Some Afghans Dread The Departure Of Foreign Forces. Others See It As Liberation Some Kabul residents fear a Taliban takeover. Others are eager for the departure of troops they see as foreign intruders. "Afghans will have to come together and listen to each other," says a cleric.

Some Afghans Dread The Departure Of Foreign Forces. Others See It As Liberation

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For some Afghans, September 11, 2021, will be Liberation Day. For others, it marks the beginning of even darker times. It's the day that American and foreign forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: In a Kabul hair salon, the mood is cheery. It's one of the few places in Afghanistan where women can let their hair down, literally.


HADID: But Shugofa Nayebi worries it won't last. She's 32 and says her life has just begun.

SHUGOFA NAYEBI: (Through translator) I got divorced. I got my freedom. I've just started my studies. I'm working.

HADID: Nayebi does eyelash extensions as the music blasts.


HADID: She uses the money to pay for college, where she's studying to be a dentist. And she tells NPR's producer Khwaga Ghani that she's afraid her new life will be taken away.

NAYEBI: (Through translator) I worry that the Taliban will seize power when the Americans leave.

HADID: The Taliban have stepped up attacks in recent days as American forces withdraw. There have also been unclaimed bombings, including one over the weekend that targeted a girl's school, killing dozens of students. And peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled. Nayebi says if the Taliban do seize power...

NAYEBI: (Through translator) The dark times we lived through before will return.

HADID: She's referring to when the Taliban ruled in the '90s. They shut down schools for girls and banned women from walking, from even leaving home without permission.

NAYEBI: (Through translator) Maybe they won't let me study. Maybe they won't let me work. They'll definitely shut down this salon.

HADID: The Taliban said they now support some rights for women, like gender-segregated schools and workplaces. But it doesn't placate 18-year-old Maram Ataee.


HADID: She studies piano at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music.

MARAM ATAEE: Music, for me, means a reason why I can survive here in Afghanistan.


HADID: She plays a tune by Ahmad Zahir, a beloved Afghan musician who died in 1979. The Taliban destroyed his grave, and they consider music to be un-Islamic. Ataee says she's worried that the Taliban will seize power and declare war on music again. If they do...

ATAEE: I will do our best to fight. And we can't just lose everything. We have worked so hard to just reach this level here in Afghanistan.

HADID: Other Afghans feel differently. Forty-year-old Abdul Qader Sultani works as a laborer.

ABDUL QADER SULTANI: (Through translator) When I heard on the radio that Biden announced a withdrawal, I was so happy.

HADID: Sultani comes from a village in an area contested by the Taliban. He says it was ravaged by American raids a decade ago.

SULTANI: (Through translator) They smashed our homes. They shamelessly stared at our women. Their dogs attacked us. They killed some villagers. I sold my cow and four goats on the cheap just so I could flee.

HADID: Sultani says when the foreigners leave, he'll finally feel safe returning to his village.

MAWLAWI ATTA NIKNAAM: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: At a nearby mosque, Islamic teacher Mawlawi Atta Niknaam sees the withdrawal as when his country starts knitting itself back together.

NIKNAAM: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He's just completed his prayers.

NIKNAAM: (Through translator) We're very happy the Americans are leaving. They weren't here to help us. They came for their own interests.

HADID: He says the Americans created a class of Afghans who are dependent on foreign aid. Now, he says, that will have to change.

NIKNAAM: (Through translator) Our government will be self-reliant. They'll have to work hard and roll up their sleeves.

HADID: He says it might force Afghans to talk to each other and to make peace.

NIKNAAM: (Through translator) Afghans will have to come together and listen to each other. We'll have to tolerate each other.

HADID: But suggesting a deeper, more bitter divide, Niknaam says, those Afghans who want foreign forces to stay, he says, they're Westerners.

NIKNAAM: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He's referring to women like Shugofa Nayebi, who fought for her freedom while foreign forces largely kept Afghan cities safe from groups like the Taliban. Nayebi says those freedoms are dear to her.

NAYEBI: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says if the Taliban try impose their harsh rules on the country again, she'll try to flee. She says it won't be her Afghanistan anymore.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News.

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