Predicting What's Ahead For Afghans, One Week After The Taliban Arrived In Kabul
SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:
Today marks one week since Taliban militants arrived in Kabul. Harrowing footage of the situation outside the airport is a testament to the desperation of many as a country of over 35 million gets its first glimpse of a new Taliban rule. The group's legacy from the last time it controlled the country 20 years ago is a repressive one - public executions, the targeting of ethnic and religious minorities and the near erasure of women from public life. So what's the path ahead for Afghans now? Pashtana Durrani is the founder and executive director of LEARN, a charity focused on education in Afghanistan. Out of concern for her safety, we are not disclosing where she is in the country. Thank you so much for joining us.
PASHTANA DURRANI: Thank you for having me.
DAVIS: Can you give us a sense of how life in the country has changed over the past week? What are you experiencing?
DURRANI: A total collapse - the banks are not open. The electricity is coming and going. The internet is not very stable. The communications are not restored. And at the same time, the schools are supposed to open in southern Afghanistan, but they haven't. So all these things - they makes you feel very suffocated. But at the same time, like, you know, you know that the people who took over the country don't have any planning and policy in place and haven't been educated in that sense, don't have any experience in a country like Afghanistan to run it. So what will happen? You just are very curious and at the same time very worried about the situation of all those people who are living here.
DAVIS: Afghan women have fought so hard for their rights and positions in government, in the workplace, in academia. Do you think it's possible for women to hold on to any of that progress?
DURRANI: I mean, like, right now, women are trying to do whatever they can. I mean, like, did you see these strong, amazing women who came out in the protest and have been the face of the protests? There are other women who are trying to come out as journalists, who are trying to record their testimonials. So, yes, but at the same time, we are also anxious about the fact that what will happen - every time, they say that they are very welcoming of the idea of women's rights and educational rights and whatever, but then again, in southern Afghanistan, the schools should have been open by now, and they are not. I talked to my principal today, and she is like, if they open, let's go with this plan. If they don't, then we have to go with this plan. I mean, like, can you imagine the certainty one has to go through for a public school within an academic year, that we have to rethink two strategies just because we don't know which way they will lean?
DAVIS: I've heard you talk about this idea that you could continue education for women and girls underground if the Taliban were to outlaw it. That sounds like an incredibly dangerous endeavor.
DURRANI: I mean, like, we'll have to take your chances. Do we leave 35 million Afghans? Not everybody can get on that plane. Not everybody's privileged. Not everybody has those connections. So the ones that don't - they will stay back, and they cannot just be left in the dark, disconnected with the whole world.
DAVIS: You said not everyone can get on that plane. Have you considered leaving Afghanistan at all yourself?
DURRANI: I have been given the luxury, I'm going to say, to put me on those lists. But I'm going to be honest, there are very few chances. And also, I'm holding onto this hope that maybe things will change, and maybe things will get back to normal. Maybe schools will open. Maybe we will get back to normal.
DAVIS: You've been very outspoken about all of this. You've been giving interviews to many media outlets, not just to NPR. I imagine you're taking a big risk in speaking out. Why is it important for you to do this?
DURRANI: Because right now, I have electricity. I have internet. I can afford it. Maybe in a week or so, I might not be able to afford it. I might not be able to access it, and then nobody will be there to listen to our voices. So maybe in the time where we have resources, that we have everything, let's record it, and then it should be there as a proof that, yeah, Afghan woman stood for themselves. They stood tall for themselves. It was the world that turned a blind eye on them.
DAVIS: We have heard a lot of statements from human rights organizations, women's rights organizations and the international community about supporting women in Afghanistan. Beyond words, what would you like to see from your international allies right now? And what can people do to support groups like yours?
DURRANI: For one, they should pressurize their own leaders into pressurizing the Taliban into stop abusing the people, stop doing the target killings. There is life outside of Kabul airport, and the people are starving. They are hungry. They are thirsty. They don't have shelter on their head. They want to get back to their classes, but they don't have their schools open. So we need all those, and that - any civilian can pressurize the government into pressurizing the Taliban into doing that because the Taliban are fishing for legitimacy and aid, and every country contributes to Afghanistan. And that could have been done if the government pressured the Taliban into accepting those things, you know?
DAVIS: The Taliban is trying to present a more moderate face to the world, saying there will be more roles for women, that they are not the same government that they were 20 years ago. Do you believe them?
DURRANI: I will believe them when the same thing is said by a woman in the same government that is being said by a man. Let's bring in a woman who says that, yes, I'm here. I was - I got to be part of this government. Then let's believe them, not right now.
DAVIS: That's Pashtana Durrani. She's founder and executive director of LEARN charity in Afghanistan. Thank you so much for your time, and please stay safe.
DURRANI: Thank you for having me.
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