Afghans with ties to the US who couldn't get out now live in fear

Armed Taliban militants were looking for Shah. They knew he worked as an interpreter for the United States government and came to his p...


Armed Taliban militants were looking for Shah. They knew he worked as an interpreter for the United States government and came to his provincial home at night. “Someone inside worked for the US military!” They shouted, threatening to knock down the door.

Shah had already left for Kabul, where he is now hiding. But he believes he is a hunted man. “I don’t feel safe here anymore,” said Shah, whose application for the special immigrant visa to the United States is still pending.

“The Taliban say they don’t take revenge and they forgive everyone,” he said. “But I can’t believe them. Why did they come to my house to look for me?

There are thousands like Shah, stuck in Afghanistan under a capricious and unpredictable Taliban regime, who were unable to participate in the US military evacuation flights – those who worked for the US military or government, and their families, and who were eligible for US humanitarian aid. Visa. They know they are potential targets as the Taliban tighten their grip since taking Kabul completely this week.

Taliban leaders have pledged to allow visa holders to leave once they reopen the main airport, which remained closed to commercial flights on Friday.

But those like Shah doubt the promises of a group they feel they cannot trust and who have once ruled Afghanistan ruthlessly. Trying to leave – or showing a special immigrant visa – could in itself put them in danger if the Taliban reneges on their promises.

So, with the Taliban firmly in control of the streets, they went into hiding. A US government contractor and humanitarian visa applicant said he went into hiding – literally – with his pregnant wife and one-year-old daughter in a tunnel system. He said he didn’t believe the Taliban’s promises and didn’t intend to risk leaving his hiding place.

There are also potentially hundreds of thousands of other Afghans – aid agency workers, late government officials, media workers, prominent women – who are afraid and keep a low profile.

They are also eager to leave. This week, after the Kabul evacuation flights ended, hundreds of people gathered at border crossings with Iran and Pakistan.

“It’s because the country is collapsing,” said Astrid Sletten, a foreign aid worker in Kabul. “And everyone has a sister or a daughter, and they wonder what it’s going to be like to live under a Taliban regime. ”

She added: “I think some people are literally saying that I would rather die than live in a Taliban regime. “

Despite the Taliban’s promises that no punishment would be meted out to anyone, many Afghans question the Taliban leadership’s ability to control their seasoned fighters.

Former government officials, aid workers and diplomats say the Taliban leadership has barely managed to control their well-armed bases. And there is deep uncertainty as to when even this relative restraint will end.

Friday, a precarious calm settled in Kabul, four days after the seizure of power by the Taliban and the departure of the last American forces. The Afghans waited for the Taliban to announce their new government.

In Kabul, the few women who ventured were able to wear headscarves, rather than the face-covering burqa that the Taliban imposed under their previous regime, and several dozen protested outside the palace, demanding the inclusion of women in a new one. government.

Taliban leaders always talk about being inclusive. But so far, they have made it clear that they choose from among their own by taking lower-ranking positions.

Residents of Kabul interviewed by phone described pervasive fear as the Taliban regime gradually changed the lives around them.

And as the economy sinks deeper into the crisis – with prices rising sharply and hard currencies dwindling – many say they are eager to go, especially those who are eligible for the special immigration visa. United States, an emergency humanitarian visa that was granted to interpreters and others who worked. for the US military.

Their numbers remain unclear. No one – neither the US government nor human rights groups – has an exact figure for these Afghans who have a direct connection to official America, but who did not realize it.

The Association of Wartime Allies, an advocacy group, estimates that there are 118,000 Afghans, including their families, who are still in Afghanistan and eligible for the visa.

The group wrote in a report in late August that “it is reasonable that nearly 1% of the Afghan population has somehow worked for the United States or are family members of those who worked for the United States ”. The Afghan population is estimated at around 40 million.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people who remain trapped,” Adam Bates, lawyer for the International Refugee Assistance Project, said Tuesday during a video conference in the United States. “The majority of our customers were unable to leave Afghanistan during the evacuation flights.

We do not know how real their danger is. According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Taliban carried out executions as they swept the country, particularly in Spin Boldak, on the Pakistani border, where 40 people associated with the government were killed.

Since the capture of Kabul on August 15, the Taliban have conducted house-to-house searches and made arrests. Their methods rely heavily on intimidation. They told family members of media workers, for example, that they were looking for them, Human Rights Watch said.

“The fact that they are looking for them is also a threat,” said Patricia Gossman of Human Rights Watch. “This is how a police state works,” she added.

“They have unleashed a lot of people who are interested in revenge,” she said. “People are eager to flee because it will not be possible to survive.”

For Afghan workers trying to adjust to the Taliban regime, the preliminary contacts have been appalling. The new order means the exclusion or segregation of women, brutality of manners, and, always, the presence of weapons.

In the provinces, where new administrative appointments have been made, the Taliban seem to have relied only on themselves.

“Appointments of wardens at various levels – provincial, district, departmental and ministerial – have so far been (almost) exclusively from the Taliban’s own ranks, with no sign of non-Taliban appointments,” Afghanistan wrote on Wednesday. Analysts Network.

A collaborator of a senior official in the former government, who had met with the Taliban, said by phone from Kabul that his boss’s meetings with the new authorities had ceased.

Meanwhile, Afghans like Shah, the former interpreter, said in some places the situation was terrifying. “A Talib will kill 10 people, and there is no court,” Shah said. “This is not a prepared government.”

An aid worker still in Kabul was also apprehensive.

“I have the impression that those they are putting in place are trying to stop” the random acts of brutality, the aid worker said. “But I also feel like they have little control.”

Some aid agency workers who have continued to work have been disturbed by their meetings with the new authorities and plan to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.

The Taliban encouraged them to continue working, the officials said, but there is still an air of threat.

“They always come to our compound with their guns and armed guards,” an aid worker from a northern province said by telephone.

They were pressuring his agency to hire members of the Taliban and focus its aid work on areas long occupied by the Taliban, he said, and not allow female members staff to work.

“There are a lot of women who have no hope,” said an aid worker in Kabul who tries to leave. “If you want to live, you have to work. We don’t have bread at home to feed our children.

“How are we going to survive in this country? she asked.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Afghans with ties to the US who couldn't get out now live in fear
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