My 36-year-old cousin in Kabul has a daughter who just turned 2. I’m told she’s a bit wild and naughty, or “shokh” in Dari. I have a picture of her, and her 6-year-old sister, in matching T-shirts that read: “I’m SUUUPER GIRL!!” And I’m sure they are. But they and 38 million other Afghans have been abandoned by a superpower, and their future is in chaos, uncertainty and grave threat. The picture of these two princesses has added to the motivation behind my scramble to find a way for my extended family to escape Afghanistan.
My maternal aunts and uncle who live in Kabul base their well-founded fears of Taliban rule on direct experience. And my maternal cousins were part of the generation devastated by the Taliban during their prior regime from 1996 to 2001. I fear the shattered dreams and lost opportunities for yet another generation of Afghans with the new Taliban takeover.
In the summer of 2001, I worked in Pakistan to help Afghan refugees, including those fleeing the Taliban. That was the closest I have been to Afghanistan since my own family escaped the Soviet invasion when I was 2 years old. We lived in Germany for three years as refugees before immigrating to the U.S. in 1983.
Despite not having seen my extended maternal family since I was a toddler, there was an immediate bond when my maternal aunts and grandmother visited me in Pakistan. We rejoiced, laughed, cooked, feasted and shared stories. My aunts told me about the horrifying repression of the Taliban. I talked to them about family reunification options and refugee applications. But my grandmother and aunts were insistent on remaining in their homeland.
When the Taliban were toppled following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, my family and I celebrated the end of the brutal regime. We were hopeful — like so many — for the future of the country. But now my maternal aunts say they can no longer stay in Afghanistan given the direct danger to their families posed by,the Taliban. One of my aunts elaborated on the beating she experienced during the prior Taliban rule. She was hit so forcefully that to this day, she still suffers physical, mental and emotional injuries. She can’t even see the Taliban or hear the word “Talib” without shaking in fear.
My uncle was also rounded up with his entire neighborhood, interrogated and beaten, while forced to watch as the Taliban gruesomely tortured and killed others during their prior rule. That incident has left him partially paralyzed today. Another family member had an interview scheduled on Aug. 17 for a special immigrant visa. But her interview was canceled with the Taliban takeover, and she now faces the threat of execution for working with the U.S. A similar threat applies to a family member working with the Germans.
These are some of my family members who are desperate to escape Afghanistan. Others include those who are in immediate danger and hiding because of their support for women’s rights and democracy.
Like so many other Afghan Americans, I have been emotionally traumatized the last couple months. Despite the confusing array of forms, bureaucratic processes and various lists, there seem to be no real options for many to escape inevitable harm.
There are already alarming reports about door-to-door searches by the Taliban and executions of those who collaborated with the U.S. or allied forces, along with women and girls forced to marry Taliban soldiers, being attacked and forced to stay home. These on-the-ground realities directly contradict the rhetoric of Taliban leaders.
To be clear, I do not support invasion of foreign lands, and oppose imperialism and our military industrial complex. I am aware of (and disgusted by) the many abuses by American and allied forces in the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, along with the selective outrage expressed and exploited by some when it comes to Afghans. I abhor the trillions of our tax dollars that lined the pockets of U.S. defense contractors — they are the real beneficiaries of our war, along with the corrupt warlords we supported, not the Afghan people.
But despite all that — and the fact that there is plenty of blame to go around — the irresponsible and callous way the Biden administration executed the withdrawal from Afghanistan deserves the harshest of condemnation. We abandoned and broke promises to our Afghan allies, putting their lives and well-being in jeopardy. The Taliban are also stronger and more powerful today than 20 years ago, thanks to the military equipment we left behind. Despite Biden’s efforts to tout the hasty retreat as a success, it is a colossal moral, military and political failure with dire consequences and geopolitical ramifications we do not yet fully realize.
Even as our country betrayed the Afghan people, we — the American people — should not. Instead, may we be the superpower that demands better and helps save many Afghan supergirls (and superboys). Specifically, we can pressure the president and Congress to:
∙ Ensure the safe evacuation of all our Afghan allies and friends.
∙ Expand, facilitate and expedite visa options, humanitarian parole and refugee admissions (including waiving the cost-prohibitive $575 application fee per person for humanitarian parole).
∙ Fund the resettlement program here and humanitarian aid efforts by trusted NGOs in Afghanistan.
∙ Provide accountability for the mistakes, lies, corruption and abuses that characterized the 20-years in Afghanistan, as revealed by “The Afghanistan Papers.”
And even if we cannot save as many Afghans as we promised to protect, the least we can do is to welcome the fortunate few who make it here. You can sign up to help here (WA Help Afghans) and contribute to the joint campaign to raise emergency funds for Afghan refugees here (Emergency Afghan Refugee Fund). Together, we can make our state a model for the nation.