari I had witnessed the barrage of horrifying, threatening calls and messages; sometimes 10 in an evening. Yet, she would answer every unknown number, just in case it might be a woman seeking help.
“But what can I do? If I don’t answer the phone or go to work every day, who will help these women?” she said.
As the Taliban surrounded Mazar, Akbari answered one such call. It was the Taliban commander, letting her know they had entered the city and that he would kill her very soon.
In her hospital uniform, with $400 in her purse and her passport, Akbari went directly to the airport, without saying goodbyes to her family, just in time for the last flight out. The airport, she said, was filled with women trying to escape the Taliban.
Read full piece on The Guardian